with Something of Its History
Cuthbert Bede, B.A.,
the parent of
the immortal “Verdant Green,”
This Little Book
is affectionately dedicated,
his friend and fellow labourer,
It may be asked what I have to say to you by way of preface. Well, in sober earnest, just this: the success of my little work on Billiards has been so remarkable and complete, that my Publisher suggested the advisability of issuing a series of books similar to it in size, price, and general appearance, and applied to me to write them. My friends know me as a player — not for money — at all kinds of games; from Chess the scientific and Cricket the athletic, to Whist the entertaining and Teetotum the absurd. I, therefore, without hesitation, entered into an arrangement to produce three books on the model of my “Billiards,” of which this is the first. The two other volumes will severally consist of essays on “Chess and Draughts,” and “Whist, Loo, and Cribbage.” Whether the series be further extended, depends entirely on your favour, my good friends.
And here I may be allowed to indulge in a matter strictly private and personal, and which I only venture to whisper confidentially into the ear of my readers, because I am certain they will keep my secret. Entre nous, then, I regret to find that several billiard players, and at least two Misters Crawley, lay claim to the authorship of my book; and one man in Dublin, with more than Irish impudence, has actually stolen my title and affixed it to a worthless book full of plagiarisms. They are all impostors, and I disown them accordingly. The real author, my dear friends, — and I respectfully beg to refer you to Mr. William Makepeace Thackeray for confirmation, if you doubt my word, which you won’t, I’m certain, — the real author of these little books is,
The light militia of the lower sky:
These, though unseen, are ever on the wing,
Hang round the box ...” — Pope.
Many months ago — so many that I do not care to say precisely how many; but, at any rate, at a period posterior to that in which the learned and good-natured Michael Angelo Titmarsh introduced Rawdon Crawley to the public, in the pages of the admirable piece of family biography known as “Vanity Fair,” — it was my fortune to be the last visitor stopping at an old country house.
It does not much matter in what county the country house in question is situated; but when I tell you, confidentially, that it was somewhere down north, I dare say, most sagacious reader, that you, belonging of course to the upper ten thousand, will at once guess its name.
My Lord A., and Sir Edward B., and Colonel C., and all the rest of the notables right through the alphabet, had returned to town, or gone a little farther north to shoot grouse, or taken a run over to Paris, as English people always do in the autumn, when they can have the gay city to themselves, the French aristocracy having retired at the close of their metropolitan season; but, for reasons of my own, and which it is not necessary to avow, I remained the one solitary guest of the noble earl and his amiable countess.
I must say I was rather bored, for I did not take much interest in the agricultural pursuits to which my host was devoted, nor was I attracted in any great degree by the system of visiting the poor in their cottages down in the village, to which I was invited by the example of my noble hostess. I soon got tired of knocking the billiard balls about by myself, and as for playing the earl, there really was no pleasure in achieving a victory over him, it was so very easy.
Well, what was I to do? There was, to be sure, the refuge of the library, but somehow I never could sleep easily amid the thousands of volumes all telling of industry, in their writing, printing, and what my publisher calls “getting up.” I have no doubt that the pains and industry bestowed by many of the authors, whose books now reposed so daintily on mahogany, and were protected from dust by slips of black shelf-leather and brown Russia bindings, were quite thrown away and wasted. I am pretty sure they were, as far as I was concerned, just then — but still, the very presence of so much learning had a depressing effect on my nerves.
I have heard of a man who said he was never so much alone as when in company; but I must confess I differ from him, for I am never so much alone as when alone. I want excitement; and whether I obtain it on a race course, or in a ball room, or a theatre, or a club, or over a billiard table, does not much matter. In my time I have sought it in many strange ways — at night in the streets, or over the green cloth, with chess men, cards, dominoes, or halfpence rattled in a pint pot over a ginshop counter — and even in some less creditable fashions. But on the occasion of which I am now speaking, none of these resources were open to me, and I was really beginning to think whether it would not be better to plead some suddenly remembered engagement that should carry me back to the Vanity Fair my friend and sponsor has so ably painted.
Suddenly, one day, as I was sitting in the library, I bethought me that I would write a book. My essay on Billiards had been so well received — a couple of editions having been demanded in about six months — that, looking around me on the evidences of learning piled row above row, I was fired with the noble ambition of again appearing before the public as an author. Everything was favourable to the idea. Here in this fine old house, far away from “the world,” and with nothing particular to do to occupy my time, how could I employ it better than by writing a book?
I had plenty of leisure; and as for talent, I believe nobody, whatever they may say about me, has dared to deny that I possess that quality. Well then, having determined to write a book, the question that next arose was, “What shall I write about?” I arose and examined the shelves — this time with anxious curiosity.
I took down Macaulay. “It won’t do to write a History of England,” said I to myself,” for the noble Scotchman has forestalled me in that fiction.” I glanced at Shakspere. “No, hang it! the drama is unapproachable with the Bard of Avon staring one in the face.” I gently removed Byron from his shelf, — Murray’s one volume edition, beautifully bound in morocco, elegant. “I don’t think poetry is quite my forte, seeing that Don Juan and Mazeppa have already been written.” Placed on one long shelf by themselves were the works of Richardson, Smollett, Addison, Steel, Swift, Johnson, and dear old Oliver Goldsmith. “I don’t think that style will take with the public,” I murmured. Esmond and the Virginians had not been written then. Just below were the Waverley Novels, and the early tales of Charles Dickens. “I fancy that fiction is not altogether in my style,” I said, as I passed onward. I took down old Burton, heavy in corded calf, and eyed him wistfully. Next him was lying a thin volume of Carlyle’s Sastor Resartus. “Clever fellows both,” said I, “but I don’t think the world will stand another Anatomy of Melancholy, or even a second Essay on the History of Old Clothes. Bless me, I am anticipated everywhere.”
Passing disdainfully by Lord Chesterfield’s Letters, and Voltaire’s works in a thousand volumes, and scarcely condescending to bestow a glance at Blair’s Rhetoric and Bagster’s celebrated Shove, I came at last to a couple of showily bound volumes in black and gold, labelled on the back “Walpoliana.” “Ha! I exclaimed, here is an agreeable rattle!” And sure enough it was, for, on taking it down and opening it, I found that it was not a book at all, but a Backgammon board, with dice and draughtsmen, all complete.
A new idea took possession of my mind. I am a pretty good player at the “little battle,” why should I not write a book explaining its mysteries? Why, indeed! I have written a successful book on Billiards; hang it! I will write another on Backgammon. One book! I will write three books — “Backgammon,” “Chess and Draughts,” and “Whist, Loo, and Cribbage.” Let Macaulay make himself famous in history, and Dickens in fiction, and Tennyson in poetry, and Watts Phillips in drama — but that he’ll never do, poor fellow! — I will make for myself a name, not only as a player of games, but as a writer about them.
In a minute my mind was made up; and, my determination taken, my listlessness left me. I threw off my ennui as I would a worn-out and worthless garment. I recalled, as by intuition, what fine things the poet had said about the quick dice, that,
The sounding gammon.”
I remembered, too, with something like a blush upon my cheek, not altogether hidden by whiskers and moustache in those days, how, once upon a time, as the story books have it, of another character altogether engaged my attention. I became suddenly alive to the points of the noble old game. Here was excitement. How often on a winter’s evening had I rattled the dice within just such a folio work, in two volumes, as this dear old “Walpoliana,” although perhaps labelled “History of England,” or the “Noble Book of Games,” or the “Lives of Heroes,” all equally applicable titles, seeing that history is but a story of men struggling against men, party against party, genius and skill against rashness and desperation at long odds; perseverance that must win at last, and without which heroism never succeeded yet; caution and nerve,
Of various life, to struggle with adversity;”
to be warily on guard against surprise, false move, and defeat; to be alive always to the chances which the blind goddess may throw out 5
Taken at the flood leads on to fortune;”
the vantage ground which once gained, neither reverses, captures, nor revolutions can altogether overthrow: all these were emblematized in the good old game of Backgammon. Why, here was work that should bring me not only amusement and employment, but good money, with which to play at that harder, sterner game called Life. Vive la bagatelle! Why bother oneself about serious matters, when trifles of no more importance than the “tables” that amused our Saxon ancestors can bring “work and wages” to a modern fine gentleman?
Why, even the technical terms employed in the game are suggestive of fun, to say nothing of their being food for reflection. “The Divine Swan,” as a theatrical friend of mine used to call William Shakspere, tells us that books are to be found in the running brooks (and, by parity of reasoning, pamphlets in ditches, handbills in gutters, and trademen’s cards in stagnant rain-pools), sermons in stones, and good in everything: so why can we not dig a moral out of this gaudily bound Backgammon-board, with its spotted cubes of ivory, and its black and yellow discs of ebony and boxwood?
We are told, for instance, that “a blot is not a blot till it is hit,” a maxim I make bold to deny, seeing that a blot on scutcheon or character is none the less a blot because it happens to be among the “things not generally known.” [Lest I may be accused of a joke, I beg to observe, sotto voce, that I wish to throw no discredit on friend Timbs’s “handy book:” and here gain I find myself stealing a couple of words from that learned able-to-do-any-thingarian, Lord Campbell. It’s very provoking!
I shall have the critics finding out the book from which I take my illustrations if I don’t mind, and serving me as they did poor Alexander Smith, by printing in parallel columns, in the Athenaeum, passages from my book, and those of all other authors, in which like nouns and verbs are employed; while some industrious book-worm will take the trouble, as happened in the case of Watts Phillips’s admirable drama of Joseph Chavigne, which the public would not patronise — the dolts! — of going to the British Museum Library and fishing up all the old French books from which my incidents are borrowed, although I, like the celebrated dramatist above mentioned, never dreamed of the unfortunate felis being allowed to escape from the satchel.]
Again, what a valuable lesson is taught by the term “Cover your man;” a direct hint that protection in all cases is due to those who partake of our hospitality, and that in cases when we find our acquaintance in a state of seediness, it is our duty to introduce them to our tailors, and let them run up a score at our hatters, a proceeding certain to be felt by either debtor or creditor. [A very old pun that about felt and the hatter. I hope the reader will excuse it.]
