Backgammon is a two-player strategy game that involves a combination of tactics and luck to beat your opponent. The object of the game is to be the first player to “bear off” or remove all 15 checker pieces off the board.
It is also one of the oldest games in existence. Backgammon may not share the same popularity as Chess but still has an almost cult following in many parts of the world. The earliest variation of the game can be traced back 5,000+ years, with its popularity spanning from Greece all the way to China.
Today, Backgammon and its variations are still extremely popular, with tournaments hosted in many parts of the world. As such, we have compiled a list of the top 17 countries where Backgammon is played passionately. Let’s get to it!
In Turkey, Backgammon is referred to as Tavla and is usually played in hookah bars and at homes across the country. The rules of Tavla are similar to that of Backgammon but not exactly the same.
In Tavla, the doubling cube (a recent addition to Backgammon) isn’t applicable. There are also a few other customary rules to follow. Other variants of Backgammon are also widely played across the country.
“Tawla” is a word you will undoubtedly hear as you walk across the streets of Cairo or through any town, city, or village in Egypt. Tawla is the Egyptian word for Backgammon. A game that is a staple in pretty much any Egyptian cafe you go to, along with shisha and Turkish coffee.
Egyptian pharaohs played an early predecessor of Backgammon called Senet. The earliest senet board was excavated in an Egyptian royal tomb that dates back to circa 3100 BC. Even thousands of years later, the modern variation of the game is still played and enjoyed by many Egyptians.
Ancient Mesopotamia is considered the origin and the birthplace of the board game we westerners call Backgammon. The ancient Mesopotamians played a game referred to as the Royal Game of Ur that had the same basic principles.
Today, ancient Mesopotamia is spread across different countries, one of them being Iraq. As such, the game may have originated from these very lands. It is not surprising then that this game holds vital historical significance for the people of Iraq.
Even though it is still not as widely popular here as it should be, a revival of the game is underway.
The oldest version of what can be considered a modern Backgammon board was unearthed in Iran in the Persian city of Shahr-e-Sukhteh. The elaborate board was made from ebony, with the six markers made from turquoise.
These lands are believed to be the very lands where the game was first played, and its popularity has never diminished even thousands of years later. Iranians love the game; many can be seen playing on the streets and in cafes, having epic battles against each other to see who has the superior skill and luck to triumph!
Backgammon can trace its roots to another board game that was widely played in ancient Byzantine Greece, known as Tabula. Today, western Backgammon is referred to as Portes in Greece and is one of three variations of Backgammon commonly played here. The other two are, Plakoto and Fevga. These board games are collectively referred to as Tavli.
Chaupar is a game that is considered by many to be the “Backgammon of India.” Once played by Mughal emperors and royal elites, today, this game can be found being played in the rural villages of India. Chaupar is similar to Backgammon, but instead of two players, four people can also play the game.
Today, the game is almost lost in the chaos of urbanization and technological advancement. However, there are still many that play the game judiciously in India and recognize it for its deep-rooted history and relevance to their Gods.
“Shuanglu” or “Shan-Liu”, the Chinese name for Backgammon, was widely popular in China for some time, especially around the year 700 AD. The popularity of other games that were later introduced, such as Go, led to a fall in players but the game is still played and respected by Chinese elites and even royalty.
The Game Of Tables, a predecessor of Backgammon, is thought to have first been introduced in France somewhere around the 11th century. The game was an instant success and was, in fact, so popular that an act was put in place by Philip of France banning his Knights from playing the game.
Today, French Backgammon, as it is called, is still played extensively in France in quaint cafes.
Shortly after the game was first introduced in France, it found its way to the borders of Germany. By the 12th century, Tables were played by Germans everywhere. The game has continued to remain a favorite past-time for many of Germany’s upper-class statesmen.
10. United Kingdom
The Game of Tables was hugely successful in the United Kingdom, so much so that it was banned in the sixteen century according to church regulations and Elizabethan laws. As such, around the 18th century, Backgammon became the British public’s new favored gambling board game.
11. United States
The United States is responsible for the addition of the doubling cube, which added a whole new dimension to Backgammon at the time.
The game also saw a surge in popularity in the 1960s thanks to the efforts of Prince Alexis Obolensky, who introduced the first major international Backgammon tournament in 1964. The US Backgammon Federation, established in 2010, continues to actively promote and grow Backgammon in America.
The Canada Backgammon Federation was established to promote the game of Backgammon in Canada. The organization is a nationally federated non-profit that has helped host many tournaments and events relating to Backgammon in all major cities in Canada, including Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and even the Northwest Territories and Yukon.
If you really want to challenge yourself at Backgammon, play with a Danish player. Players from Denmark and other Nordic countries are considered amongst the world’s best and continue to dominate the world stage in major tournaments.
The Nordic Open Backgammon Tournament is considered by many to be the “toughest tournament” in the world.
Backgammon, also known as Tables in Romania, is a popular game enjoyed by Romanians in town squares, cafes, and social gatherings.
Backgammon may not be as popular in Italy as it is in France and Germany, but there are still plenty of Italians that love nothing more than having a few relaxing hours of playing Backgammon.
The Swedish also have a fascination for the game, calling it Swedish Tables rather than Backgammon. The rules are the same, by and large, and the country also hosts big tournaments such as the Backgammon Swedish Open.
With its idyllic geographic location and great tourist weather, Cyprus is another country where Backgammon is not only played but extremely popular. Some of the biggest Backgammon tournaments are held in Cyprus almost every year.
For a game that has lasted several millennia, the popularity of Backgammon isn’t going away. Even today, as we see in this article, this ancient board game is still widely played and popular in many countries around the world. It is safe to say that if you are a Backgammon player seeking a challenge, there aren’t many countries in the world where you won’t find it!