Some pointers on playing in a strange town, ranging from
points of etiquette to practical money matters.
Most often (but not always), thriving backgammon scenes involve playing for money stakes, large or small. Common sense dictates that you should be cautious and alert when entering into money games in an unfamiliar setting. While the great majority of regular players may well be honest, gambling of any sort will tend to bring out the worst in some people.
These comments especially apply to (and were originally written about) informal backgammon hangouts, where local players tend to congregate, but which typically have no set hours, or official organizers who oversee play.
- When in Rome, do as the Romans do. If you are a guest in a new city or country, try to respect the local customs of play. We all have our own home rules with subtle variations of chouette rules, doubling cube use, or even checker play rules. Lighten up and enjoy a different variant of the game, so long as you don't put yourself at money risk by playing for substantial stakes according to alien rules. By all means discuss differences in rules, but don't be a boor.
- Before joining a money game, watch a few games to ascertain that you are indeed playing by the same set of rules. When sitting down with a stranger for a money game, play a practice game to get clear about rules. Some common points of variation to be aware of:
- Before getting involved in a money game, discuss the local conventions and get a feel for the trustworthiness of your opponents. Choose one or two players who seem to you most reliable and ask frankly whether there are any dishonest or unreliable players to avoid, and whether there is much problem with non-payment of debts, etc. Honest and experienced players won't be offended by such questions and shouldn't get defensive.
- Keep in mind that, although you may be suspicious of local players, they have more reason to be suspicious of you. Why should they trust you, who are passing through town, perhaps never to be seen again if you take an extended bathroom break after getting gammoned on a 16-cube? Be tolerant of their wariness, and do what you can to convey your own honesty.
- After settling on a stake, agree to a credit limit. That is, make an agreement about how often money will change hands. (Some people like to pay after each game, but this can get tedious, and the proprietors of your café may not like open gambling in their establishment). If you keep a running tally of the score and agree to pay off when one player reaches, say, 10 or 20 points, you limit the losses you stand to incur should your opponent turn out to be a deadbeat. If you agree to pay after 10 points, then do so without fail. If your opponent finds it inconvenient to pay when the agreed limit has been reached ("I'll have to go to the bank machinecan we make it 20 points?"), he or she will probably find it even less convenient to pay when the debt is twice as large; meanwhile, you run the risk of losing a big game without a compensating certainty of payment if you win.
- You may feel good enough about your new-found opponents to take a check for payment, but that feeling will change if you get home and the check bounces. Conversely, you should understand their reluctance to accept checks from you, regardless of how friendly the session has been.
- The custom in some places may be to show cash before playing. I have heard of stakes being tucked under the board (like Monopoly money!) in earnest of payment. Especially wary locals may ask you to buy points before entering a game: that is, if entering a $3 chouette, you are asked to pay $30 to another player at the outset, and you are entered at +10 on the scoresheet, the recipient of your cash subtracting 10 points from his or her score to balance the account. (If you lose your 10 point reserve you may be asked to place another deposit). This is an unusual measure, perhaps more common in big money games where most of the players have established reputations while newcomers must put up sufficient cash to establish their credibility. Be wary of putting up money in small-time, informal, settings. It is a precaution usually taken only with opponents who have a known history of non-payment. As a guest, you will probably be given the benefit of the doubt.
- Since most money games involve an exchange of cash, you need to have cash on you, or easy access to it. You may not feel safe carrying such sums of money on your person in dubious neighborhoods or at odd hours of the night. Where there is money, there are thieves and brigands, perhaps individuals who are not even involved in the game, but who are attentive to the vulnerability of hapless out-of-towners. There's no use winning a stack at backgammon and then forking it over to some neighborhood hoodlum. So be careful; if you win, call a taxi with your newly minted coin.
- Write down the names of the players you meet, so that you can pass along references (good or bad) to others who may travel to that town. One of the great possibilities of the Internet is that word of mouth concerning backgammon scenes, and the individuals in them, can travel very quickly and effectively.
- In every gambling game, cheating is an unpleasant possiblity. It is best to use dice cups with a trip edge around the rim to prevent pre-setting and dumping of the dice, and no honest player should object to a polite request that the dice be thoroughly shaken before each roll. Be alert to the movements of your opponent's hands on the table so that no checkers are displaced or shuffled illegally. In a race, don't turn your attention too quickly to your own roll, allowing your opponent the chance to sneak a couple of extra pips, or bear off an extra checker. In general, don't allow a pace so fast that you can't keep track of the action: don't match your opponent's lightning speed if you don't usually play that way.
Don't be overly paranoid, however. Fast play or feeble dice shaking can be entirely innocent. Be alert, but above all enjoy the game.