But perhaps the maxim may be made to admit of a much wider interpretation, when we find a miserable creature at the door in “looped and windowed wretchedness,” it teaches us that it would be better that the good lady of the house looked up all discarded garments with which to cover the man (or woman), rather than change the old clothes with a cheating Israelite or canting Hibernian for gaudy china or rootless geraniums.
But the term also suggests a very useful hint to those gentlemen who patronise the duel, that unfashionable method of settling differences; as, if you properly “cover your man,” you will most probably have your fortune told by that palladium of British liberty, a venerable judge in a wig, and twelve highly educated tradesmen in a box, which may be not inaptly compared to an opera box, seeing that it is the occasional duty of the occupants to condemn the interesting gentleman who stands before the rue to be worked off, as Mr. Dennis (vide “Barnaby Rudge”) delicately expresses it.
“Making your points” is a term that will be well understood and appreciated by amateur actors, who, in their ambition to “strut and fret their hour upon the stage,” (Shakspere, hem!) often neglect the more serious occupations of life? It is to be understood, however, that the stage is only a miniature representation of the world’s great drama, and that while we are careful in both to “make our points,” we must not be forgetful of the proper business of the scene.
“Get home as quickly as you can,” is a hint to husbands and young men unprovided with latch keys. Unmarried ladies will do well to think of the necessity of “getting your man off;” while faithless lovers and wanderers will not fail to “go back” as quickly as possible. Those loose fish upon town who are ready to “go back” to their old, idle, smoking, Evans’s-Saloon-and-Café-Chantant ways, will not be worse off if they remember that “going hack” to good conduct is not so easy as they may think, every false step leading them downwards on the path of respectability. After the facilis descensus Averni they will find the return rather less practicable than learning Sanscrit or Chinese.
To make “a hit” is useful occasionally in a dispute with a cabman, and to make one as palpable as Hamlet’s is what my publisher will endeavour to do with this little book. If it arrives at a second edition he will then make a “double hit,” the “gammon” to which I (and Mr. Clark) desire the dear, sensible, appreciative public to “seriously incline.” Verily Backgammon is a capital teacher of moralities.
But not only are proverbs to be derived from the game — proverbial allusions to dice are as common as blackberries. The Greeks, both ancient and modern, [I do not refer to the Greeks of St. James’s, nor to the inhabitants of Greek Street, Soho,] had a proverb, [it is not given in the original language, in compliment to my lady readers,] which tells us that “sixes or aces” — all or nothing — is desirable.
Jacta est alea — the die is cast — exclaimed Caesar, one of the most celebrated men of Roman story, as he crossed the Rubicon on his way to the imperial city, universal sovereignty, and the daggers of Brutus and Company. Shakspere, prince of poets! has a king who not only “set his life upon a east,” but wished to stand “the hazard of the die.” Indeed, if I were only to quote the numerous passages in which poets and authors have drawn illustrations from the chances of the dice, I might almost make this chapter fill the book. The indulgent reader will allow me just to cite a few instances.
Spenser, in his “Fairie Queene,” speaks of the “equal die (or hazard) of war;” Hamlet, in his madness, speaks of “marriage vows” being “as false as dicers’ (gamblers’) oaths;” in another play Shakspere says — “Keep a gamester from the dice, and a student from his books, and it is wonderful.” Again, in Henry IV, one of the characters says, “I was as virtuous as a gentleman need to be, swore little, and diced not above seven times a week.”
These quotations show that gambling with dice was common enough in the sixteenth century; but two hundred years later, as appears from Addison’s Guardian, the ladies were also smitten with the phrenzy. “What would you say should you see your sparkler shaking her elbow for a whole night together, and thumping the table with a dice box?” Speaking of the chances on the dice, Bentley says, “It is above a hundred to one against any particular throw that you don’t cast any given set of faces with four cubical dice. Now, after you have cast all the trials but one, it is still as much odds at the last remaining trial as it was at the first.”
These are a few of the unfavourable opinions of authors, directed to the dark side of the subject, for the shaking of dice does not always lead to gambling, a vice I detest. The spotted cubes have, however, been put to better uses — sometimes. The good Dr. Watts used them to teach little children their alphabet, by having letters pasted on their six sides; Dryden cites them as being the fairest arbiters in a quarrel; and Dean Swift speaks of their use in Backgammon as being the only use a clergyman can put them to — a little gentle excitement without vice.
In fine, Backgammon is one of the best of domestic games. Every husband and wife should know how to play it, and every lover should teach it to his mistress. It is not so abstruse as to put a stop to pleasant conversation or soft looks, and possesses sufficient variety to charm away ennui, keep alive the attention, and drive off the spleen. The merry rattling of the dice is music to the ears of those who play for love instead of money; and so that you, dear readers, avoid the example of the Great Napoleon — uncle to him whom Victor Hugo has rather maliciously styled Napoleon the Little — and steer clear of such awful throws as those ascribed to him
Whose table earth, whose dice were human bones,”
you will doubtless contrive to pass many a pleasant evening, under the care of your present instructor. Above all, if you would become thoroughly proficient in the “little battle,” allow me to advise you, in the words of the late Mr. Abernethy, to “buy my book.”
Something of Its History.
To visit a dull country friend;
Here you’ll be ever sure to meet
A hearty welcome, though no treat;
A house, whore quiet guards the door,
No rural wits smoke, drink, and roar;
Choice books, safe horses, wholesome liquor,
Billiards, backgammon, and the vicar.”
Lord Macaulay is acknowledged to be the most celebrated modern historian of England; Rawdon Crawley will in after times (may the turf lie lightly on his breast) be spoken of as the historian, par excellence, of Backgammon, Billiards, Chess, Draughts, and Whist. You see immortality is not so very difficult to obtain, if you only go the right way to work.
Now there are several plans on which history has been written successfully. Of course they will occur to the reader, so that it is scarcely worth while to name them. But for the sake of the unlearned — and that there are such people, who read books too, the existence of the “Family Herald,” sale two hundred and twenty thousand at the lowest computation; “Cassell’s Illustrated Family Paper,” sale some scores fewer than its unillustrated rival; “Reynolds’s Miscellany,” sale unknown; and the “London Journal,” sale as many as all the rest put together, — sufficiently proves.
For the sake of this uninformed million, or any of them who may happen to read this volume, I may say at once, that in writing my history, I shall neither emulate Neibhur, who collects together all the fables that have ever been current only to bowl them down, like so many nine-pins, by force of logical argument; nor Macaulay, who is not particular as to a fact or two so that his sentences roll on grandly and Mississippi-like, and fall in with his particular views; nor Grote, who is more precise than picturesque; nor Robertson, nor Hume, nor Smollett, who write as partisans; nor Allison, whose loose generalizations are always open to contradiction; nor even Harrison Ainsworth, who eats fact and vomits fiction; — but it will he rather my endeavour, in humble imitation of that famous historian, Herr Teufelsdrock, to state the facts already known as concisely as I can, and leave the reader to form his own conclusions by help of an occasional hint or suggestion.
To plunge at once, then, in medias res, we are happy to inform the reader that of the origin of Backgammon nothing whatever is known. Under circumstances so extremely favourable, the historian can wander through wide fields of conjecture without fear or hesitation, and indulge in any speculations he chooses, undismayed by the frown of the critic, the sneer of the bibliopolist, or the open contradiction of the bookworm. When we commence by stating that all we know (of this particular subject) is nothing, we shall be easily excused when we affirm that we know just as much as those who have gone before us in investigations of the same doubtful character. To be sure, we are saved the trouble of reconciling conflicting statements, or of weighing authority against supposition, or of admitting direct testimony in opposition to doubtful speculation. A very desirable state of things for an inquirer who sits, as I do now, at this present time of writing, surrounded by books, of more or less doubtful veracity.
We have the authority of the great Milton in favour of the fact, that
Wise men have said, are wearisome;”
so that, in what follows, I shall not take the trouble to weary myself or the reader with any attempt at independent inquiry into the origin of Backgammon, seeing that wiser and more patient authors have already done that for me; but shall simply content myself by giving the reader a brief resumé of what is — not known, but conjectured.
Without wandering back into the mazes of antiquity, and possibly losing myself without benefiting the reader — for of what use would be a search among old manuscripts, if any existed and I were fortunate enough to find them, seeing that it was the custom, as Mr. Hallam informs us, of those respectable old fellows who wrote books before the advent of paper and the printing press, to “erase one manuscript in order to substitute another on the same skin?” — I may say that —
The derivation of Backgammon, a game of mixed chance and calculation, is a vexed question. Why vex the reader by saying more on the subject, except that it behoves a writer of my eminence to tell all he believes? though, as the Arab proverb has it, “He who believes all that he hears, often believes more than he hears.”
But to resume: the writer in “La Maison des Jeux Academiques” (first edition, 1675, handsomely bound in tooled calf, on third shelf from the floor to the left of the fire place, and standing next the famous “Amadie,”) candidly confesses that he can make nothing of the matter, and that it would not much matter if he could; a historian after my own heart.
But the subject cannot be discussed in this cavalier fashion. Backgammon may have been invented by the Chinese, or the Japanese, the Egyptians (who were clever at games as well as at a few other things), the Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, the French, the Germans, the Spanish, the Saxons, Danes, or the Ancient Britons. Dr. Henry inclines to the latter, for he says, “It is Welsh, and derives its name from two Cymric words; back, little, and gammon, battle,” the little battle.
But Strutt, the historian, has another origin for our game, for he says its name is pure Saxon, and means a game of coming back. Here are his arguments, from the edition of William Hone, anything but handsome paper-boards, 1833, published by T.T. & J. Tegg, 73, Cheapside. “The words are perfectly Saxon, as Bac, or Baic, and Zamen, that is, the Back Game; so denominated because the performance consists in the players bringing their men back from their antagonists’ tables into their own; or because the pieces are sometimes taken up and obliged to go back, that is, re-enter at the table they came from.”
