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A Brief Modern History of Backgammon

If there is one thing that differentiated modern backgammon from those played by the ancient Romans and Egyptians, it is the doubling cube. The doubling cube is a six-sided dice, which has face values raised with powers of two. So instead of 1,2,3,4,5,6, the dice have 2,4,8,16,32,64 as face values.

Legend has it that the modern backgammon was first played in 1920 in New York, when a gambler wanted to quicken the game pace and increase the element of skill by raising the values of his dice. Incidentally, his method became a hit, making backgammon an instant pastime. At that time, only upper class private clubs played the game, but it gradually increased its popularity because of the doubling cube. The rules were revised in 1931 to adapt to the doubling cube and these are the rules we know today. However, during the depression and World War II, backgammon declined in its popularity.

Backgammon returned to fame when Prince Alexis Obelensky organized tournaments in the Bahamas, which in turn became the first Official World Backgammon Championship. The 1970s was regarded as the glory days of Backgammon as tourneys and publicities became widespread and literatures increased in many publications. The game also attracted the middle class and younger players. Because of the increased interests in the game, tournaments were able to give up to 6 digits of cash to champions.

In the 1980s, Backgammon declined again primarily because younger players were now seeing new forms of entertainment in video games. However, books on backgammon strategies were still hot items especially to the game's captured market of the 70s. These players were becoming better and tournaments were becoming tougher. With the advent of computer backgammon, pros saved hours of their time from prolonged positioning and rollouts, which gave them more time to understand strategies.

With the 90s, backgammon softwares proliferated. IBM's Gerald Tesauro wrote a program that could teach itself the basics of the game via neural networking. In 1993, the First Internet Backgammon Server (FIBS) was released. With FIBS, players could watch matches, save them, and compare their skills with other players. Jellyfish, created by Norway's Frederic Dahl, featured state-of-the-art equity values to positions and rollouts.

Snowie, another popular backgammon program, introduced a user-friendly interface. With the onset of open source software, backgammon players can now download the game for free. And lastly, the release of GammonEmpire.com is proving to take the game of backgammon to a whole new level. The website is taking its players worldwide and features never-before-seen playable 3D graphics.

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