Is backgammon a game
of skill or chance? Recently, a U.S. court answered that question in a
decision that will affect backgammon players and promoters throughout the
started early in 1981 when police in Portland, Oregon, arrested the
well-known backgammon tournament director and writer Ted Barr just before
the finals of his Portland Marriot Open. Because the tournament offered
cash prizes and required an entry fee, Barr was charged with promoting
gambling. According to the statutes of Oregon, New York, and other states,
gambling is defined as risking something of value upon the outcome of a
contest of chance.
Instead of coping a
plea, Barr decided to fight the charge. He hoped a court would rule again,
as the Alabama Supreme Court had done in 1976, that backgammon, like chess
or bridge, is a game of skill. For his defense, Barr enlisted the help of,
among others, former World Backgammon Champion Paul Magriel, the game's
most articulate authority.
The main point of the
issue was the effect of the dice of the game. "Even after rolling, you may
have as many as 30 or more options," Magriel told a packed courthouse
early this year during his two hours of expert testimony. "The decision
where to move your men after the dice have been cast - that is the essence
of the game. Chance is not a material factor."
Judge Stephen S.
Walker agreed. He found Barr innocent of promoting gambling, concluding
that "backgammon is not a game of chance but a game of