Tavli

tavli

In the UK we have a lot of favourite board games that we play at home and some like darts and dominoes that are often played by the locals in pubs but we have nothing that compares to the ubiquitously played game of tavli in Cyprus.

‘Tavli‘ in Greek just means table, I learnt today, so relates to games played on a table and the familiar tavli board is used to play three games, ‘plakoto’, ‘portes’ ( backgammon) and a game of Turkish origin called ‘fevga’ http://www.bkgm.com/variants/Tavli.html.  On finding this information yesterday, it neatly answered a small query of mine; on recently starting to read a book called ‘The Venetian” by Lina Ellina partly set in the Cyprus of 1456, it mentioned a game called ‘plakoto’  which could be played for high stakes, the Cypriots love a gamble. The history of the games date back thousands of years as far back as ancient Egypt and has been played in variant forms all over the world. It  is played  with two participants each have chequers and the throw of the dice determines their moves around a board which consists of two halves. In Cyprus it verges on a national pastime and there are very few kafeneions that don’t sport a couple of men deep in concentration playing the game. I’m sure children learn to play the game at their fathers’ knee; I say father although women must play the game in Cyprus, it’s just that kafeneions are the public places where it is visible and those are the sole territory of the man commonly.

My father was no exception to this phenomenon and relished playing a usually lively game with my uncles when they visited. He would throw the dice energetically and bang down the chequers on the board to emphasise his decisive move, accompanied by loud exclamations whether winning or losing. He took up marquetry for a few years after retirement and one of the objects that he applied it to was a backgammon board. Sadly I didn’t learn how to play this absorbing game and I might find the time to learn, if I can find someone to practise with!

The board game of my choice at the moment is scrabble and a couple of friends and I enjoy an entertainingly convivial evening whenever we play. All these games ultimately are strategic if they are played in their fullest form, my two friends are extremely competitive. I don’t match up to their zeal and tactics in blocking trebles to win at all costs although I have learnt a lot from playing with them. I am a lazy player and I play mostly to enjoy the play with words , I would rather get a really good word down even though it might not get a brilliant score; I find it endlessly fascinating way the board pans out. I would rather open the board up and keep the game moving than agonise over strategy and ultimately winning; this doesn’t make me a challenging partner. Interestingly, on occasions when I tried to adopt the same tactics as my friends, we would just get stalemated as no one would move except say at a letter a time. My laissez-faire  attitude causes a wee bit of friction with my partners on occasion, as depending on who is on my left gets the advantage of my generous gift of a treble opening and consequently the points. I have also noted that even by opening up the treble my partners have not necessarily always been in the position to take advantage of it so when it came round to my turn again I could! This is a sort of gamble you could say, both ways I win as the game keeps flowing. I would say a good thirty percent if not more of the game is down to luck, depending on what letters you pick up and what letters are on the board; the skill is making the most of what you’ve got. Even so there has been the odd occasion I’ve won.

A backgammon board from Lebanon.

A backgammon board from Lebanon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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