This appears a very reasonable conjecture — still, only a conjecture — and Bishop Kennett admits its probability. But then, although it is admitted that both Saxons and Welshmen played at Backgammon (or Tables, as it was afterwards called) did they not derive the game, as they did many more useful things, from the Romans? When the Roman legions overran and occupied this island, it seems the likeliest thing in the world that they should bring their games as well as their customs with them. The poor Britons would naturally learn both of their conquerors; and when —
The German ocean roar; deep, blooming, strong,
And yellow-haired, the blue-eyed Saxon came,”
and saw and conquered, and finally settled among the aborigines — when they had colonized our fatherland, as we have since colonized India and Australia, and North America and the West Indies — when, the fighting over, they had time to look about them, what more likely than that they should learn to play at the Roman-Welsh game common among the islanders?
“Perhaps,” says Mr. Bohn, or rather, Mr Carleton, “this (referring to the Welsh-Saxon theory) may satisfy the antiquarian, and be accepted as a sufficient offering to the etymologist. It would have been a mere recreation “in chronology, to have disputed all the probabilities for assigning Backgammon to the antediluvian ages. One portion of its machinery consists in dice; now dice defy chronology. Their types are found in Etruscan tombs and in the hieroglyphics of Egypt; and the historian of Chaeronea asserts that Mercury had a throw of the dice, once upon a time, with the goddess Luna.”
This off-hand way of getting rid of a difficulty may suit Mr. Bohn and his readers; but what would be thought of me, with all the pleasant uncertainties of the subject before me, if I dismissed it so readily? Is it likely the critics would accept so bald a dissertation? is it probable the reader would be content with so little? or — I ask any candid author placed in a similar dilemma — would any respectable publisher be satisfied with this “history” if I stopped here? No! I hear in the silence of this stupendous library; I see in the smoke curling up from the tip of my cabana (Fribourg and Pontet’s, at forty-eight shillings a pound), the awful sentence, “Push along, old fellow!”
Well, then, we find the word Backgammon, or something like it, in the Scottish language, a clear proof that the game was not confined to the Saxons and the Welsh. In Wyntoun’s Chronicle, which is said to be the most ancient specimen of the Scottish tongue extant, we find these lines, on the death of Alexander III: —
That Scotland led in luive and le,
Away was sens of ale ane brede,
Of wyne and wax, of gamyn and glee.”
Dr. Henry contends that games of chance were not popular among the Ancient Britons. But he, or any one else, will hardly presume to deny, in contravention to the authority of the Roman historian Tacitus, that the ancient Germans were inveterate gamblers. And if the old Teutonics were anything like their descendants, Backgammon would be just the game for them — a mixture of chance and skill. He admits, however, that the Ancient Britons were in many respects like their German conquerors; and as he equally charges Germans and Britons with sloth, why should not the latter have amused their idleness with the very games which amused and drove away the ennui of the former?
Dr. Henry strengthens his argument by reference to Ossian, whom he pronounces contemporary with the historian Dio, and whom he constantly cites to prove the spirit of poetry and the state of manners then prevalent among the inhabitants of this island! On this subject, then, he may be read — as many more celebrated authors are read — to be doubted.
From all this, then, we contend that the honour of having invented the capital game of Backgammon belongs neither to Saxons, Gauls, Germans, or Welshman; but that they received it direct from the Romans, whose “Scripta Duodecim,” — which circulated in the days when circulating libraries were not, — certainly resembled our Backgammon in more than one important particular. To prove my position I might cite poets, orators, dramatists, historians, epigrammatists, and grammarians — Cicero and Ovid, Terence, Martial, and Quintillian; one quotation however, will in this place suffice. Cicero says, speaking of dice playing, — “Old and infirm citizens, gentlemen whom age, or fortune, or disgusted patriotism caused to leave the hubbub of the Capitol, enjoyed these games in their retirements — the more so as personal fatigue or exertion was not necessary to success — dice, like pistols, reduce the odds between bodily strength and weakness to a level.”
That the “Scripta Duodecim” of the Romans — who probably derived it, as well as many arts and sciences, from the Greeks — differed from our modern game, I admit; but it was played with the same number of party-coloured counters, by two players, with dice, alternately, on tables, marked as ours, with a like number of lines, and possessed, like Backgammon, a happy admixture of chance and skill. The difference between the Roman game and ours was not really very extensive, as I understand it.
And then as to dice, how much may be said of their antiquity! The Emperor Claudius, who was a sort of imperial Hoyle, wrote much concerning games. Augustus Caesar, there is reason to believe, was partial to a quiet game with the spotted cubes. Dice are impartial when fairly manufactured; and, though Shakspere makes Antony complain that the dice obeyed Octavius, yet I cannot but think that “the world’s great master stood subdued” at Scripta Duodecim, for unlucky numbers would not turn up, however the cubes might be thrown, merely to please the Emperor. Dice are honester than courtiers, and the most accomplished parasite that ever “sleeked his tongue” could hardly bring up sixes or aces whenever he chose,
Dice are among the most ancient instruments for gaming with which we are acquainted.
Compared to them.”
They are mentioned, often, by Homer. To Aeschylus and others they were familiar. Representations of them are found in Etruscan tombs and among the hieroglyphics of old Egypt, — to say nothing of their being found in the comparatively modern critics of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Nay, so great is their antiquity, that we are told by Plutarch that Mercury once had a throw with them in pleasant contention with the Moon. This, however, was a very long time ago, for it was before the birth of Osiris, the great deity of the Egyptians, son of Jupiter the mighty and Niobe the tearful.
The story goes that Mercury won from Luna, his fair antagonist, the five days that go to complete the days of the year: though why the Moon had possession of them, or what use they were to Mercury when he had won them, does not very clearly appear — a circumstance by no means uncommon in that pleasant story-book called the Heathen Mythology. This is the story referred to by Mr. Carleton, in Bohn’s “Handbook of Games.”
To quote another instance of the gambling propensities of the gods, we are told that Cupid and Ganymede were once sitting up very late playing at dice. The God of Love was very unlucky: he lost every throw, and was speedily dispossessed of all he had — money and jewels, and finally his temper. So infatuated was he, however, that at last he even staked his darts and quiver — the earliest instance of pawnbroking on record — and unfortunately lost them. Ganymede, who was evidently a cool and self-possessed gambler, evidently beyond his age, did not take advantage of his fortune, but generously returned to his brother deity the instruments of his trade, as heart-breaker. The cup-bearer of the gods must have been no common boy to have conquered Love. He,
Drew in young deities to vice,”
must have really been a superior sort of fellow — a kind of Count D’Orsay among the inhabitants of Olympus.
“Double sixes, Cupid?”
“No; seven’s the main, you little stupid.”
But to descend from the region of romance to that of history. In ancient Greece various games with dice were common. To an intellectual people the mere throwing of the dice would hardly present sufficient variety; and without deep gaming, to which they were not addicted; would soon become tiresome. We find therefore that the Greeks improved upon the simple Tom Dod system of high throws and low throws, and invented a game that is really not very unlike our Backgammon. They used a kind of hoard or tablet known as the Abacus (αβαξ), of which the engraving below is a representation. In form it is not altogether dissimilar to our Backgammon Board. It had lines inscribed on it, and the men or counters (πεσσοι) were moved according to the numbers on the dice (κνβοι) as they were thrown alternately by each player.
Greek Backgammon board.
Representations of this game, which evidently resembled that of which I am now writing, are to be found on several antique vases, and it is fair to conclude that the first authentic mention of it was made by the Greek writers. As before suggested, the Romans derived their “Scripta Duodecim” from the Greeks; and wherever the Roman eagles gathered themselves together there the game would speedily become known. In this way Backgammon probably became known in Gaul, Spain, Britain, and other countries, each people giving it a name in their own mother tongue.
We are not able to trace it to the Egyptians or Hebrews; but recent voyagers have discovered that the Japanese possess a game not unlike Backgammon in its main characteristics. It is scarcely worth while to prosecute the inquiry further, or to search among the doubtful annals of Eastern or Scandinavian tribes (the new reading-room of the British Museum is so awfully crowded with idlers now-a-days that there is no doing a little crib without your neighbours, right and left, and over the way, and at the next table, knowing all about the business on which you are engaged); and even if I succeeded in bringing forward any new fact, the critics would be sure to say that my labour had been thrown away, and that the parturient mountain had produced nothing but a muscipular abortion.
But when I leave the realms of fable, — i.e., ancient history, and arrive at the land of stern facts — videlicit, England, I find that the obscurity in which I have been wandering, with that patient animal the reader, becomes suddenly illumined. The annalists of the thirteenth century — by which term of course I mean the poets, who are your only true historians — tell us that Backgammon was in those days known as “Tables,” and that our ancestors, when they had leisure from love and war, were fond, as Chaucer has it, of
In the Harleian collection of Manuscripts, there is a representation of two persons engaged in playing at Tables, although the artist has made his drawing with so small a regard to perspective that the men seem to be in danger of falling forward; and although the board has no division, like those in modern use, the game being played between these two elegant gentlemen is evidently Backgammon and nothing else.
Backgammon, or tables, in the Thirteenth Century.
The points on either side are contained in one compartment, an arrangement that must have occasionally produced some little confusion. And that our ancestors found this out — they were shrewd fellows, those knights, who wrung Magna Charta from King John, and employed their leisure with dice throwing and quintain, — is quite evident, for in the next century we find that the table is divided, as in the next engraving.
A table of the Fourteenth Century.
The manner of playing at Tables is minutely described by the author of a MS. in the King’s Library. “There are,” he says, “many ways of playing at the tables with the dice. The first of these, and the longest, is called the English game, Ludus Anglicorum, which is thus performed: He who sits on the side of the board marked 1–12 has fifteen men (homines) in the part marked 24, and he who sits on the side marked 13–24 has a like number of men in the part 1. They play with three dice, or else with two, allowing always (semper, that is, at every throw) six for a third die. Then he who is seated at 1–12 must bring all his men placed at 24 through the partitions (paginas), from 24 to 19, from 18 to 13, and from 12 to 7, into the division 6–1, and then bear them off; his opponent must do the same from 1 to 7, thence to 12, thence to 18, into the compartment 19–24; and he who first bears off all his men is conqueror.”
