Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Backgammon and The Rules


Over at The Fuselage, a poster reminded me of something important: backgammon. Way back in The Pilot, part 2 in season 1, Locke explained backgammon to Walt.


[Shot of Locke with the Backgammon pieces. Walt approaches, curious.] WALT: What is it, like checkers?
LOCKE: Not really, it's a better game than … checkers. You play checkers with your Pop?
WALT: No. I live in Australia with my mom.
LOCKE: You have no accent.
WALT: Yeah, I know. We move a lot. She got sick. She died a couple of weeks ago.
LOCKE: You're having a bad month.
WALT: I guess.
LOCKE: Backgammon is the oldest game in the world. Archeologists found sets when they excavated the ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. Five thousand years old. That's older than Jesus Christ.
WALT: Did they have dice and stuff?
LOCKE: [nods] Mhhm. But theirs weren't made of plastic. Their dice were made of bones.
WALT: Cool.
LOCKE: Two players. Two sides. One is light … one is dark. Walt, do you want to know a secret?
(I'm still wondering what secret Locke told Walt: that he'd been in a wheelchair?)


Two sides. Smokey and Jacob. One light, one dark. Playing a game.What if backgammon is somehow a template for how that game plays out? Not that it's ACTUALLY a game of backgammon, just that it somehow resembles it.

So what is special about backgammon? And how might we have seen its rules played out in the show?

  • Two players.
  • Each player has 15 stones.
  • The stones are moved around the board according to the rules.
  • Chance plays a part since dice are used, but strategy is crucial.
  • The object of the game is to move all your stones off the board.
  • Your stones can get "captured" by the other side, but can then also re-enter the board at the beginning.
A very interesting thing to note is that if one stone sits alone on one of the board's points it is very, very vulnerable.
In the course of a move, a checker may land on any point that is unoccupied or is occupied only by a player's own checkers. It may also land on a point occupied by exactly one opposing checker, or "blot". In this case, the blot has been hit, and is placed in the middle of the board on the bar that divides the two sides of the playing surface. A checker may never land on a point occupied by two or more opposing checkers; thus, no point is ever occupied by checkers from both players simultaneously.
One stone alone is in danger. Like Sawyer in this week's episode? Like Ben when he went to the temple with Smokey? How many other times has Smokey targeted a man alone? When he looked like Christian and showed himself to Locke? Eko and Yemi.

Then consider Jacob. According to Alpert, only one person at a time is allowed in to see Jacob. And when that rule is broken, when Ben enters with Smocke, Jacob dies.

The rules for killing others (Others?) are still kind of mysterious to me.
  • Ben and Widmore can't kill each other, but they can kill other people.
  • Jacob and Smokey can't kill each other, but can manipulate others to kill for them.
  • Michael wasn't allowed to kill himself until "the island" let him.
  • Smokey couldn't kill Locke it seems, but Ben could kill Locke.
  • The Others seem VERY reluctant to kill any of the remaining Losties, probably because they are "candidates".
  • The boy who appeared to Smokey reminded him that he couldn't kill him, which I took to mean that he couldn't kill Sawyer.

Considering backgammon again:
  • You can only move your own pieces off the board. If you knock the other player's piece off, that piece can still re-enter the game:

    Checkers placed on the bar re-enter the game through the opponent's home board. A roll of 2 allows the checker to enter on the 23-point, a roll of 3 on the 22-point, and so forth. A player may not move any other checkers until all checkers on the bar belonging to that player have re-entered the game.
  • You win by moving all your pieces/stones/men off the board.

Is this somehow the object of the game between Smokey and Jacob? To safely move their own pieces off the board? By killing them? By making them leave the island? How do you get "off the board"?

Again: In backgammon, you can't get rid of your opponents stones. You can only "capture" them. After that they can re-enter the board at the beginning. Stones can only be moved "off board" by the player owning those stones. Is this a parallel to Smokey and Jacob not killing each other or the main players/characters/stones?

From Wikipedia again:
Each side of the board has a track of 12 long triangles, called points. The points are considered to be connected across one edge of the board, forming a continuous track in the shape of a horseshoe, and are numbered from 1 to 24.
Players begin with two checkers on their 24-point, three checkers on their 8-point, and five checkers each on their 13-point and their 6-point. The two players move their checkers in opposing directions, from the 24-point towards the 1-point.

Points 1 through 6 are called the home board or inner board, and points 7 through 12 are called the outer board. The 7-point is referred to as the bar point, and the 13-point as the mid point.
So bear with me for some insanity:
What if the island is one part of the board (inner board) and the world outside is another part of the board (outer board)? What if Smokey tries to get everyone OFF the island, while Jacob somehow needs to bring people TO the island to win? I'm not sure if that can make any sense at all... but Smokey seems to be trapped ON the island, while Jacob was able to move off it.

I have no idea if this is part of the endgame on Lost, but the backgammon reference HAS to mean something.



Think of Adam and Eve in the cave and their stones: one black, one white. Were these stones part of a backgammon set? (Still wondering if Adam and Eve will turn out to be Rose and Bernard somehow...)

Are all the Losties stones on the board? To be claimed as dark or light and then moved around the board, until they can be knocked on to the bar to sit out, or until they can be safely brought off the board? I feel like backgammon could be seen as a representation of what is going on on and off the island, and of what Smokey and Jacob are doing and HAVE been doing for a long time.

Screencaps thanks to Lostpedia.

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