Today, I invite you to discover Lebanon in a fun and cultural way, through a game: Backgammon.
Commonly called tawlé (or "table" in Arabic, backgammon is an oriental board game that could easily be likened to a game of checkers played with dice. A true ancestor of table games, among many others, the oldest backgammon is said to be (almost) 5,000 years old.
According to legend, the very first table game was discovered near the southeastern border of Iran about five millennia ago. It is basically a course game that is played on a board with dice and chips. Arrived several years later in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, these course games cross the border to reach the Roman Empire, especially in its Middle Eastern part.
Among the Lebanese, we mainly speak of “tawlé” or “table” in Lebanese. But backgammon also has other names such as "trictrac" in French.
In the same way that we play dice or card games in France, Lebanese backgammon is particularly popular with older men. They often play in small neighborhood cafes while smoking hookah, in a very childish atmosphere.
An apron in the shape of a wooden briefcase serves as a game support for backgammon. Open flat, this apron gives access to two compartments of 12 arrows each. On this board evolve two sets of 15 pawns (or queens) of two different colors. To move them, players use a pair of dice.
To win backgammon, the player must take all of their checkers off the board first, after going through the board.
Millennial crossroads of several civilisations, Lebanon has created its own models of backgammon, visibly inspired by foreign influences. The variant best known and most appreciated by the Lebanese is called the “chesh besh” for respectively the number 6 in Persian and the number 5 in Turkish. Players also use expressions taken directly from the Turkish dialect throughout the game.
There are also other variants of the backgammon game in Lebanon, including “mahboussé” which translates to “prisoner” in Arabic.
To play Lebanese backgammon, all you have to do is go to a typical Lebanese restaurant offering a dedicated apron. You will find them in particular in Al Falamanki, in the Sodeco district and in Raouché.
Some Hamra restaurants also feature backgammon. Others even decorate their walls with a mural showing two tawlé players.