Here we may observe, that the most material circumstances in which the game differed, at this remote period, from the present method of playing it, are, first, in having three dice instead of two, or reckoning a certain number for the third; and secondly, in placing all the men within the antagonist’s table, which, if I do not mistake the author, must be put upon his ace point.
But to go on: “There is,” says he, “another game upon the tables called Paume Carie, which is played with two dice, and requires four players, that is, two on either side; or six, and then three are opposed to three.”
He then speaks of a third game, called “Ludus Lumbardorum, the Game of Lombardy, and thus played: He who sits on the side marked 13–24 has his men at 6, and his antagonist has his men at 19;” which is changing the ace point in the English game for the six point: and this alteration probably shortened the game.
He then mentions the five following variations by name only; the Imperial game, the Provincial game, the games called Baralie, Mylys, and Faylis.
Now I would not have the indulgent reader imagine that I really consulted the MS. quoted. No; let me be honest, and confess that I cut the whole description out of “Strutt’s Sports and Pastimes,” Tegg’s edition, pages 321-2.
To resume: Backgammon was a favourite pastime with the wise and learned of the old time; and by them it has been continued to he played. Dean Swift, writing to a friend asks, perhaps sarcastically, “In what esteem are you with the vicar of the parish? Can you play with him at Backgammon?”
In earlier times, however, than those of the author of “Gulliver’s Travels,” the game was positively restricted to certain classes of people. Richard Coeur de Lion and Philip Augustus of France issued decrees prohibiting any military man under the rank of a knight from playing at this or any other game for money; a very proper regulation: I wish it had been in force in my regiment: it would have saved many a mother’s sighs and many a young wife’s tears.
In the army of the Crusaders there was a regular scale for knights and nobles, beyond which they were not allowed to wager. Kings only were unlimited in their stakes: and it did not much matter as far as they were concerned, as they drew their pocket money — quite a regal prerogative — from the pockets of the people.
A couplet in the “Life and Actes of Richard the First,” describes him as not only an adept at Backgammon, but also as a good hand at Chess: —
At the Chesse in his gally:”
rather a curious place in which to indulge in so sedentary a game; but perhaps he played standing on account of the difficulty of sitting in armour. It is not difficult to imagine the Lion-heart pondering over the game and thinking how he might give “cheek” to Saladin, the “best of Paynim chivalry.” In those days of love and gallantry it was not unusual for the ladies to take part in hawking bouts in the day time and a throw at Tables at night; and doubtless many a love passage has been played over the games at Tables in bower and rush-strewn hall.
The Scotch have always distinguished themselves as good players at any game requiring calculation, for the canny North Britons have mathematical heads. Thus we find that our game was in high repute at Court; and it is a matter of history that James the First, one of the most accomplished of Scottish monarchs, spent the last evening of his life — the one previous to his assassination in the abbey of the Black Friars at Perth, in 1437, by his traitorous kinsman the Earl of Athole — in reading with his queen and the nobles and ladies of his court, and in playing at Chess and Tables.
Another tragedy, too, is associated with this game. In 1479, the Duke of Albany, brother to James the Third, was confined in Edinburgh Castle, where he made himself so popular that he was allowed considerable liberty. One night he invited the captain of the guard to supper. The evening was jovially spent in drinking, singing, and playing at Tables; but in the morning, when the prison servant brought in the breakfast equipage, they found their royal captive flown and his gaoler guest a blackened corpse upon the fireless hearth!
Many other anecdotes, of not quite so serious a character, perhaps, might be told of the progress of the game in Scotland, where it continued, and continues, popular. The great Wizard of the North — him of the “Waverley Novels,” not the “Gun-trick” — tells us that Tables was played in the Castle of Inverary during the wars of the great Montrose, and even under the severely rigid government of Gillespie Grumach. In later times — times not quite so full of romantic adventure as those above referred to — Major Bellenden, fearing that the civil wars would break out again, philosophically makes up his mind to enjoy his leisure as long as he can, and wiles away his idle moments with a quiet hit or two with his steward, now and then, at tric-trac.
Tric-trac is the French name for Backgammon, and by this designation it was common in both England and Scotland in the last and preceding century. It was always a favourite diversion with the clergy, and numerous are the quotations I could make from writers of the Johnsonian period in reference to it. Sir Roger de Coverley, of immortal memory, wishful to obtain from the university a chaplain of piety, learning, and urbanity, made it a condition that the candidate should at least know something of Backgammon!
It would be easy to cull from the books of the past ample illustrations of the gentle influence exercised over the minds of the squires and yeomen by the excellent game of Backgammon. The squires — in the days when the non-existence of railways and the un-negociable character of little bills kept them at home in their halls, manor houses, and granges — could not be always eating, drinking, and smoking, adepts as they were in the cooking of boar’s head and baron, the brewing of ale cup, and the smoking of everlasting pipes.
They must have some amusements superior to reading “Culpepper’s Herbal,” “Gwyllim’s Heraldry,” and “Baker’s Chronicles,” at such times as foul weather kept them within doors. “Dice and cards,” says the learned (and some say avaricious) Lord Bacon, in a letter to Sir George Villiers, “may sometimes be used when field sports cannot be had.” What, then, so innocent as Backgammon or Chess, Whist or Cribbage? Cards indeed were played by lacqueys in the hall, and grooms in the stable, and petty tradesmen in the tavern.
But Backgammon never was a vulgar game; it has been played, and is played now, by learned dignitaries of the church and state, as a game boasting a Greek origin should be, in libraries and studies. “It is only persons of consequence,” says a quaint old French writer, “who play the noble game of Backgammon,” and those only who are the most quick-witted, ready, and watchful, can ever thoroughly master it.
As for the name as we have it, I think I prefer the old cognomen of Tables, as there is something rather low in the sound of the word gammon. The French term, Trique-trac, is derived, I am told, from the sound of the men moving one after the other on the board, and the clatter of the dice. The counters which we call men, our gallant allies have, with characteristic politeness, styled “les dames.” The Germans know the game by the term “Tric-trac;” but the Italians have shown it most honour by denominating it “Tavola reale,” the royal table. But whether it be called by any or all of these titles, it is certain that the game is a good game and deserves to be better known.
For this end I have taken the trouble — ignoring the pleasures of town — to collect the information here set down, in the hope that the study and practice of it will do some little in weaning young men from debasing pleasures, and in showing them that one well-known style of “getting home,” may at least give place less harmful amusements.
The force of judgment, and the power of chance.”
A Serio-comic Poem, 1734.
For I hate in-door pastimes.
O, for the bracing moor — the teeming stubble —
Or the only chorus I hear music in — the packs!
These are the sports I follow, and follow keenly,
As your mounted beggar (the proverb tells on’t),
Joys in performances equestrian.
As for this game of thing — is’t good?
Mumoursome? Honest? * * *
* * * *
Let’s talk about it then.”
After the history — which, after all, is only introductory to the real purpose of this little book — come, naturally enough, the instructions. It is a difficult thing to describe the manner of playing this game, and few authors have attempted it. Hoyle and others who have written on the subject have generally shirked the subject; and instead of describing the mode of playing the game, have gone off at once into technicalities and bothered their readers with “blots,” bars,” “points,” “odds,” and “chances.” I must be a little more particular.
Now, first of all, it is just possible that some of my readers have never seen a Backgammon Board. Therefore, as the first step in acquiring a language is to learn its alphabet, I here — in order to render the game easy (to the very meanest capacities) — begin by placing before the eyes of my dear readers a picture of the Backgammon Board, with the men set out in order for commencing a game.
It will be seen — at a glance — that each player has fifteen men, placed as in the illustration. The table is divided into two parts; and a little attention will show that the men belonging to each adversary are arranged upon the battle field in precisely similar order — an advantage not always obtained upon actual battle fields, where men are the “pieces” to be knocked over and taken prisoners.
The Board consists of twenty-four points, coloured alternately of different colours, usually blue and black; and that division in which are placed five black men and two white is called the table or home of the white, and vice versa. Beginning from the ace, the points are numbered consecutively to twelve. French terms are usually employed for the points: thus ace, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, stand for one, two, three, four, five, six.
On the other side of the division that separates the table into two halves, the first point is called the bar point. Supposing therefore the game to be played on the right hand table (as in the illustration) two men are placed upon the ace point in your adversary’s table; five upon the sixth point in his outer table; three upon the fifth point upon your own outer table; and five upon the sixth point in your own inner table. It must be understood that the points are named alike — ace, deux, &c. — in each table, and that the left hand division is called the inner table and the right hand the outer table.
The great object of the game is to bring your men round into your own inner table; and this is accomplished by throws of the dice. Each player is provided with a box and two dice, and the game is regulated by the number of pips that are face upwards when the dice are thrown. In other words, the game is determined by the chances of the dice, two of which are thrown by each player alternately. According to the numbers thereon are the points to which the men are moved in “measured motion” always towards the ace corner, thus, if the numbers thrown be a cinque and a quatre, one man is moved five points, reckoning from his place on the board, and another four points; or one man may, at the option of the player, be moved five points and four.
Such man or men can only be placed on points not in possession of your adversary. Two or more men on any point have undisturbed possession of that particular point. But though you may not place your men on any of these points, you may pass over them.
If during these forward marches one man be left on a point it is called a blot. If your antagonist throw a number or two which count (either or both) from a point occupied by his own dice to the place where the unhappy blot is alone in his insecurity, the single man may be taken and the blot is said to be hit; that is, taken prisoner, torn from his position, and placed on the bar to wait till he can be entered again.
Single man may be taken
To enter means to throw a number on either of the dice; and the point so numbered must be vacant or blotted on the enemy’s table. The captured man may be entered or placed there. As this locality is most remote from the home of his friends, the banishment is antipodean, like that to Botany Bay. Two or more men on a point are unassailable: it is your single men only that can be impressed. If your adversary have three or four in his table secured by two or more men, it is evident that there may be delay and difficulty in entering any hitted man.
