Last updated on April 15, 2021
This week’s post is not about a specific brand of backgammon board. In fact, if you view the images below, it is somewhat debatable if this board even qualifies as a Deluxe Backgammon set. The Syrian-style backgammon set pictured below was the author’s introduction into the world of backgammon. Prior to this, I thought of backgammon as some sort of obscure dice game that became extinct in the 1980s.
In 2012 I was a very keen chess player, not tournament standard, but competitive in my local area. I’d play on a chess app on my phone during the commute to and from work and then play again well into the evening. I played regular games in my local pubs and cafes against a variety of players. I studied books and slowly saw my game improve. The one thing I learned is that chess is a mind sport. The better, more studied and practised player was almost always going to win. Luck simply didn’t come into the game.
In the summer of 2012, I went on a holiday to Sidi Bou Said. It is a picturesque town in northern Tunisia located about 20km from the capital, Tunis. After a week in the North African sun, I decided to purchase a souvenir to remind me of my time in Tunisia. The obvious choice was one of the many handcrafted chess sets available in the local market.
I found one of a suitable size and of reasonable quality and began to bargain with the owner of the store. The set came with some truly hideous metal chess pieces, which I tried to swap for some more traditional wood pieces. The owner was horrified, insisting that the metal pieces were of superior quality. It was only when I threatened to leave the store that he relented and swapped the metal for the wood pieces. I think the price I paid was 40 Tunisian Dinars, or about £10. At the time I played little attention to the interior of the board which contained 24 inlaid points, a few dice and a plastic bag full of checkers.
Introduction to Backgammon
A few weeks later I was back at home, playing a game of chess on a free app on my tablet. A small add popped up suggesting I try backgammon Free. I cast my mind back to the ornate chess board I had bought a few weeks earlier and recalled the owner mentioning something about backgammon. I thought to myself, let’s try something different. Within an hour I was hooked. I now play backgammon five or six times a day and play the occasional game of chess. As a game, it just has the perfect mix of skill and luck. You never know what is going to happen next. A lucky roll by your opponent can undo all the hard work from your calculated strategic moves. I love the way the momentum of the game can swing back and forth with each subsequent dice roll.
This backgammon set is clearly handmade. Although it was bought in Tunisia, subsequent research suggests it is of Syrian origin. It has a number of imperfections that you simply don’t typically get with manufactured boards. There are gaps and inconsistencies with the inlays. The centred marquetry diamond-motif is clearly misaligned on both sides of the board. There are marks, engraved dirt and lumps of excess glue. These are characteristics that you wouldn’t expect to find on any of the other quality backgammon boards we have recommended in the past. Despite the imperfections, this board has character and charm in abundance.
This is clearly piecework. The person who has put this board together is paid by volume, not quality. I have no doubt, the hands that put this piece together are skilled. Given the time, equipment and materials I’m sure they could produce a true Deluxe Backgammon set. I can imagine the craftsman sitting in a hot, dusty Syrian village turning out these sets as a means to feed their family.
The store owner claimed the set had been made from walnut and olive wood.
When closed the set is 30cm x 15cm x 5cm, when open 30cm x 30cm x 2.5 cm (W x D x H). It is too small to be a tournament set, the playing field is cluttered and the checkers are too large for the points. It is lightweight at only 704g, so it could pass as a serviceable travel set.
The set includes 30 wooden checkers with a central coloured star design. The colour differentiation is not great, one set is an off-white, the other an off-grey. The original dice were tiny and have been replaced by dice salvaged from a Jaques of London Card and Linen Backgammon set. The dice cup in the picture above is one of the Bespoke Dice cups from Kingsley Leather.
It’s not the prettiest board, it’s flawed and has an unfinished feel. As such, it is definitely not a Deluxe Backgammon set. To be certain, this was not an expensive backgammon set. However, it has charm and character. It’s not practical, but every now and then I can’t resist taking this backgammon set out to play. It’s not the best backgammon set I have owned, by a long shot, but it remains one of my favourites.