IT ISN’T CLEAR, EXACTLY, WHY THE Dallas Backgammon League got kicked out of Denny’s the other night. What is clear is that it wasn’t the first time an establishment had asked the group to leave and/or not return. Perhaps most ignominiously, the DBL was once ousted from a bowling alley—a bowling alley, for God’s sake.
It didn’t used to be this way, of course. Back in the mid-’70s, man, when the DBL formed, backgammon was it. Hip people played the board game, an amalgam of chess and craps, in finer fern bars everywhere. In Dallas, boards were actually built into the cocktail tables at élan, and dice rattled in cups at the Pawn Shop, the Bell Ringer, and Meet Me at the Bijou.
At least that’s what I’ve been told. When backgammon was it, I was about 7 years old. My dad was still teaching me how to shoot pool on a pay table at the Knox Street Pub, and it would be many years before I picked up a used copy of Bruce Becker’s Backgammon for Blood and began to study the game seriously.
Today, I consider myself an above-average player. I’m probably better than you, for instance, unless you’ve ever read books on backgammon theory or ever stayed up all night playing it online. So when I heard about the Dallas Backgammon League’s weekly tournament at a Denny’s in Addison, I headed out one Wednesday night, looking for a little action. I brought a wingman in case there was trouble.
And that’s how I discovered the DBL was no longer welcome at Denny’s. When I asked an uncooperative waitress where the backgammon players were, she simply said, “They don’t come here anymore.” I nearly had to smack her with a sockful of nickels to get her tell me that they’d migrated down Belt Line Road—to an IHOP.
We found the DBL about 30 strong, occupying most of an entire section of the restaurant, playing warm-up games on huge, expensive boards nearly as big as the four-top tables they were sitting on. There might have been four women present. The group’s median age looked to be 50. We located the DBL’s commissioner and handed over our $15 entry fee. He said, “Ah, new blood! You can call me Z.”
I asked Z what had happened down at Denny’s. He said, “Nothing, really.” Someone else offered: “We got kicked out for swearing.” And from the next table over: “They said customers were complaining about the dice and the money changing hands.” Z added, “It really was nothing.”
Then the trouble started. More specifically, the tournament started. For his first match, my wingman drew a mountain named Roy Williams, who turned out to be the Green Party candidate for state Senate. Roy also turned out to be a capable backgammon player. I won’t bore non-players with a game-by-game summary of their 7-point match, but in backgammon jargon, my wingman “lost.”
Me, I drew Roy’s wife. She wore a gold necklace with a pendant that spelled “Nancy” in a loopy script. As we sat down in a booth and set up the board next to a phalanx of tiny syrup pitchers, Nancy said, “I’m not going to kick your ass too bad.” Then she kicked my ass real bad. Actually, after four games, I was winning 4-3. But then she backgammoned me for 6 points. In boxing terms, I started the fifth round ahead in points, and Nancy punched my head clean off my neck and into the cheap seats.
We returned two weeks later to see if our drubbings weren’t simply the result of bad dice. My wingman again “lost” his first match, this time to a gentleman named Malcolm Davis who videotaped the match for computer analysis (later research revealed that Malcolm is the 31st best player in the world). Me, I advanced to the semifinal match. Then I stopped rolling unbelievably lucky dice and also “lost.”
I might return for maybe one more tournament. But if I or my wingman doesn’t go home a winner, I’m calling IHOP corporate and complaining about those rowdy, foul-mouthed, dice-throwing scamps.