Delays in Backgammon, as in morals, are always dangerous. Therefore the dice must be thrown again and again till a vacant point be gained and the man be entered, and your game goes on as before. Meanwhile, however, your adversary goes on with his game; but until an entrance has been effected, no man on the captive’s side can be moved. They are all stationary like the people in the petrified city. If every point be filled, however, the prisoner must wait till a line in the hostile table becomes vacant or blotted. Of course it may happen that both parties have men to enter; but they must play the game, and are not allowed to exchange prisoners.
When two numbers are thrown, and one enables a man to enter, the second number must be played elsewhere; but if there be more than one man to enter, and only one number giving the privilege of entry appears on the dice, the game must remain in statu quo till a proper number be thrown.
A man enabled to enter.
When doublets (that is, two dice with same numbers upwards) are thrown, the player has four moves instead of two: for example, if a deuce doublet (two twos) be thrown, one man may be moved eight points, four men each two points, two men each four points, or immediately, so that the quadruple be completed. The same also of all numbers known as doublets.
Whatever numbers be thrown on the dice must be played. There is no option in the case. If, however, every point to which a man could be moved be occupied by the adverse columns, the situation of the men remains unchanged, and your opponent proceeds with his game. If one man only can be played, he must be played. The other die, like Big Ben of Westminster, has been cast in vain. Par exemple, a six and an ace are thrown. Every sixth point in your position is manned and impregnable; but the ace point is vacant; therefore the ace (which is a second-cousin sort of point, being once removed) only can be played.
Your men move always in one direction: from the adverse inner table over the bar, through your adversary’s outer table round into your own outer table, and then over the bar home.
We now come to the second stage. Suppose the player has brought all his men “home;” that is, ensconced in their proper tables; it is then the business of each player to bear his men; that is, to take them off the board. For every number thrown a man is removed from the corresponding point, until the whole are borne off. In doing this, should the adversary be waiting to “enter” any of his men which have been “hit,” care should be taken to leave no “blots” or uncovered points.
In “bearing off” doublets have the same power as in the moves, four men are removed; if higher numbers are on the dice than on the points, men may be taken from any lower point — thus, if double sixes are thrown, and the point has been already stripped, four men may be removed from the cinque point of any lower number. If a low number is thrown, and the corresponding point hold no men, they must be played up from a higher point. Thus, if double aces be thrown, and there are no men upon the ace point, two or more men must be played up from the higher points, or a fewer number played up and taken off.
If one player has not borne off his first man before the other has borne off his last, he loses a “gammon,” which is equivalent to two games or “hits.” If each player has borne off it is reduced to a “hit,” or game of one. If the winner has borne off all his men before the loser has carried his men out of his adversary’s table, it is a “back-gammon,” and usually held equivalent to three hits or games.
Disagreeable evidences of a “hit.”
But there are restrictions and privileges in taking off. As before observed, doublets have the same power as in the moves: four men are placed on the retired list. If higher numbers are on the dice than on the points, men may be taken off from any lower point. Thus, a six and a cinque are thrown: if those points are unoccupied, men may be taken off from the nearest number. If a lower number be thrown and the corresponding point holds no men they must be played up from a higher point; — and so on (as already said above) with all the other numbers.
In order to acquire a good knowledge of Backgammon, it will be necessary for the learner to study these instructions with the board before him. But perhaps the best plan will be, in order to conquer the principles of the game, to play one or two.
In commencing the game each player throws one of the dice to determine the priority of move. The winner may then, if he chooses, adopt and play the number of the probationary throw. If a tolerably good point be thrown it should certainly be chosen; but if not, then it will be rejected. The two dice are then thrown out of the box and the play begins.
Let the student number the points in his board so as correspondent with the little engraving above, distinguishing those on the side of the black by the letter b, 1b., 2b., &c.; their opponents the whites, 1w., 2w., &c. In the following games, L represents the black and F the white.
To begin, L throws, say, 5; F, 2. L has therefore won the first move. But not liking a five to commence the game with, he throws again and the result is —
Aces, doublets.] — These are played, 2 from 8 to 7b., and 2 from 6 to 5b.
F 5, 4.] — 2 from 12b. to 8 and 9w.
L 3s., ds.] — 2 from 1w. to 7w., occupying adversary’s bar-point.
F 5, 2.] — 1 from 9 and 1 from 6w. to 4w.
L 6, 1.] — 1 from 12w. to 7b., and 1 from 6 to 5b.
F 5, 3.] — 1 from 8 and 1 from 6w. to 3w.
L 6, 3.] — 1 from 8 and 1 from 5b. to 2b.
F 6, 5.] — 1 from 12b. to 2w.
L 3, 1.] — 1 from 12w. to 9b.
F 4, 2.] — 1 from 8w. to 2w., covering man.
L 6, 2.] — 1 from 12w. to 5b.
F 6s., ds.] — 2 from 8w. to 2w., the other 2 cannot be played, every point occupied.
L 4, 3.] — 2 from 12w. to 10 and 9b.
F 3, 1.] — 1 from 1b. to 4b., and 1 from 2w.
L 5, 1.] — 1 from 9 and 1 from 5b. to 4b., taking up man (placing the captive on the central division) and making point.
F 3, 4.] — Enters captive at 3b., moves 1 man from 12b. to 9w.
L 6, 1.] — 1 from 7w. to 12b. (taking man), 1 from 10b. to 9b.
F 3, 2.] — Enter at 3b., 1 from 9 to 7w., taking man.
L 3, 1.] — Enter at 1w. hitting blot and making capture, 1 from 12 to 9b.
F 5, 1.] — Enter 1b. 1 from 3 to 8b.
L 3, 1.] — 1 from 9 to 8b., taking man thence to 5b.
F 4, 2.] — Both points occupied in enemy’s table, so the prisoner cannot be entered; no move made on the part of F, whose position is not very enviable.
L 5, 4.] — 1 from 1w. to 10w.
F 6, 5.] — Still cannot enter. “Hope deferred,” &c.
L 6, 3.] — 1 from 10w. to 9b., thence to 6b.
F 1s., ds.] — Enter 1b., 1 from 7 to 5 (2 moves) and 1 from 6 to 5w., securing cinque point.
L 6, 4.] — 1 from 9 and 1 from 7b. to 3b., taking man and making point.
F 1 ds.] — Enter 1b., 3 from 2 to 1w.
L 6, 5.] — 1 from 9 to 3, and 1 from 7 to 2b.
F 3, 2.] — 2 from 4 to 2 and 1w.
L 6, 3.] — 1 from 7 to 4b.: “the table’s full,” like Macbeth’s, and 1 man taken off for the 6 point.
F 4s., ds.] — 2 from 6 and 2 from 5w. to 2 and 1w.
L 4, 1.] — Takes off 1 from 4 point, plays up 1 from 3 to 2, ace point being occupied by the enemy.
F 2, 1.] — 2 from 3 to 2 and 1w.
L 4, 2.] — Takes off from 4 and 2, leaving blot — game greatly in favour of L; risk may be run.
F 6, 5.] — 1 from 1b. to 12b.
L 5, 4.] — Takes off.
F 4, 2.] — 1 from 12b. to 7w.
L 6, 3.] — Takes off from 6, plays up from 6 to 3.
F 5, 2.] — 1 from 1b. to 8b.
L 6, 4.] — Takes off from 5; 4 can neither be played, nor taken off.
F 5, 3.] — 1 from 8b. to 9w.
L 5, 1.] — Takes off from 5, plays 1 from 3 to 2.
F 4, 2.] — 1 from 9 and 1 from 7w. to 5w., making point.
L 3, 2.] — Takes off, leaving blot.
F 4, 2.] — 1 from 1 to 3b., hitting and taking up blot, thence to 7b.
L 5, 1.] — Cannot enter.
F 3, 2.] — 1 from 7b. to 12b.
L 5, 4.] — Enter at 4, thence to 9w.
F 3s., ds.] — 1 from 12b., to 1w.
L 6, 4.] — 1 from 9w., to 10b., thence to 6b.
F 5, 2.] — 1 from 1 to 6b., taking man, thence to 8b.
L 5, 4.] — Enter 4, thence to 9w.
F 2s., ds.] — 1 (in 4 moves) from 8b., to 9w., taking man.
L 6, 3.] — Enter at 3, thence to 9w., taking man.
F 5, 4.] — Enter at 5, thence to 9b.
L 3s., ds.] — 1 (in four moves) from 9w., to 4b.
F 5, 1.] — 1 from 9b., to 10w.
L 4s., ds.] — Takes off, and the unhappy F loses a gammon.
F flings 6, and L 1 (it is sometimes customary, however, for the winner of the preceding games to have the first throw in the next); F moves 1 from 12b. and 1 from 8 to 7w., forming the bar-point.
L 5, 1.] — 1 from 12w. to 7b.
F 4, 2.] — 1 from 8w. to 4w., and 1 from 6w. to ditto, making quatre point in table.
L 5, 2.] — 1 from 1w. to 8w., taking man.
F 3, 1.] — Enters at 3, plays to 4b.
L 2s., ds.] — 2 from 6b. to 4b. (capturing man), and 2 from 12w. to 11b.
F 5, 3.] — Enters 3, and the 5 from 12b. to 8w., taking up blot.
L 4, 3.] — Enters 3, and other from 11b. to 7b., securing bar.
F 4, 6.] — 1 to 5b., thence to 11b., again hitting blot.
L 6s., ds.] — Cannot enter, quiescent if not content, no movement.
F 2s., ds.] — 1 from 1b. to 3b., covering man and 1 from 12b. to 7w.
L 6, 1.] — Enters 1, plays other from 3w. to 9w.
F 4, 1.] — 1 from 11b., to 9w., taking man.
L 5s., ds.] — Enter 5, 2 from 12w. to 8b., and 1 from 5w. to 10w.
F 5, 4.] — 2 from 12b. to 9 and 8w.
L 2s., ds.] — 2 from 1w. to 5w.
