Forum Archive : Variations

Greek backgammon

From:   Alexandre Charitopoulos
Date:   18 August 2003
Subject:   Turkish, greek, egyptian, and so on backgammon
Google:   bhp5lu$9rc$

I read a complete thread that was dealing with "the turkish coffeeshop way
of playing backgammon" and  "the middle age of backgammon".

Actually, in those countries, backgammon (also called Tavli in greece and I
think in turkey also, and Shesh-besh in some arabic countries and in
armenia) is a _real_ society thing. Much more than the simple fact of
playing with money, betting, gambling and calculating positions.

Imagine one minute you all are playing without the cube. I perfectly know
some will say "Then it's no more backgammon". Okay, right. It's no more
_your_way_ of playing backgammon.

Actually playing without the cube offers more interest than you may think.
It first develops the attention on the game itself, and not what has been
made _around_ the game (eg. gambling, the cube, etc). Then, it develops
social links. You play with _your friend_ and not your opponent. I will not
develop the hatred I have towards professional players, who have turned a
traditionnal middle-eastern game into a job and a way to earn a living. I
couldn't play with such a player (and I think that everyone which is used
to the _traditionnal_ play will say the same).

But greek backgammon (or turkish, or arabic, or whatever, I don't like
calling this "backgammon": let's call it "tavli") is not made up only with
the game you all know (which we call "portes"). It's actually made up of
three games, played alternatively, each game won gives one point, gammon
gives two points. No backgammon. The two other games (whose names are
"fevga" and "plakoto") differ from "portes" in term of initial disposition,
and the possibility to "block" a checker with an opponent one, and the fact
that the two player turn in the same way, or in opposite ways (like portes)

This is the way I have ever been used to play, and million peoples have
been used too. You all who play what I will call "gambling backgammon"
cannot understand this.

Imagine one instant that the game you play has thousands years of playing,
and that gambling with a backgammon is a pure american point of view. Try
once to play without cube a portes/fevga/plakoto complete game with a good
coffee and you will see.

By the way, fevga and plakoto (which are simpler than portes to learn)
offer many more possibilities to develop powerful strategies, and very good
plakoto and fevga players are rare, because it is very very hard to
develop. Much more, to my mind, than your american backgammon. And without
the gambling that creates no social link. Remember that tavli is a real
social cohesion game.

If you ever go to Greece, or Turkey, or such countries, you may notice
 - the boards are wood-made, the checkers doing a "clac-clac" noise on the
   board which is perfect for initiating a noisy conversation
 - They only use _one_ pair of dice (plastic-made, 10 cents the little bag
   of 10)
 - Checkers are plastic made, and very cheap (thus being able to get
   remplaced easily if lost)
 - The game is _really_ noisy

Whereas is the US (or any backgammon-playing country) the boards are made
to play a quiet and silent game, with a personnal pair of dice and
beautifully-made boards/checkers/dice. A good board in greece (pretty with
good woods and well made) costs hardly 15 $.

These kinds of characteristics are lost when the backgammon is

In Greece :
 - Only one pair of dice is used, the move is done when the second checker
   has moved. Everyone avoids, as far as possible, to redo one move.
 - For the first game, the who players throw one die each, and the higher
 - For the other games, the winner of the previous game begins.
 - Games are played up to 5 points (or 3 or 7, depending on the available
   time), alternating the three kinds of games usually played : Portes /
   Fevga / Plakoto.
 - No backgammon (ie. only "simple" games, and "double" [diplo] games, ie.
 - No rule of "no hit and go" : you can hit and then go with the same
 - No rule of the "higher die must be played"
 - The loser usually pays for the drinks.

Alexandre Charitopoulos
Tavli (and definitely not backgammon) player.
Did you find the information in this article useful?          

Do you have any comments you'd like to add?     



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