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Backgammon column

Pictured, clipped from the online archives at at, is the first entry of a 10-part backgammon column from the Mar. 5, 1979, Journal Gazette.

Knock…knock… (opens door)

Well, hello there! C’mon in. I’ve been waiting for you! Make yourself comfortable. I see you’ve noticed my wall art. Yup...all original ‘80s sci-fi movie posters. Note the fold lines! Like I said, all originals, straight from theater lobbies, although I’m a little concerned my 1982 “Megaforce” poster is a reproduction. And yes, that is Barry Bostwick starring as “Ace Hunter”. The decorative motif I’m shooting for here is “low rent video store, downtown Windsor, circa 1988.”

Follow me to the dining room. That smell? It’s Tide. Tide Febreze, actually. It’s limited edition.

As you can see I thought I’d save us some time by setting up the board already. Have a seat. Did you know that backgammon is the oldest known board game in human existence? Yeah, there’s a few other games that technically date older; there’s an Egyptian game called Senet that predates dice (they used throwing sticks to count numbers) but the rules for that game aren’t recorded anywhere so we can only guess how to play it. I’ve got a Senet set over there in the cabinet under the internet router if you’re interested later this evening.

Oh…this particular backgammon set? Why thank you. I think I got it as a Christmas gift a few years back. Forgive me about the cat hair -- a friend of mine’s cat used it as a bed a few times. It’s actually a replacement for the first ever backgammon board I bought with a gift certificate from Rural King when I was about 10 or 11, old enough that I was pretty much at my last year of being able to find fun things I’d want at Rural King. Still, it’s what got me into the game. I’ve been seriously considering dropping some serious coin on a tournament sized attaché set from Crisloid; red and black points, 30 inches side to side, heavy marbleized checkers, cork playing surface. I mean, if it was chess I was spending that money on, no one would blink, right?

Really? Well, now that you mention it, I suppose I have thought about looking for old Backgammon articles in the newspaper for a future column. Technically, I’ve already written about backgammon once before, really early on when all my columns were online, but who knows how many people read it. If so, they’ll remember I already talked about the Rural King part before, and my adventures with trying to beat an old electronic backgammon “computer” I found on eBay named “Omar I,” endorsed by Omar Shariff. It’s over there under the router too.

If I ever get around to writing another backgammon column, I know what I’d use. Apparently in 1979 the Journal Gazette actually ran a 10-part daily backgammon advice column. Imagine that. Talk about something I’d like to bring back today, right? I know we still run the Bridge article somewhere in the classifieds, but just imagine if I had my own little corner of the newspaper wedged between the public notices and wanted ads for some dude’s old boat where I dole out tips on when to hit or not hit “blots.”

Going through some of those old columns, I’ve got to say they’re a pretty good primer on the basics of the game. I particularly like the part where they mention that, unlike chess, pretty much anyone who picks up the game has a chance of making it to the “top levels” of expertise, whatever that may mean in theory or practice. “Practice” is a hard thing to suss out where we live since unless there’s some hidden underground backgammon circuit here in Coles County, Peoria appears to be the closest location for organized play. I’d research more but would you believe the corporate servers where I work actually keep blocking me from visiting most backgammon sites on the account of “gambling”? Are you kidding me? Well…yeah, you can play for money, but I think they’re blocking it on the misguided basis that it’s a game of chance, which it isn’t; there was a whole court case and everything. Speaking of gambling, you wouldn’t happen to have any money on you?

And speaking of chess, what really bothers me is that everyone always uses chess as this great big metaphor for life, which is kind of screwed up; in chess it’s perfectly acceptable to sacrifice “weaker” pieces you own just to achieve a greater good. Just think of someone applying that kind of logic to their job or in their relationships with their friends or co-workers. I mean, is that someone you’d want to spend time with? Anyone who looks at life like a game of chess deserves to lose at both chess and at life.

Oh, you like that? Well, I don’t know if that’s the kind of thing I could put into a column…I stole it from an episode of “Person of Interest,” after all. But here are some related thoughts that are all me: Backgammon’s a much better metaphor for life. Think about it: Your pieces are all equal in that they all function in exactly the same way. The only difference is that some start farther along than others. And in backgammon, the goal isn’t to capture or sacrifice anything except board position. It’s all about trying to get to get from point A to point B while someone else is doing the same thing and often getting in your way. And often you’ve just got to wait until that person makes the same risk to move from their safe spot to get to where they need to go. See, like I told you. Just like life.

-- -- --

The preceding column has been a simulation; a make-em-up if you will, of the exact same preamble I give to friends of mine when I teach them backgammon. I’d say about five of my friends have heard some version of it before. And now, all you folks of course…I mean…we’re friends right? And like most of my friends, I’m sure there’s point where your eyes glassed over and you wondered if I was ever going to get to the rules. And I left out the part about my Pac-Man coasters.

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"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, suggestions, or his "Song of the Day" recommendation, contact him at


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