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
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
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
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.