F 6, 2.] — 1 from 3b. to 11b.
L 2s., ds.] — 1 from 10w. to 11b. (capturing man in the progress), thence to 7b.
F 4, 3.] — Enters 3, 1 from 6w. to 2w.
L 5, 2.] — 1 from 8b. to 1b.
F 4s., ds.] — 2 from 7w. to 3w., and 2 from 6w. to 2w.
L 3, 1.] — 1 from 8b., and 1 from 6b. to cinque point.
F 5, 1.] — 1 from 9w. to 4w., and 1 from 9 to 8w.
L 5, 1.] — 1 from 7b. to 1b.
F 2, 1.] — 1 from 8w. to 6w., 1 from 4w. to 3w.
L 3, 2.] — 2 from 4b. to 2 and 1b.
F 6, 2.] — 1 from 3 to 11b.
L 5, 1.] — 1 from 8b. to 3b., taking man, thence to 2b., only 2 points vacant.
F 4, 1.] — Enters 4, 1 from 11b. to 12b.
L 5, 2.] — 2 from 8 to 3 and 6b.
F 4, 1.] — 1 from 4 to 9b.
L 6, 4.] — 2 from 7 to 3 and 1b.
F 1s., ds.] — 1 from 9 to 12b., and 1 from 7 to 6w.
L 4s., ds.] — 2 from 5 to 9w., 2 from 6 to 2b.
F 6, 3.] — 2 from 12b. to 7 and 10w.
L 5, 4.] — 2 from 9w. to 12 and 11b.; the men have all passed, so no further collision — no captures can take place.
F 6, 5.] — 1 from 10 to 4, and 1 from 8 to 3w.
L 5, 1.] — 1 from 11 to 6, and 1 from 12 to 11b.
F 4, 3.] — 1 from 8 to 5, and 1 from 7 to 3w., all the men at home.
L 4, 3.] — 1 from 11 to 4b., all at home.
F 5, 4.] — Takes one man from those points, 5 and 4.
L 5, 4.] — Ditto, ditto.
F 6, 3.] — Men from points.
L 2, 1.] — Ditto.
F 6, 3.] — Ditto.
L 4, 3.] — Takes off from 3, plays up the 4 from 6 to 2b.
F 5s., ds.] — Plays up 1 from 6 to 1, takes off 2 from 4, and 1 from 3 points.
L 5, 2.] — Men from points.
F 3, 2.] — Ditto.
L 6, 5.] — 1 from 6, other from 3.
F 6, 2.] — 1 from 3 and 1 from 2.
L 4s., ds.] — 3 from 2 and 1 from 1.
F 5s., ds.] — 2 off; F wins a hit.
Oral instruction may be the best, and there are few who cannot find a friend to impart it; but take no lessons, oh! tender-hearted bachelor, from one who is young and fair, and has the gift which the clown says attends such possessions; you will not be well taught in juxta-position to bright eyes, and a hand —
Writing their own reproach:”
Let me now give the reader a few
Hints, Observations, and Cautions.
1. By the directions given to play for at gammon, you are voluntarily to make some blots; the odds being in your favour that they are not hit; but should that so happen, in such case you will have three men in your adversary’s table; you must then endeavour to secure your adversary’s cinque, quatre, or trois point, to prevent a gammon, and must be very cautious how you suffer him to take up a fourth man.
2. Take care not to crowd your game, that is, putting many men either upon your trois or deuce point in your own table; which is, in effect, losing those men by not having them to play. Besides, by crowding your game, you are often gammoned; as, when your adversary finds your game open, by being crowded in your own table, he may then play as he thinks fit.
3. By referring to the calculations, you may know the odds of entering a single man upon any certain number of points, and play your game accordingly.
4. If you are obliged to leave a blot, by having recourse to the calculations for hitting it, you will find the chances for and against you.
5. You will also find the odds for and against being hit by double dice, and consequently can choose a method of play most to your advantage.
6. If it be necessary to make a run, in order to win a hit, and you would know who is forwardest, begin reckoning how many points you have to bring home to the six-point in your table the man that is at the greatest distance, and do the like by every other man abroad; when the numbers are summed up, add for those already on your own tables (supposing the men that were abroad as on your sixth point for bearing) namely, six for every man on the six; and so on respectively for each; five, four, three, two, or one, for every man according to the points on which they are situated. Do the like to your adversary’s game, and then you will know which of you is forwardest, and likeliest to win the hit.
Directions for a Learner to Bear His Men.
1. If your adversary be great before you, never play a man from your quatre, trois, or deuce points, in order to bear that man from the point where you put it, because nothing but high doublets can give you any chance for the hit; therefore, instead of playing an ace or a deuce from any of the aforesaid points, always play them from your highest point; by which means, throwing two fives, or two fours, will, upon having eased your six and cinque points, be of great advantage: whereas, had your six-point remained loaded, you must perhaps be obliged to play at length those fives and fours.
2. Whenever you have taken up two of your adversary’s men, and happen to have two, three, or more points made in your own table, never fail spreading your men, either to take a new point in table, or to hit the man your adversary may happen to enter. As soon as he enters one, compare his game with yours; and if you find your game equal or better, take the man if you can, because it is twenty-five to eleven against his hitting you; which being so much in your favour, you ought always to run that risk, when you have already two of his men up: except you play for a single hit only.
3. Never be deterred from taking up any one man of your adversary by the apprehension of being hit with double dice, because the fairest probability is five to one against him.
4. If you should happen to have five points in your table, and to have taken one of your adversary’s men, and are obliged to leave a blot out of your table, rather leave it upon doublets than any other, because doublets are thirty-five to one against his hitting you, and any other chance is but seventeen to one against him.
5. Two of your adversary’s men in your table are better for a hit than any greater number, provided your game be the forwardest; because having three or more men in your table gives him more chances to hit you, than if he had only two men.
6. If you are to leave a blot upon entering a man on your adversary’s table, and have your choice where, always choose that point which is the most disadvantageous to him. To illustrate this: suppose it is his interest to hit or take you up as soon as you enter; in that case leave the blot upon his lowest point; that is to say, upon his deuce, rather than upon his trois, and so on; because all the men your adversary plays upon his trois or deuce points, are in a great measure out of play, these men not having it in their power to make his cinque point, and consequently his game will be crowded there and open elsewhere, whereby you will be able also much to annoy him.
7. Prevent your adversary from bearing his men to the greatest advantage, when you are running to save a gammon; suppose you should have two men upon his ace point, and several others abroad; though you should lose one point or two, in putting the men into your table, yet it is your interest to leave a man upon the adversary’s ace point; which will prevent him bearing his men to his greatest advantage, and will also give you the chance of his making a blot, that you may hit. But if, upon calculation, you find you have a throw, or a probability of saving your gammon, never wait for a blot, because the odds are greatly against hitting it,
The Laws of Backgammon
Ay, marry is’t.” — Hamlet.
1. If you take a man or men from any point, that man or men must be played.
2. You are not understood to have played any man, till it is placed upon a point, and quitted.
3. If you play with fourteen men only, there is no penalty attending it, because with a lesser number you play to a disadvantage, by not having the additional man to make up your tables.
4. If you bear any number of men before you have entered a man taken up, and which, consequently, you were obliged to enter, such men, so borne, must be entered again in your adversary’s tables, as well as the man taken up.
5. If you have mistaken your throw, and played it, and your adversary have thrown, it is not in your power or his choice to alter it, unless both parties agree.
Further Rules and Hints
It is very difficult to lay down rules to provide for circumstances contingent upon chance, but it is essential to point out how, at the commencement of like game, the throws may be rendered most available.
The best throw is double aces, which should be played, two on the bar, and two on the cinque point; the antagonist then cannot escape, with either a quatre, cinque, or six throw; and if fortune enable you to fill up your quatre point also, he may find it as hard to get out as did Sterne’s starling. See First Game.
The next best is sixes, for the two bar points may be occupied, and it may hap that the adversary becomes barred in or out, as were schoolmasters before they were so much abroad.
The third best is trois ace, which completes the cinque point in your table.
Quatre, deuce, cinque, trois, and six quatre, form respectively the quatre, trois, and deuce points in your table.
Six ace must be played to gain footing at the bar, that being a point well adapted for successfully waging this noisy warfare.
Double trois, take a double jump to the same station.
When double deuces are flung they must be played two on your table’s quatre point, and two from the five men in the far corner on the hostile side.
Double fours from the same array of five to the quatre point at home.
Double fives in like order to the trois.
Six deuce — one of the twins in the enemy’s camp as far as he will go.
Six trois — from the same.
Cinque quatre — from the same to the same.
Cinque deuce — two men from the cornered five before mentioned.
Cinque ace (a vile throw) — perhaps the best, because the boldest, play is one man on your cinque point, another to the point adjoining the bar.
Quatre trois — two men from the extreme five ready to form points next throw — fortunâ juvante.
Quatre ace — from the five to the fifth point thence.
Trois deuce — the same, or spread in preparation for seats at your table.
Deuce ace — ad libitum, as you like it.
Six cinque enables one of the men in the adversary’s table, with two bounds, to join his fellow’s eleven degrees distant.
These may be called the backgammon tactics for the opening of the campaign; we give now instructions to apply to the progress of the warfare. As we are using martial terms, and assuming authority, we will take the opportunity to generalize, and do it in these.
When the numbers flung are not available to make points, let them make preparations for points; spread the men so that you may hope gallantly to carry your point the next throw — but this should only be done when the adverse table affords facilities for entering.
If it appear unadvisable to spread your men, endeavour to get away with one or both from the adversary’s table — steal a march, which is a lawful theft.
When compelled to leave a blot, leave it not uncared for, but cover your man as well and as soon and as perfectly as you can.
“Cover your man”
Linger not in the enemy’s entrenchments, or retreat may be cutoff; whenever the bar point and two points in the table are occupied, be assured that —
And you must away, away.”
Be over-bold rather than over-wary; more games are lost by excess of caution than by extremity of rashness —
Even by its daring, venture rude,
Where prudence would have failed.”
