Backgammon at the Beach

Anything and everything about Thailand
PeterUK
Posts: 209
Joined: Sun Aug 08, 2010 11:51 am
Liked: 32 times
Been liked: 82 times

#1 Backgammon at the Beach

Postby PeterUK » Tue Nov 07, 2017 1:06 pm

Back in the days when I was still an annual tourist I was walking along the beach path at Jomtien one afternoon and noticed a bunch of farangs playing backgammon at a table where the the Sandbar restaurant now is. I think it was called something like Sugar Beach or Sugar Palm restaurant in those days. In the shade from the big sheltering trees there were two farangs making the moves at the board and three or four more huddled round watching. I fancied myself as quite a good backgammon player, regularly taking small amounts of money off friends in London, and I went over to investigate.

It quickly became apparent that these were not novices waiting to be fleeced as I had briefly hoped but strong, tournament-hardened players. Mainly around thirty years of age, American, English, German. There was a mood of tough, cheerful, testosterone-fuelled competitiveness about them. The pieces were moved round the board with a brisk rat-a-tat. The players took turns at the board and scores were kept in a notebook for settlement later on. I watched for a while, impressed by the high level of play and amused by the constant banter of guys who obviously all knew each other well, then wandered off to resume my intended peaceful afternoon at the beach.

Although I no longer had any desire to join in, I got into the habit of stopping to watch for a few minutes any afternoon I was passing by. There was always play at one table, sometimes several. I began to be recognised and was invited to join in but would decline with maidenly modesty. Apart from anything else, the stakes were higher than I felt comfortable with. I was in Pattaya most Januarys and the farangs playing backgammon became a regular, anticipated fixture. I eventually discovered that there was a tournament held in Pattaya every year in that month which accounted for the presence of all these strong players from around the world.

One year I arrived in January as usual and there was a new player at the backgammon sessions, an enormously fat, bald-headed American with the fierce, dodgy face of someone you wouldn't want to mess with and an ego to match his girth. His play was accompanied by an amusing quickfire commentary in his weird high croak of a New York accent. He clearly fancied himself as a player. Even in that high-powered company the other players seemed a bit wary of him. When he glanced over at me his penetrative gaze seemed to sum me up in an instant. He asked if I wanted to join in and, on the spur of the moment and just for the hell of it, I decided to do so. I got lucky and won a bit of money. I went back the next day eager for battle and promptly lost it all and quite a bit more. Enough of that! I resumed my role as passing observer.

I saw the fat American a couple of times away from the backgammon sessions. Once he was sitting in the same songtaew as me with the ugliest ladyboy I think I have ever seen in my life. I thought he actually looked a little embarrassed and we didn't acknowledge one another. On another occasion I was having an evening meal at Amor when he entered alone and sat at the front of the terrace. He ordered steak and french fries and was insistent that he wanted no vegetables. 'Yes, I thought you looked like a meat and potatoes man,' said Richard Burk with a smile. Not the slightest sign of amusement from the American. After a while, having recognised me, he turned and barked out the one word 'Paradise!' Detecting my confusion, he repeated the word, this time with an airy wave of his arm towards the brightly-lit, bustling Boyztown scene before us. 'Oh, right, yes,' I replied. As I passed him on the way out he asked, vulture eyes boring into me, if I wanted to play some backgammon some time. I made an excuse about only playing for fun and hurried away. (Fun? he probably thought, yeah, me too, it's fun taking money off guys who don't play too good).

The next time I was at the beach the fat American was sitting watching the backgammon, unusually subdued. The other players looked uncomfortable and seemed to be doing their best to ignore him. I left and didn't see him for the rest of the trip. On my last day I asked one of the regulars what had become of him. He told me that he had taken a lot of money off an occasional player in somewhat suspicious circumstances. I can't remember the exact details of it. Bit of a con apparently. The occasional player had then jumped from a balcony the following day and died. He had been having girlfriend trouble but the loss of a lot of money the day before was generally thought not to have helped matters. The American had since made himself scarce.

I was quite shocked as one always is when confronted by violent death even remotely connected to oneself. I never saw the American again. The January backgammon sessions went on for several more years, moving in due course to the white restaurant just before the Rabbit resort. Then one year there was no more backgammon and that was that. Not sure why it ended, just a gradual falling away of interest I suppose. Nowadays I often see Thai boys – vendors, masseurs – playing at a table on the beach. They're no mugs at the game. So the backgammon tradition continues in a new lower-key homegrown form.

fountainhall
Posts: 733
Joined: Fri Jan 27, 2017 11:45 am
Location: Bangkok
Liked: 75 times
Been liked: 231 times

#2 Re: Backgammon at the Beach

Postby fountainhall » Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:16 pm

Another great story beautifully told! Thank you. As one who used to be an avid player of backgammon, I have always been surprised that over the years I have never once seen anyone play the game here in Thailand. But then I am rarely in Pattaya and no doubt I had other concerns on those occasions. None of my friends have an interest in the game, alas. I once passed Smythson of Bond Street's shop at Heathrow and drooled at their light blue leather-encased backgammon board. At around £3,000 the drooling quickly stopped!

PeterUK
Posts: 209
Joined: Sun Aug 08, 2010 11:51 am
Liked: 32 times
Been liked: 82 times

#3 Re: Backgammon at the Beach

Postby PeterUK » Tue Nov 07, 2017 3:01 pm

I have a very nice leather-bound backgammon board in my apartment. The poor thing has been sitting at the bottom of my Burmese chest for years. I've never found a regular backgammon partner over here, preferably one who thinks he's good but is actually just a little weaker than myself. Fortunately there are very strong backgammon software programmes these days, so I can hone my skills against those. The latest and best is one called ExtremeGammon 2 which plays better than the strongest humans if you want it to and gives you a wealth of information about your own level of play. It's fun but nothing quite matches having a human opponent whom you can joke with, shout at or abuse as the mood takes you. And relieve of a bit of dosh of course.

Doug
Posts: 207
Joined: Sat Jul 31, 2010 8:24 pm
Liked: 17 times
Been liked: 17 times

#4 Re: Backgammon at the Beach

Postby Doug » Tue Nov 07, 2017 8:10 pm

I had become infatuated with a doorman at the long-gone Jim,Jimmy,James Gogo Bar in Sunee. I would spend my evenings enjoying the patio there. Without consulting me this doorman moved to become a waiter at Duc's Bar & Coffeeshop & bookstore & video rental & conversation pit. Naturally I followed this handsome lad and became a happy regular at Duc's
Duc also had a backgammon board and we would play most evenings. The handsome waiter became interested in the game, especially when he saw money being exchanged. It didn't take him long before he was regularly earning baht with his skillful play. Both he and I were vocal, animated players slapping the discs down with gusto. So much so that the other austere customers request we move to the back of the bar.
Four years ago I packed up my apartment and left Thailand but the handsome waiter became the owner of my backgammon board.
I miss the games, the waiter Sunee's atmosphere and my wonderful friend, Duc. (RIP)
Image

Doug
Posts: 207
Joined: Sat Jul 31, 2010 8:24 pm
Liked: 17 times
Been liked: 17 times

#5 Re: Backgammon at the Beach

Postby Doug » Wed Nov 08, 2017 2:29 am

Yes....believe it or not....that really is Duc at Jomtien Beach. I feel honoured that he closed up the bar to accept my Loy Krathong Party invitation.


Return to “Thailand”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: colmx, Dick, Google [Bot] and 27 guests