Discovering Backgammon Tournaments

Way back in the 1960’s the game of Backgammon experienced a huge surge in popularity in North America as well as in many other parts of the world. In Canada, my friends and I (teenagers) heard about the game in 1969 and looked it up in the book, Hoyle's Rules of Games. When I saw that it was played with a board that had triangles on it, I remembered seeing such a pattern in a wooden box that my father had somewhere in our home.

I found the box in a closet, opened it and lo and behold, it really was a backgammon board with triangles, including 15 white checkers, 15 red checkers and a pair of tiny black and white dice. It was a board my dad brought over from Greece in the late 1940s. (Back then, not many Greeks used dice cups to shake the dice nor the doubling cube to raise the stakes in a game.)

However, in Greece, Backgammon has been played for centuries and is referred to as the National Pastime. Children learn to play the game as young as 5 years old and elderly people can be seen playing at sidewalk cafes. Backgammon is called Tavli in Greek, and three variants of the game are played, Portes, Fevga and Plakato with Portes being the standard game of backgammon, played at international tournaments.

The game of Backgammon is also quite common in other countries of the Mediterranean region, such as Israel, Turkey, Iran and virtually all Arab nations. It is the oldest game in the world and archaeological excavations conducted during the 20th century unearthed remnants of early versions of backgammon boards, dating back to between 3300 to 3500 BC. One discovery was made in what was once the ancient Sumerian city of Ur in Mesopotamia (today part of Iraq) and the other board was found in legendary Burnt City of Sistan-Baluchistan in Iran.

So, my friends and I learned the rules of the Backgammon from Hoyle’s book and we played the game for endless hours in the late sixties. During that era in Canada, kids were playing the game in their basements or garages, and in discotheques, bars and clubs, people were rolling the dice onto stylish backgammon boards, it was such a fad, and it almost made disco-dancing go out of style.

In the early 1970s, a friend I was visiting in Florida invited me to compete in a Backgammon tournament to be held in the conference room of a hotel in Fort Lauderdale that coming weekend.

I said, “What! I never knew they organize tournaments for this game?”

I went to the event and lost in Round 1, but happily, to a genuinely sweet lady who was a much stronger player than I was back then.

I later discovered that several organizations had been created to hold such backgammon events, across the USA. The bigger tournaments were held in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Some of the elite society and more than one or two celebrities, also attended these tournaments. For example, Lucille Ball was not only a fantastic comedian but also a great Backgammon player who organized an annual charity backgammon tournament in Los Angeles in the 1980s and donated the proceeds to, for example, a children’s hospital.

Huge events were also held in Las Vegas casinos. Much like today, these competitions were played for money. Typically, an entry fee per player was required but most of the money, 90-95% was returned to the players that made it to the final rounds of each flight - the Open Championship was usually the main event and was for highly skilled players and most tourneys also had flights for the Intermediate and Beginner divisions, the upcoming players.

By the way, the annual World Backgammon Championships have been held in Monte Carlo, Monaco since 1979. Previously, the World Championships were held in The Bahamas from 1975 to 1978, and prior to that, in Las Vegas from 1967 to 1974.

Around the mid to late 1980s, backgammon’s popularity began to fade away, even my friends did not want to play as much anymore. However, live tournaments continue to exist to this day.

In 1995, I discovered the Internet and I searched for where to play backgammon online. I discovered servers like FIBS (the First Internet Backgammon Server), NetGammon and MS The Zone Backgammon. I was then able to enjoy this fascinating game online, with people I could meet from all around the world. I played online almost every day for the next 10 years or so.

In the early 2000s, I began travelling to international tournaments held in countries such as France, Czech Republic, Italy, Austria, Greece, and others. I also have been fortunate to attend the World Championships in Monaco four times, where I got to visit the famous Casino de Monte-Carlo. In fact, numerous Backgammon tournaments are held in beautiful brick and mortar casinos. Some cool casinos I visited were Casino Velden in Austria, Casino Royale on the Island of Sint Maarten and Casino Barriere Le Croisette in Cannes, France.

Currently, the most attended backgammon tournament in the world is the annual Merit Open International Backgammon Championship organized by the Worldwide Backgammon Federation (WBF) in Kyrenia, North Cyprus. The event is directed by Mr. Arda Findikoglu with the support of WBF Secretary-General Mr. Marco Fornasir and an always friendly staff.

If you are interested in playing in a backgammon tournament search Google for backgammon tournament schedule or backgammon club - you might want to include the name of your city or country to find the nearest one to you or leave that out if you are looking for international destinations.