If retreat from the hostile lines be hopeless, scruple not to leave blots to be taken; four men, especially on forward points, will sorely annoy your adversary, and render his home uncomfortable.
Avoid, if possible, breaking up the six or cinque points in your table towards the close of the game, or if you capture the foe you cannot detain him long; he must soon fling one of those numbers, and, like the gazelle, “exulting, still may bound,” to a safer locality.
Eschew many men on one point — five or more (perhaps four) are called a long string, and long strings may be all very well in the matter of titles, kites, or pearls — but at backgammon, they are neither useful nor graceful.
If you have two or three captives, and an indifferently furnished home, hurry your men forward: bear them in whenever you may, not as “single spies, but in battalions;” truss up every possible point; keep the enemy out, or be prepared to hit any single man, and expel him should he enter.
If the course of the dice, like that of another well-known course, “run not smooth,” and you are compelled, when in possession of a captive, to leave a blot away from home, leave it, if possible, so that it necessitates doublets for the adversary to enter and hit you at one throw.
When running to avoid a gammon, and having two men on the enemy’s ace point, move any of their fellows rather than them. “Tarry a little,” as old Sir Nicholas Bacon advises, “that you may make an end the sooner,” for your opponent may be compelled to leave blots which you may hit once — yea, twice — and the tables may be turned.
It is frequently good play to take a man, and leave a blot, “a poor thing of your own,” in the place, if the antagonist’s power cannot re-hit you, except with double dice, for it is five to one against his effecting such a consummation.
Avoid crowding your game — avoid especially having many men on the trois or deuce stations at home, for such men are pent up, so as to be moveless, and the struggle must be carried on by stragglers, perhaps at a distance, certainly to a disadvantage.
Hoyle gives the following “Rules for Playing at Setting Out All the Throws on the Dice when the Player Is to Play for a Gammon or for a Single Hit.”
Hoyle’s Rules for Playing at Setting Out
The Rules marked thus (†) are for a gammon only; those marked thus (*) are for a hit only.
1. Two aces are to be played on the cinque point and bar point for a gammon or for a hit.
2. Two sixes to be played on the adversary’s bar point and on the thrower’s bar point for a gammon or for a hit.
3. † Two trois to be played on the cinque point, and the other two on the trois point in his own tables, for a gammon only.
4. † Two deuces, to be played on the quatre point, in his own tables, and two to be brought over from the five men placed in the adversary’s tables, for a gammon only.
5. † Two fours, to be brought over from the five men placed in the adversary’s tables, and to be put upon the cinque point in his own tables, for a gammon only.
6. Two fives, to be brought over from the five men placed in the adversary’s tables, and to be put on the trois point in his own tables, for a gammon or for a hit.
7. Size ace, he must take his bar point for a gammon or for a hit.
8. Size deuce, a man to be brought from the five men placed in the adversary’s tables, and to be placed in the cinque point in his own tables, for a gammon or for a hit.
9. Six and three, a man to be brought from the adversary’s ace point, as far as he will go, for a gammon or for a hit.
10. Six and four, a man to be brought from the adversary’s ace point, as far as he will go, for a gammon or for a hit.
11. Six and five, a man to be carried from the adversary’s ace point, as far as he can go, for a gammon or for a. hit.
12. Cinque and quatre, a man to he carried from the adversary’s ace point, as far as he can go, for a gammon or for a hit.
13. Cinque trois, to make the trois point in his table, for a gammon or for a hit.
14. Cinque deuce, to play two men from the five placed in the adversary’s tables, for a gammon or for a hit.
15. † Cinque ace, to bring one man from the five placed in the adversary’s tables for the cinque, and to play one man down on the cinque point in his own tables for the ace, for a gammon only.
16. Quatre trois, two men to he brought from the five place in the adversary’s tables, for a gammon or for a hit.
17. Quatre deuce, to make the quatre point in his own tables, for a gammon or for a hit.
18. † Quatre ace, to play a man from the five placed in the adversary’s tables for the quatre; and for the ace, to play a man clown upon the cinque point in his own tables, for a gammon only.
19. Trois deuce, two men to be brought from the five placed in the adversary’s tables, for a gammon only.
20. Trois ace, to make the cinque point in his own tables, for a gammon or for a hit.
21. † Deuce ace, to play one man from the five men placed in the adversary’s table for the deuce; and for the ace, to play a man down upon the cinque point in his own tables.
22. * Two trois, two of them to be played on the cinque point in his own tables, and with the other two he is to take the quatre point in the adversary’s tables.
23. * Two deuces, two of them are to be played on the quatre point in his own tables, and with the other two he is to take the trois point in the adversary’s tables. By playing these two cases in this manner, the player avoids being shut up in the adversary’s tables, and has the chance of throwing out the tables to win the hit.
24. * Two fours, two of them are to take the adversary’s cinque point in the adversary’s tables, and for the other two, two men are to be brought from the five placed in the adversary’s tables.
25. * Cinque ace, the cinque should be played from the five men placed in the adversary’s tables, and the ace from the adversary’s ace point.
26. * Quatre ace, the quatre to be played from the five men placed in the adversary’s ace point.
27. * Deuce ace, the deuce to be played from the five men placed in the adversary’s tables, and the ace from the adversary’s ace point.
The last three chances are played in this manner; because, an ace being laid down in the adversary’s tables, there is a probability of throwing deuce ace, trois deuce, quatre trois, or size cinque, in two or three throws; either of which throws secures a point, and gives the player the best of the hit.
Calculation of Chances.
His life was guided by their rules,
His very walk was strict1y — what d’ ye call
That meted progress? — Mathematical.
He shaved in diagrams — abhorr’d romances,
And dwelt upon the certainties of chances.
His dreams were algebra.”
“My tables.” — Hamlet.
In looking to the authorities I have found it necessary to consult in compiling this little volume, I discover that the writers in the “Encyclopaedia Britannica,” “Bohn’s Book of Games,” “Rees’” and the “Penny” Cyclopaedias, &c., have, one and all, borrowed from Hoyle. I therefore go back to the original source — brave old Hoyle — for my information.
It is necessary for the amateur (here I am quoting Hoyle, though not altogether verbatim et literatim) to know how many throws, one with another, he may fling upon two dice. There are thirty-six chances on the two dice, and the points upon these thirty-six chances are as follow: —
|6 and 5 twice||22|
|6 and 4 twice||20|
|6 and 3 twice||18|
|6 and 2 twice||16|
|6 and 1 twice||14|
|5 and 4 twice||18|
|5 and 3 twice||16|
|5 and 2 twice||14|
|5 and 1 twice||12|
|4 and 3 twice||14|
|4 and 2 twice||12|
|4 and 1 twice||10|
|3 and 2 twice||10|
|8 and 1 twice||8|
|2 and 1 twice||6|
|Divide by 36)||294||(8|
The number 294 divided by 36 gives 8 as the product, with a remainder of 6. It follows, therefore, that, one throw with another, the player may expect to throw 8 at every fling of two dice.
The chances upon two dice calculated for Backgammon are as follows: —
|6 and 5 twice||2|
|6 and 4 twice||2|
|6 and 3 twice||2|
|6 and 2 twice||2|
|†||6 and 1 twice||2|
|5 and 4 twice||2|
|5 and 3 twice||2|
|5 and 2 twice||2|
|†||5 and 1 twice||2|
|4 and 3 twice||2|
|4 and 2 twice||2|
|†||4 and 1 twice||2|
|3 and 2 twice||2|
|†||3 and 1 twice||2|
|†||2 and 1 twice||2|
As it may seem difficult to find out by this table of thirty-six chances what are the odds of being hit upon a certain or flat die, let the following method be pursued:
The player may observe in the above table that what are thus marked (†) are,
|†||6 and 1 twice||2|
|†||5 and 1 twice||2|
|†||4 and 1 twice||2|
|†||3 and 1 twice||2|
|†||2 and 1 twice||2|
|Which deducted from||36|
So that it appears it is twenty-five to eleven against hitting an ace upon a certain or flat die.
The above method holds good with respect to any other flat die. For example, what are the odds of entering a man upon the points 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5?
Here comes Hoyle with a ready answer, saving me and the reader about six months’ severe study of that delectable science called the doctrine of chances.
Again, the following table shows the odds of hitting with any chance in the form of a single die.
The odds of hitting with double dice are calculated as follow: —
To carry these calculations still further, the odds, in a table of thirty-six chances, of hitting upon a six are —
|6 and 5 twice||2|
|6 and 4 twice||2|
|6 and 3 twice||2|
|6 and 2 twice||2|
|6 and 1 twice||2|
|5 and 1 twice||2|
|4 and 2 twice||2|
|Which deducted from||36|
By which it appears to be 19 to 17 against being hit upon a six.
The odds on the hits are —
|2 Love is about||5 to 2|
|2 to 1 is||2 to 1|
|1 Love is||3 to 2|
The following is given as the plan upon which a player may calculate the odds of saving or winning the gammon: —
Suppose the adversary has so many men abroad as require three throws to put them into his tables, and at the same time that the player’s tables are made up, and that he has taken up one of the adversary’s men; in this case it is about an equal wager that the adversary is gammoned. For in all probability the player has bore two men before he opens his tables, and when he bears the third man, he will be obliged to open his size or cinque point. It is then probable that the adversary is obliged to throw twice before he enters his men in the player’s tables, twice more before he puts that man into his own tables, and three throws more to put the men which are abroad into his own tables; in all, seven throws. Now, the player having 12 men to bear, he may be forced to make an ace or a deuce twice before he can bear all his men, and consequently will require seven throws in bearing them; so that, upon the whole, it is about equal whether the adversary is gammoned or not.
