The White Russian

Among the titles I scrounged off the tables at the State Department bookfair was _Backgammon: The Action Game_, by Prince Alexis Obolensky and Ted James. It was published in 1969, before Magriel’s _Backgammon_ and therefore by definition out of date, but it was only two bucks, and I thought it might be an interesting look at retro backgammon strategy.

The checkout was staffed by two very nice ladies, presumably wives of retired diplomats. “Oh!” one of them said. “I didn’t know Prince Alexis published a backgammon book!”

“Who’s Prince Alexis?” I asked.

“Russian nobility,” she replied. “His family fled here after the Revolution. Trying to live it up in exile — the White Russians, we call them.”

“Didn’t his brother work here?” said the other lady.

“Yes, I think so . . .” the first lady said. “And his son — no, it would have been his grandson — went to high school with Roger.”

Only at the State Department bookfair could such an exchange have ever taken place, I think. As it happens, the book has a good, quirky “history of backgammon” chapter, so it was easily worth the price. I don’t recall meeting any dignified old Russians at the backgammon club before, but I’ll be sure to keep a lookout the next time around.