The following letter appeared in the Times of London on 20 October 1789.
FOR THE TIMES
When you have a corner to ſpare in your entertaining paper,be kind enough to inſert the following, by which you will much oblige
An OLD CORRESPONDENT
And an ADMIRER of BACKGAMMON.
Somerſet Place, 16th October 1789
A. has bore all his men but five, which are thuſ ſituated ;- on his duce point two, on his trois point two, and on his quatre point one. B. has on A.’s ace point two men. A. throws quatre ace ;- how is he obliged by the Laws of Backgammon to play it?
The position described is below.
Use of the word “obliged” suggests to me that the writer expected there to be but a single, forced play, probably arising from playing the larger number first. This would see White leave a shot: the quatre is played by bearing off the single man on the quatre point, with the ace a forced play moving a man from the trois point to the “duce” point: Black now has a return shot with any 2.
Whatever the rules of backgammon might have been in 1789, by today’s rules there is an alternative play, arising from there being no obligation on White to play the larger number first. The correct play is to play the ace by moving the man from the quatre point to the trois point and then taking him off with the quatre, thus leaving no return shots for Black.
Not a complicated position but the play can still cause confusion for those who are unfamiliar with the rules. It might be fanciful but I can imagine the conversation of 1789 being repeated today, albeit with an internet search replacing writing to the editor of the Times.
White: I play my quatre-ace thus, leaving no shots.
Black: You cannot do that. You must play the quatre first.
White: There is no must about it.
Black: You are obliged to do so by the Laws of Backgammon.
White: Then take me before a Court and plead your case, sir.
Black: I certainly shall. I shall write to the editor of the Times.
White: You may do as you wish. It is still your roll.
Black: Not until I have the answer that I expect to receive on this matter.
I have looked through several of the following editions of the Times but I cannot see a response to the query. I hope that I have simply overlooked it as I do hate to think of the poor fellow waiting for a response that perhaps never came.
An explanation of the rule – http://www.bkgm.com/faq/BasicRules.html#can_i_play_low_number_first_when_bearing_off_
Images created using Extreme Gammon –