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Tavla

The British have their football, the Americans their Baseball, the Chinese Gymnastics,the greeks the tavli and the Turks Tavla . All of these activities are national games, and make no mistake about it, Tavla is the national game of Turkey.

In fact it is a fabric of their very culture. For no matter where you roam in Turkey, from Ankara to Istanbul, to the Dalaman coastal areas you will see Tavla played everywhere and anywhere.

Tavla has no limitations, you will see pavements crammed with small plastic tables, whole pedestrian areas are given over especially for Tavla and they even play in the road, disturbed only by the municipal council workers collecting the trash. The disturbance is usually accompanied by a few chosen choice phrases that relate to the heritage of the said workers, but is always accompanied by a smile.

Tavla players are genial souls, who have seen it all and who not only have the T shirt video and post card but have sold them to the tourists as they play. In this heady atmosphere of a Kasbah filled with mixed smells and emotions, Tavla players huddle together under an intense hot sun, oblivious to the sweat that drips from their weathered bronze faces and the incessant clatter as the dice roll across the wooden boards, before settling on the table. It is the only noise that penetrates the conversation.

Even before the score on the roll is registered the player opposite has picked up the dice and between his two fingers launched another throw, no dice cups here, no standing on ceremony for Tavla players. This is the stuff of macho men.

Normally matches are played first to 5, best of 3. Unless of course, you reach 5 first, then it is first to seven. If you hear bes (5) then that's a 5 game, yedi to means (7). Just be sure you know what you're playing to.

The method of hand throwing is also different to western style backgammon, as are the dice which are much smaller than traditional dice. Even the face of the dice is different from the other five sides with the number 1 larger and in most cases painted bright red. Although this number is more indented, it does not affect the balance of the dice roll as the dice are not formed by precise right angles, making the bias of the dice fairer. A little idiosyncrasy that emphasizes the independence of Tavla players, from their western counterparts...

Whether it is down to pure wear and tear or by design the checkers also appear different as they all look the same colour, it is only after a closer look that you notice the differences in colour shades, with what looks like a smudge of colour on the opposition's checkers.

The other major difference is something that you don't see in a normal backgammon game, that is the balancing of the table between the knees so as to avoid the collapsing plastic legs, it takes time to master such a technique and the Tavla players have it off to an art.

With the rules and the table firmly grounded and the board set, the first dice is rolled. It is difficult to control the dice as the sweat makes the dice sticky in the palms of the hands, this is where the finger trick comes in handy, and it is also how the clever Tavla players manipulate the dice to roll the numbers they need.

In Tavla there is no such thing as an illegal roll, unless the dice fall on the road, or off the board. It is at this point that your Turkish phrase book is a good thing to have as you will need to know the numbers from 1-6 which are bir, iki, ??, d?rt, bes, alti. How you say them will no doubt be received with great humour, but persevere. How you play your game will be entirely different to that of a Tavla player.
Don’t try to make points, they'll just leap over you with a convenient double, there's no point either in making blots you just will be hit. Even if you do leave blots/builders but and you're within range of the dice, your checker will end up on the bar with a loud slap and a huge grin accompanying it.

Pip counting is also a no no, in Tavla, just watch how easily they can make a 6 & 6 and you'll see why. After a few games you will start to see the way the game is played, with fast, quick, incisive moves that don't allow the opposition time to think. If you do it is too late and you've lost another tavla game.

This is Tavla in Turkey. Now that chatter is moving online as more and more Turkish players look to expand their skills with online backgammon, perhaps in these games Tavla players won't have so much of their own way, but somehow I doubt that.

TAVLA

 

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