5 min read
15 May

I have some recent discoveries to share. First, the concept that a personal fault can be a blessing in disguise. Second, my new favourite hobby which I highly recommend. 

Let’s start with a confession, my admission that unearthed these two discoveries. 

My confession 

I’m an Imposter. I’m not saying I suffer from Imposter Syndrome. No, I’m truly and officially a fake.

It may seem to some that on the outside I am organised, but I have a deep secret: inside I’m not.  I’m not talking about inside myself - my spirit, my thoughts - because there exists some semblance of order. I mean literally inside…inside my cupboards and closets. Behind all my closed cabinet doors there exists literal and utter chaos.  I’m an Organisation Imposter. 

My personal process of organising is well-rehearsed and unscientific.  I hunt out items lying about and enthusiastically stash them away because I hate visible mess. I feel relief when I hurl an item out of view and then firmly slam the door shut. For me, the act of clearing out is an accomplishment. I happily tell myself “job done” and believe that if I can’t see a mess, then all is orderly. It is literally a case of out of sight, out of mind. Except that’s the problem. It is too “out of mind” because I have no idea where anything is. I live in this state of fake tidiness where nothing is really sorted at all. I’m simply an imposter. But then I discovered something powerful: being this fraud is actually OK. Let me explain why. 

Yes, my organisation process has its obvious shortcomings and causes clear problems. First, all my closets are physically dangerous. Injury is destined when one opens any storage door in my house. Be warned: a wave of forgotten objects will most probably fall out and hit you. My family all knows to open shelves, closets, cupboard doors whilst being guarded, standing at attention, and preparing for assault. We may have all seen that advert of the lady opening her cabinets and a wave of Tupperware comes pouring out.  I don’t understand what’s so comical about that because that's the reality in my house.

Another problem with my organising technique is that no one can find anything. My process requires unending patience from my family. It also requires their involvement if there is to be any hope in locating their cherished items. It’s really quite simple: If my kids – or Partner - wish to keep track of anything, they need to put it away themselves. 

Ah ha! Discovery! Maybe my hidden fault is really an intelligent, albeit subconscious, strategy.  My menagerie learns they must look after their own items which in turn allows me to evade the responsibility of doing so.  It’s a clever plan which enables me to accept my lack of perfection. My closet messiness is a foible which is part of who I am and that’s OK.  It also ensures that every member of my family clan develops their own sense of self-reliance. Smiley face and wink emojis inserted now. Oh, and following the same reasoning, I also confess that I can’t iron. More emojis. 

Who else can relate to being an Organisation Imposter?

My Discovery 

I recently made another discovery, backgammon.  I thoroughly recommend my new favourite hobby, a game with a 5,000-year-old history. 

Over lockdown, many endeavoured to use the time on our hands to organise closets. Partner and I looked at each other and laughed as we knew that was never going to be on my to-do list. Well, maybe I’d write it on my list and then put the list away in a closet, never to be acted on! We conjured up some excuse that the dump was closed to substantiate inaction. Sounded good. Chaos continued. 

One day, I decided it was time to attempt a clean out of a toy cupboard. I am a HUGE fan of Board Games and have several closets rammed with the less-active varieties. In my frenzy, out came some board games, a few used science experiments, countless puzzles and baby books, the odd swimming flipper (don’t judge me), and then this dusty backgammon board. It immediately caught my attention and everything else was hastily thrown back and the door slammed shut. 

This intriguing backgammon board was dusted off, brought downstairs, and promoted to pride of place on our family table for us to have a go. I was instantly smitten. 

Backgammon Rules 

For those who may not be aware, the basic rules of this two player game are this: the first player who gets their pieces around the board and off, wins. Simple, yes?  However, there is lots of complex strategy involved on how to accomplish this. That is what makes this game so fascinating. 

The complexities of the game are seemingly endless. We can learn the cleverest norms for moving the pieces about and the best strategies to play based on the board and dice combinations. Then we have the nuances of conventions and the doubling cube.  Or we can play a basic version and still be engrossed, have fun, and maybe even a laugh. Backgammon is an enjoyable and engaging way to spend some free time. It’s a perfect hobby. 

I like playing it while knowing there is a lot more I could learn. Backgammon is a bit like cricket to me: it’s possible to understand and enjoy the game on a basic level quite easily, but it provides fertile ground if I wish to delve deep.  Someone once said, “all really good games are easy to learn, relatively easy play well and take a lifetime to become truly adept”. How exciting … and perhaps daunting. I will stay in my comfort zone for now and play easy, recreational backgammon. The complex rules, like those of cricket, may be mastered another time. 

