Forum Archive : History

Doubling in the 17th Century?

From:   David Levy
Address:   dml.public@sbcglobal.net
Date:   19 December 2003
Subject:   Doubling in the 17th Century?
Forum:   GammOnLine

I had always believed that the doubling cube was invented or introduced
to backgammon in the 1920's. It turns out that something much like the
doubling cube was used in a backgammon-like game in the 17th century!

Yesterday, I received my copy of of Francis Willughby's Book of Games,
edited by David Cram, Jeffrey L. Forgeng and Dorothy Johnston and
published by Ashgate in 2003. It is the first publication of a
handwritten manuscript written in England in the 1660's. It predates
Cotton's Compleat Gamester (1676) and Hoyle's Treatise on Backgammon

It has quite intelligible rules and strategy for Irish (backgammon, but
doubles are played only twice rather than four times) and Backgammon.
Nack and Paul Weever would appreciate that it discusses backgammon
opening rolls! Willughby also has rules for the game of Ticktack, a
sibling of Trictrac, a game that has much interested me over the years
(see the Trictrac Home Page,
http://pages.sbcglobal.net/david.levy/trictrac/). Like Trictrac, Ticktack
is played on a backgammon board and is not a race, but a game where one
scores points for making certain positions.

The discussion of Ticktack contained this astonishing passage (spelling
and punctuation preserved):

   "Vie Ticktack is when one has as hee thinks the advantage & is likely
   to win, hee saies to the other, I Vie. If hee thinks there bee no
   hopes of it hee yeilds the game. But if hee have a mind to venture
   longer and not yeild, hee saies, I See It. This doubles whatever they
   play for. If the game bee not wun the next throw, it may be vied
   againe, and then what they plaied for at first is trebled. If it bee
   vied againe, the stake is quadrupled, &c., there beeing as many stakes
   to bee plaied for as there have bene vies besides the stake at first,
   as if there has bene 4 vies & they play for 6 pence the stake will
   bee  a crowne. They use either to stake as often as they vie or reckon
   the vies with counters. A double game doubles the stake & all the vies.

There are some interesting differences between the "vie" and the doubling

The doubling cube always doubles the stakes. It is only the initial "vie"
in Ticktack that doubles the stakes. In deciding whether to take a double,
a player can give up a single stake, or agree to play on for a double
stake. Thus by accepting, the player risks a single stake (lose two
instead of lose one) to gain three (win two instead of lose one) and needs
to win one game in four to accept the double (ignoring double games which
can also occur in Ticktack and ignoring the extra equity provided by the
exclusive option to double next).

The second vie in Ticktack is different. The player can give up a double
stake or agree to play on for a triple stake. Thus by accepting, the
player risks a single stake (lose three instead of lose two) to gain five
(win three instead of lose two). Thus the player needs to win only one
game in six to accept the second vie. Similarly the player needs to win
only one game in eight for the thrid vie, one in ten for the fourth, etc.

Wouldn't this drive us all crazy? What would Neil's MET look like?

Willughby also mentions the vie applied to the card game Gleek.

Is anyone familiar with other games that use the vie?

Chuck Bower  writes:

A fantastic discovery! Now we're left wondering if the cube usage branch
from the 18th Century died out and re-evolved or whether the 1920's
development actually directly descended from two centuries earlier.

David Levy  writes:

It must have died out. I'm pretty familiar with the backgammon (and
trictrac) literature of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. There is
not a word about anything like the doubling cube after Willughby and
before the 1920's.

Rodney Lighton  writes:

Interestingly in 1996 the rules of Ticktack were put on the web (see
http://jducoeur.org/game-hist/game-recon-ticktack.html) but no one seems
to have noticed the historical importance of vie.

Chris Yep  writes:

Interesting! By my reading of the quoted passage, a player may vie
repeatedly (as opposed to doubling in backgammon, where the right to
double alternates between players). Is this correct? If so then the
remaining length of the game is a very important feature of the position.
In many cases one player will vie every turn (and the second player, if
he accepts the first vie, will likely continue accepting successive vies
unless the position becomes very hopeless).

If it's true that a player may vie repeatedly then (1) any time a player
is the favorite he should vie, (2) one needs almost 50% (more precisely:
cubeless equity of close to zero) to take the Mth vie if the game figures
to last an average of N more moves and M is small relative to N. I.e. if
the first player is 55% to win after the opening move, he should vie and
his opponent should drop (i.e. "yeild (sic) the game").

Vic Morawski  writes:

I find it interesting that tric trac and backgammon were so popular in the
17th and 18th centuries. If one tours Jefferson's Monticello one sees a
backgammon set put there because they believe it to be like the one
Jefferson actually used and the Philosopher David Hume proposed Backgammon
as part of a practical cure for philosophical skepticism at the end of
Book I of his Treatise of Human Nature.  I have an article on how doubling
might have re-surfaced in the 1930s on the links page of the Baltimore
Backgammon Club Web site http://www.Baltimorebackgammonclub.com
Did you find the information in this article useful?          

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Backgammon in China  (Mark Driver, Jan 2001) 
Backgammon variants  (Raccoon, Aug 2003) 
Books on the history of backgammon  (Albert Steg, Aug 1998) 
Changes in backgammon over the years  (Joe Russell, July 2009) 
Doubling in the 17th Century?  (David Levy+, Dec 2003)  [GammOnLine forum]
Murray's "History of Boardgames Other than Chess"  (Dean Jameson, Apr 2002) 
Origin of backgammon  (Greycat Sharpclaw, Oct 1997) 
Recent changes  (Joe Russell+, July 2009) 
The effect of bots on the game  (Daniel Murphy+, May 2005)  [GammOnLine forum]
The name "backgammon"  (Jive Dadson+, Dec 2002) 
The name "backgammon"  (Marina Smith, Jan 1998) 
The name "backgammon"  (Albert Steg, Mar 1995) 

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