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ULLSTEIN BILD DTL./GETTY IMAGES


ARCADIA


Backgammon on the beach in Tel Aviv, 1980


PLEASURE DIVIDEND


ON A ROLL Nick Foulkes


I DON’T KNOW if backgammon counts as a sport, the definition is wide these days. I suppose it can be called a ‘mind sport’. Anyway, it is my chief aestival recreation. Summer for me is peak backgammon season. It was on a summer holiday that I picked up


the game in the early 1970s. I was about nine or 10 years old and flying as an unaccompa- nied minor from London Heathrow. This was the tail end of when flying was still a pleasure and, as it happened, I was seated next to a rather precocious American child with a backgammon set. I must thank him for giving me one of the greatest gifts I have ever re- ceived, viz a love for a game that I have been playing with varying degrees of success ever since. I repaid his kindness by beating him, and on arrival I pestered my aunt to buy me a backgammon board: a fabulous Seventies con- fection of café au lait leatherette and brown velveteen with mocha and clotted cream points. Another summer spent in Cyprus playing the game against sun-wizened old men who chain-smoked Craven A cigarettes increased my appetite for the game. But by the time I had managed basic proficiency the backgam- mon craze of the Sixties and Seventies, which


had seen suave men in blazers and aviator sunglasses making their living on the brief- case-like backgammon sets around the world, was waning. One of the last and greatest backgammon-in-Seventies-cinema moments was in the 1979 horror/thriller Killer Fish. The title sequence features an all-night back- gammon game, played on a backlit onyx backgammon set, intercut with a comman- do-style raid on what looks like a petrol refinery. I have long made it my practice to travel with a backgammon set, especially when flying to Havana with my friend Edward Sahakian, who would be more famous for his skill at backgammon were he not the world’s most celebrated cigar merchant. If indeed it is a sport, then backgammon must be the only athletic pastime that requires participants to have at least a working knowledge of the Havana cigar. When in Marbella I cannot count a day well spent unless I have played at least one hour of


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