Backgammon has very ancient origins and its evolution has occurred over an incredibly long period of time. Its most ancient ancestor is a game called “Senet” which was developed in ancient Egypt and played on a board with 3 X 10 squares. No one knows details of the rules for sure, some have hypothesized that it was a gambling game of movement and displacement of opposing pieces moving in opposite directions. The movement was thought to be controlled by the roll of dice made of bones or ceramic. In archeological discoveries, dice have frequently been found with these distinctive “Senet” playing boards.
Another game, the Roman’s “Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum,” most likely derived from Senet, had three rows of twelve “points,” and was played with three six-sided dice. In the 500’s AD, one of the rows was dropped and later, the game came to be called “tabula” (Latin for “table”). The Emperor Claudius was said to be very fond of the game and, allegedly, even had a game board attached to his chariot.
The game arrived in England as a result of invasion during the 1st century AD. The game came to be called “Tables” and the rules became more recognizable to those of our modern variety. It survived the Middle Ages as a gambling game of the upper classes and then was banned for a time in England because of its gambling nature.
The game was first referred to as “Backgammon” in 1645 and it is thought that the name derived from the Middle English word “gam” meaning “game” and “back”. Together it probably meant, “the game where you can go back” referring to a blot that has been sent back to the bar.
In 1743, Edmund Hoyle came out with the first official rules of backgammon. In 1920, the doubling cube was introduced in New York and the concept accelerated the stakes of the gambling game much more quickly. However, it also had the effect of favoring skilled players more capable of judging the chances of certain positions.
Backgammon has not changed since then, however, its study by assiduous players and its popularity has waxed and waned. Computers have changed the face of backgammon substantially and it has recently become a fixture of the online gambling environment. Today, there are backgammon tournaments in the United States and Europe and annual world championships.