Style | Swellboy

Swellboy on… backgammon

Humanity’s quest for the ultimate prize has finally reached fruition

Swellboy on… backgammon

Image: Brijesh Patel

July 07 2011
Nick Foulkes

It is one of the drawbacks of summer that I have to cart my large and hard-sided backgammon board to the Marbella Club to play a few rounds of the sport of kings with my friend Fabien Fryns. In many years of losing at backgammon I have experimented with roll-up sets and always found them lacking. Though much more easily portable, they are not suited to spirited play: at a crucial moment in the game, a counter, or a die, goes skidding off the board and into the sand where it is never to be found again.

Happily Max Parker seems to have found a way round this problem. He is the king of the luxury backgammon board and he has revived an old design of his father’s (Geoffrey Parker, the founder of the family firm) from the 1960s, involving leather-covered magnetised slats fitted into a playing surface that has two fixed ends to create that philosopher’s stone, that grail chalice, that golden apple of the Hesperides, that ultimate prize after which humanity has quested since the beginning of recorded time: a backgammon set that combines the portability of a roll-up with the playability of a fixed-sided set.

Apparently Max’s father abandoned his research in the 1960s because at that time they were inlaying the points by hand and feared that constant rolling and unrolling would result in a damaged playing surface, and while they could have stitched the points, such a solution would have been antithetical to their aim of rapid play on a smooth and slippery surface over which the pieces skim like pucks at an ice hockey game.

I have of course placed my order and I look forward to testing it rigorously at both the upper and lower pools of the Marbella Club, as well as at the chiringuito. As Winston Churchill never put it, “We will play them on the beaches.”

See also

People, Board games