Again: suppose you have three men upon your adversary’s ace point, and five in your tables; and that your adversary has all his men in his tables, three upon each of his five highest points: What is the probability of his gammoning you or not? — Of course the probability of a player being “gammoned” depends greatly on the verdant state of his optic orb; but in our game the chances are: —
|for his bearing 3 men from his 6 point,||18|
|from his 5 point,||15|
|from his 4 point,||12|
|from his 3 point,||9|
|from his 2 point,||6|
|To bring your three men from you adversary’s ace point, to your size point in your tables, being for each 18 points, makes in all||54|
|The remainder is||6|
And besides the six points in your favour, there is a further consideration to be added for you, which is, that your adversary may make one or two blots in bearing, as is frequently the case. It is clear, by this calculation, that you have much the better of the probability of saving your gammon — i.e. your bacon.
This case is supposed upon an equality of throwing.
Yet again: suppose you leave two blots, neither of which can be hit but by double dice; to hit the one that cast must be eight, and to hit the other it must be nine; by which means your adversary has only one die to hit either of them.
What are the odds of his hitting either of these blots?
So that it is 25 to 11 that he will not hit either of those blots.
Yet one more example, as quoted by Mr. Carleton from Hoyle: —
Let us suppose the player to leave two other blots which cannot be hit except by double dice, the one must be hit by eight and the other by seven. What are the odds on your adversary hitting either of these blots — the chances on the dice being 36.
It is therefore two to one that you are not hit.
The like method is to be taken with three, four, or five blots upon double dice; or with blots made upon double and single dice at the same time; you are then only to find out (by the table of 36 chances) how many there are to hit any of those blots, and add all together in one sum, which subtract from the number of 36, which is the whole of the chances upon two dice: so doing resolves any question required.
A Case of Curiosity and Instruction
In the following case is shown the probability of making the hit last by one of the players for many hours, although they shall both play as fast as usual.
Suppose B to have borne 13 men, and that A has his fifteen men in B’s tables; viz., three men upon his size point, as many upon his cinque point, three upon his quatre point, the same number upon his trois point, two upon his deuce point, and one upon his ace point. A in this situation can prolong it, as aforesaid, by bringing his 15 men home, always securing six close points till B has entered his two men, and brought them upon any certain point; as soon as B has gained that point, A will open an ace, deuce, or trois point, or all of them; which done, B hits one of them, and A taking care to have two or three men in B’s tables, is ready to hit that man; and also he being certain of taking up the other man, has it in his power to prolong the hit almost to any length, provided he takes care not to open such points as two fours, two fives, or two sixes but always to open the ace, deuce, or trois points, for B to hit him.
A Critical Game
Suppose A and B place their men for a hit in the following manner; A to have three men upon the size point in his own tables, three men out of his tables upon the usual point, and nine men upon his adversary’s ace, deuce, and trois points; that is, three upon each; and suppose B’s men to be placed in his own and his adversary’s tables in the same order. So situated, the best player should win the hit; the game being so equal, that in this case the dice should be thrown for.
Now, if A throws first, he should endeavour to gain his adversary’s cinque point: this being done, he should lay as many blots as possible, to tempt B to hit him, as it puts him backward, and A thereby gains an advantage. A should always endeavour to have three men upon each of his adversary’s ace and deuce points; because when B makes a blot, these points will remain secure, and when A has borne five, six, or more men, A yet may secure six close points out of his tables, in order to prevent B from getting his man home, at which time he should calculate who has the best of the hit. If he finds that B is foremost, he should then try to lay such blots as may be taken up by his adversary, that he may have a chance of taking up another man, in case B should happen to have a blot at home.
A Back Game.
This I quote from Mr. Carleton: Suppose A to have five men placed upon his size point, five men upon his quatre point, and five men upon his deuce point, all in his own tables:
And suppose B to have three men placed upon A’s ace point, three men upon A’s trois point, and three men upon A’s cinque point; let B also have three men upon his size point in his own tables, and three men placed out of his tables, in the usual manner :
Who has the better of the hit?
It is an equal game; but to play it critically, the difficulty lies upon B, who is in the first place to endeavour to gain his cinque and quatre points in his own tables; and when that is effected, he is to lay two men from A’s cinque point, in order to oblige his adversary to blot, by throwing an ace, which, if B hits, he will have the fairest probability of winning the hit.
Another Curious Case.
A and B play at Backgammon. A has borne thirteen men, and has two men to bear upon his deuce point; B has thirteen men in his own tables, with two men to enter. B is to throw, and to name the throws both for himself and A, but not to hit a blot on either side:
What throws is B to name for both parties, in order to save his gammon?
B calls for himself two aces, which enter his two men upon A’s ace point. B also calls two aces for A, and consequently A cannot either bear a man, nor play one; then B calls for two sixes for himself and carries one man home upon his size point in his own tables, and the other he places upon his adversary’s bar point: B also calls size ace for A, so that A has one man left to bear, and then B calls for himself either two sixes, two fives, or two fours, any of which bear a man, in case he has men in his own tables upon those points, and to save his gammon.
These cases might be multiplied ad infinitum; but enough has been said, I think, to enable the tyro to make himself, by a little study, a first-rate player at Backgammon. Of course, I do not pretend to tell the reader that he can, by reading alone, acquire a knowledge of any game, much less of any art or science. Sufficient if these instructions enable him to begin; a little practice will soon render him familiar with the points to be observed and the chances to be taken advantage of.
I may as well confess that I have taken my “Curious Case” bodily from the treatise on Backgammon in the “Encyclopaedia Britannica.” From what source soever the writer obtained his information, I must in justice say that it is singularly accurate.
Let us pass on to the concluding chapter.
Explanation of Technicalities.
Boy. The rats have ate it, sir.
Carp. The unprincipled marauders!
... Hence, go beg the definitions;
Go, copy, borrow, steal them.
Backward Game. — Men behindhand at Backgammon, like Napoleon at Moscow, in the
Kings would but seldom play at.”
Forward Game. — Men in advance, and therefore to advantage in Backgammon. It is also a rather forward game for boys to ape the manners of men about town; for young ladies to marry at fifteen; for fathers of families to be seen often at Evans’s supper-rooms after midnight, or for mothers-in-law to attempt blowing them up at breakfast next morning for doing so. The last game had better not be played too often if husband and wife wish to play their game of life in peace and quietness.
Covering Your Man, in Backgammon, means making sure of him to prevent his being hit. It is somewhat the same in a duel, with a difference, for, if you do not soon cover your man you cannot hit him at all. Mr. Kenny Meadows’ idea of covering a man is pleasantly exemplified here. The term may also be applied to breeching a youngster and clothing your poor relation when he comes to your house in a state of semi-nudity or extra shabbiness. In the latter case you not only do a Christian act, but save your own credit if there be visitors in the house, a matter of no small importance.
Bearing your Men in. — This term is applied in Backgammon to the conveying of your counters to your own tables. In social life it is sometimes used when you bring your boys in doors to avoid a street fight.
Doublets. — A constellation of dice, a “cross” at billiards, or the voiding a policeman by dodging round the corner.
High Doublets. — Twin sixes, or fives, in Backgammon. In life, two little boys (or girls) of the same age, dressed precisely alike, or two tall old maids flirting at a card party.
To Enter. — In Backgammon, to enter is to get your man again on the board after he has been hit. In life, a respectable man usually enters your premises with his hat in his hand and a pleasant smile on his face; if he be of the dangerous, yclept burglars, he commonly enters by means of a jemmy, and his face concealed by a crape veil. To enter a theatre you must either pay or provide yourself with a press order, in which latter case the box-keepers look at you with suspicion if you be not a frequent visitor. To enter a Puseyite church, or the stalls at Mr. Albert Smith’s entertainment, you must be full dressed. The station-house is usually entered in company with a policeman and a crowd of officious witnesses. My friend Kenny Meadows’ idea of “a man enabled to enter” (here), rather partakes of fun than fact.
Gammon, in our game, means when one player has removed all his men, and his adversary has not removed one. In society it is usually prefaced by the words “Come, none o’ that!” or sentences equivalent. See here for the artist’s idea of the term. It is also applied to a side of an unclean animal in a saline state, and is sometimes taken with spinach.
Getting Home is sometimes as difficult in life as it is in Backgammon, as our artist has amusingly exemplified here. It is always advisable to “get home” as quickly as you can after a ball, a race, or a row; and no one will deny that “getting home” is the very best thing to do when it rains hard, or mine host at Blackwall or Richmond begins to use his double chalks, and palm off fine old gooseberry upon his guests for Moet’s “sparkling quality at 96s. the case of eight bottles.”
Hitting Men is cruel, both on the Backgammon board and in the prize-ring. In South Carolina it is usually performed with a cow-hide whip; in the American senate, with a guttapercha stick. It is a popular sport with metropolitan policemen in low neighbourhoods. Sometimes, however, these guardians of cooks and kitchens are not content with “hitting men,” but hit women too.
Making Points. — Making ground in Backgammon, and creating sensations in unexpected places in theatricals.
Men. — In Backgammon, the wooden representatives of the genus homo, usually black and white. In real life any reasoning bipeds with less than £300 a year. With more than that annual income they are usually termed “swells.” In Backgammon, as in war, they are exposed to “moving accidents,” and “being taken by the insolent foe.”
Table. — The home of the men in Backgammon. In life the “table” most patronised is usually well spread; and if at somebody else’s “home” the better, except when you are very rich.
To Take. — To seize the body of a man astray. This is the Backgammon definition; but in war and peace it means to “loot,” or to “prig,” terms not, of course, understood in polite society. It is also occasionally used by old gentlemen who patronise puns, and is usually accompanied by a dig in the short ribs, “Do you take?” From the capture of men at Backgammon, rather than from an unfortunate’s wailings, may be derived the saying,” He is in a sad taking.”
Taking Men Off. — This term is applied equally to removing men from the Backgammon board and from their country in convict-ships — “leaving their country for their country’s good.”
Chances. — A Tory Cabinet in a minority is usually governed by them — Mr. Disraeli, in his celebrated impersonation of the political Micawber, generally waiting for “something to turn up.” There are thirty-six chances on two dice — given, the number of chances that fall to the lot of sanguine individuals who wait for the
That, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”
Odds. — What are they, so long as you are happy?
Die. — A cube of spotted ivory, and what we shall all come to.
Ecce signum: thus, gentle and most forbearing reader, we close the book and the Backgammon board and proclaim