A Gift of Time for Christmas: Consenting to Learn Backgammon

By , December 20, 2009

A week or two before Christmas, I’ve already received one of the best gifts I could hope to get this year. The fact that I had to ask for it myself hardly matters.

The gift, from Aly, is that she has finally consented to learn how to play backgammon.

I don’t recall now when I first learned to play, but I believe I was in high school. My brother David probably returned from college on vacation, and taught me then. Like so many of the things I enjoy in life, like certain board games, cursive writing, and a few choice profane words, my older brother went out and learned it, then came home to teach me.

I’m attracted to backgammon for the same reason as most other games I particularly enjoy: its tactile qualities. I love the feel of a good set of backgammon stones. It took me years to find the backgammon set that suited me best (within my budget). I always regret that I couldn’t afford it back when I had access to a store called Endgames in Portland, Oregon, where one could assemble a custom backgammon set, choosing the board and pieces from a dizzying variety of options. Of course, could I have afforded it then, I’d probably still be pondering my choice when the store went out of business.

I’m not sure why I’ve come to associate backgammon particularly with Christmas. It’s probably because I’m more likely to play games in winter, when I’m not as active outdoors. Also, I was most often around my brother and sister at the holidays. Backgammon is a great game for the season: it’s quiet, comfortable, easy to play just about anywhere. It doesn’t take too much concentration, so it’s easy to visit while playing. It lends itself well to eating and drinking. It could also be that my original set was a Christmas gift.

Michelle likes to play backgammon, but not that much; when we play, I get the feeling she’s doing it for me, not for herself. I don’t get to see my siblings that much anymore, but whenever we gather, we’re sure to make time for backgammon. Beth has an aggressive style; Dave is quieter, more contemplative, but also fairly aggressive! I lose to them more often than I win, but that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the game.

I’ve gently tried to prod Aly toward learning for years. She’s not very competitive, which makes us very similar. She’s begun playing chess against her computer, but won’t play me, which saddens me, but I certainly understand her reasons. That gave me the idea to bring up backgammon again.

I told her flat out that the best gift she could give me this year would be to learn the game. I explained that, unlike chess, which is 100% strategy and concentration, backgammon is about rolling the dice and making the best choices based on the chance of the roll. She understood this readily, and agreed to try it.

Of course, she liked it! Now she’s the one who suggests a game of an evening. She’s very good—she’s been beating me a fair amount, actually. I’m anxious for her to try her skill against Beth when she comes to spend Christmas with us in a few days.

Who knows, maybe chess for Father’s Day?

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