A comprehensive history of backgammon – Part II

Looking at our previous article in this series we could see that the game of backgammon was losing its appeal in the 1920’s. The game was seen as slow and it was difficult to bet large sums of money.

We can only wonder whether the game would have survived without two major changes that would come into the game around 1925.

The first and most important change came when unknown person(s) in Boston or New York came up with the notion of doubling the stakes. We assume that doubling was invented at the same time and there is no evidence to support that this was not the case.

The doubling cube did not arrive for several more years and initially matchsticks were used to record the stakes. The first type of doubling device was a dial.

It is not recorded on exactly which date the doubling cube did arrive.

The second change was the arrival of the multi-player version of the game that has always been known, even back in the 1920’s, as a chouette. Chouette is the French word meaning screech owl, a bird that is attacked by many of its own kind.

The popularity of backgammon rose immensly after this. Backgammon became the perfect game for the 1920’s.

It is safe to say that doubling,though solving the backgammon popularity problems of the day and introducing a whole new level of skill, was initially very poorly understood by those playing the game. Take a look at any backgammon publications from that era and you will find very bad doubling advice !

Georges Mabardi, who is the author of Vanity Fair’s “Backgammon to Win” (1930) had this view of Doubling: “If two absolutely perfect players engaged in a match, there would never be an accepted double.”

This did not stop people cashing in on teaching the game. Here is Leila Hattersley, author of “How to play the New Backgammon” (1930) teaching at a New York Club (Leila is standing back right).

Similarly the early rules for chouettes didn’t much resemble today’s game, which involves multiple cubes, but it created a form of the game that is still the most exciting way to play backgammon today !

It is not clear how quickly doubling and chouettes crossed the Atlantic but there are no comparable UK backgammon books dating from the 20’s and 30’s of the 20th century

Backgammon continued to gain popularity until 1929 when the Infamous Wall Street Crash occured. In Part III of the series we will look at backgammon in the modern age.