Backgammon’s History  

The history of backgammon is absolutely fascinating. Whilst I don’t want to overwhelm or bore, I thought summarizing this game's long legacy may be of interest. Grab a coffee. Put your feet up. Here goes: 

  • Backgammon can be traced back to archaeological discoveries in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq, OVER 5,000 YEARS AGO! How cool is that!?
  • Ancestor games to modern day backgammon were played in Syria, Egypt and Iran from 10th to 7th centuries BC. 
  • Tavli is the oldest game with rules identical to backgammon and was described in an epigram of Byzantine Emperor Zeno in 90 AD. 
  • Many of you may be aware that it is still played today in the Middle East, Turkey and Greece. It is a regular feature in coffee houses.
  • Its geographic reach was broad: It was played frequently in China during the Song Period (1127-1279) but was then replaced by xiangqi, Chinese Chess. In Japan, forms of backgammon were popular gambling games in the 13th century.
  • In Europe, predecessors to modern backgammon first appeared in France in 11th century and became so popular with gamblers that in 1254 Louis IX prohibited playing. The game was played in Germany and Spain from the 13th century and by the 1600s had spread to Sweden. Backgammon appears widely in European paintings in this period, including Cardsharps by Caravaggio.  
  • Throughout the last many centuries, backgammon has been popular throughout the continent and in Britain, but also had constant battles with authorities and the Catholic church who wanted to ban it because of its gambling element.

In NYC, Backgammon was extremely popular in the 1920s and then had a huge resurgence in the 1960s.  A charismatic man nicknamed Prince Obe was credited with popularising the game. By mid 1960s, international tournaments were attended by royalty, celebrities, and the press. Sports Illustrated ran a piece about backgammon in May, 1964, proving the game’s popularity. The game was huge, totally in vogue and everywhere. Backgammon was played at college campuses, discos, country clubs, weekend parties, even business offices and political clubs.  The first World Championship was held in 1967 and has been held every year since, except for 2020 when it was cancelled due to the pandemic. 

While growing up in New York City, I remember often watching backgammon being played on park benches and at the homes of my friends’ parents. A few times I would be asked if I’d like to play a game. I rarely won but was always exhilarated by the challenge.  It was clearly the booming fad in NYC from the 1970s to mid-1980s. It was even played at the famous Studio 54 and Hugh Heffner often hosted backgammon parties at his well-known Playboy Mansion during this period. All these memories came flooding back when I stood by my closet in suburban London and opened that dusty board. I wasn’t prepared for how deeply I would fall for this hobby. 

Backgammon Now 

We will have to wait and see if backgammon’s immense popularity in the 1970s will return.  Over the last 40 years, its popularity has ebbed and flowed.  Now backgammon enjoys an uptick as its TV audiences have been increasing, tournaments with significant cash prizes are on the rise, and there are more books and magazines dedicated to backgammon than ever before.  

I hope its popularity continues, but it doesn’t really matter to me because I simply enjoy playing it with family and friends. I have no aspirations to play competitively… well, I mean I will only play recreationally.  In my home, every “activity” seems to be often played with an undercurrent of competition, even lurching for the last burger bun is done with force and purpose! 

Many do enjoy playing backgammon competitively. For over 40 years, weekly tournaments have been held in circuits which culminate in an annual World Championship, usually held in Monte Carlo. Historically the champions have been American or European, where the tournament circuits have traditionally been located. Recently, the champions have been Japanese, evidencing the game’s popularity is not just limited to America and Europe. Large Beginner Divisions are also developing in many countries which are the surest indicator of the game’s rising popularity. 

Backgammon in the UK 

There may be an issue with the future development of competitive backgammon here in the U.K.  I understand that Britain suffers from a lack of a significant tournaments because of its antiquated gaming laws. To adhere to these laws, the British Championships have been held out of country, in the Isle of Man and once even in Spain. 

There is, however, continued interest in its play throughout the UK as evidenced by the survival of many backgammon clubs throughout Britain. However, like much of public life, all competitive play has been halted during the pandemic because of social distancing rules.  We hope from 21 June the government will remove these limits. The Blackpool Imperial Cup is scheduled for 25-27 June and is therefore expected to be the first major live tournament in the UK since March 2020. 

Backgammon’s Future 

Some games last, others ride a fad-wave. Think of Twister. Trivial Pursuit.  My bet is Backgammon will survive. After all, it has for centuries. However, it does seem like most games now need media coverage and sponsorship to thrive. Perhaps a backgammon page needs to be added to newspapers, like the bridge and chess pages. Maybe even a film could be produced about it? Think of the movie The Queen’s Gambit and the influence it had on increasing the popularity of chess.  I can envision a script with a dashing character who looks like Prince Michael of Kent playing Prince Obe promoting backgammon to the celebrity circuit in the setting of 1960s New York City. Or perhaps Helen Mirren acting as a serial gambler or World Champion playing this game for high stake wins. These screen plays could be box office hits. 

Many free, online versions of backgammon are available and they’re great if we wish to play alone to hone our skills. I personally prefer playing the game with another human. Partner and I laugh and pout throughout our games together. I am aware the online versions are popular and that I’m slightly biased as I prefer un-tech hobbies. I even chose reading a book with pages I turn rather than an e-book.  

Whatever your preferred format, I recommend giving backgammon a try.  Perhaps we hunt through our cupboards for a long-lost board, download a free backgammon app or even purchase the game at our local shop or on Amazon? You won’t regret it. This ancient game is a wonderful way to connect, unwind, and to take a moment to relax. 

I will continue to play backgammon after the lockdown ends. Please do let me know if anyone fancies a game.


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