Patrick O'Brian on Backgammon

Patrick O'Brian was the author of the Master and Commander series. Twenty novels about life on a British warship in during the Napoleonic Wars. The books are light yet perceptive. In his Novel The Truelove Captain Aubry and Dr. Maturin have decided to play a game of backgammon.

"...so what do you say to a game of backgammon?"

"With all my heart," said Stephen. For many years they had played chess, with fairly even fortunes; but they played with such intensity, being extremely unwilling to lose, that in time it came to resemble hard labour rather than amusement; and they being unusually close friends, remorse for beating the other sometimes outweighed the triumph of winning. They had also played countless games of piquet, but in this case luck ran so steadily in Stephen's direction, good cards and sequences flocked to him in such numbers, that it became dull; and they had fixed upon backgammon as a game in which the mere throw of the dice played so large a part that it was not shameful to lose, but in which there was still enough skill for pleasure in victory. As well as those of the usual kind, they had heavy-weather tables in which the men were provided with a peg...

As is usual here, O'Brian's ability to get to the nub of an idea stands out. He reveals why backgammon was a popular game (and still is). It contains just the right combination of skill and luck to make winning seem a just dessert for skillful play, while losing can always be blamed on bad dice. Yes. there is some skill and strategy to backgammon and the game has to be consistently played in order to maintain a proficiency.

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Interesting Fact:

The square rigged sailing ship was considered a technological marvel in its day. The various equipment, lines, block and tackle, masts, sails, etc. were much discussed among officers and in the journals of the time.


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