views updated


One of several names for a board game, known in the West as backgammon, played with two dice and thirty pieces (fifteen per side).

Sheshbesh pieces are usually black for one player and white for the other. The origins of the game are obscure; while some experts argue for its invention in Persia, others suggest that it originated in southwest Asia. In 1927, Sir Leonard Wooley discovered a board game in the ruined city of Ur that was marked off into elaborately inlaid squares (twenty in all) accompanied by two sets of dice and two sets of discs, seven white and seven black. This places sheshbesh variants in Sumeria as early as 2600 b.c.e. Although it is not known how this game was played, experts assume that movement of the pieces over the board was governed by rolling the dice. The Ur game appears somewhat related to modern ludo, which in turn is related to backgammon.

The traditional game consists of balancing the elements of skill and chance while playing on a board marked with twenty-four chevrons in alternating colors of black and white. The pieces, fifteen to a player, are arranged on the trays according to a specific pattern, or are held off the board. Entry or movement begins according to the roll of the dice. The pieces move the full distance around the board in a race to the home tray, and are then borne off. Most commonly, players try to prevent and delay one's opponent from bearing off. If a hit has been made the player will attempt to block the entry of the piece by making homescovering a chevron with a minimum of two pieces. Shesbesh is known by a large variety of names. These include takht-e nard in Iran, plakato and tawali in Greece, tric-trac in France and Germany, tables reales in Italy and Spain, mahbusa, yahudiyya farahjiyya, or tawlat al-zahr in Syria and Arabia, and bula in Egypt.


Grosvenor, N. Modern Backgammon. New York: Holt, 1928.

cyrus moshaver