Name in Original Language
Area Where Played
Tavli is a widespread game, originating from ancient Near Eastern civilizations. Versions of this game are attested in Mesopotamia in 2.600 B.C., in Egypt (where it was called Senet) and in ancient Persia (where it was called Taht-e-Nard), since the mid-second millennium B.C.
Its ancient Greek parallel was called πεσσοί (pillars) and in ancient Rome it was Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum. From Rome it was spread all over Europe. There it got its present name, called Tables or Tavola. The game was even condemned by the Church in some European countries.
In Modern Greece (since Ottoman times) it was associated with the culture of the coffee house. For a long period it was played only by men in coffee shops (καφενεία). Nowadays, however, it is familiar among women as well.
Usual places to play tavli are still coffee houses. However, due to the fact that its case is portable like a small suitcase, it can be played everywhere, on the seaside, at home, in pick nicks…Players usually accompany their game with coffee (preferably iced Nescafe) or with ouzo.
In many cases playing tavli involves also betting. In that case, it can be considered also as a gambling game. Usually, however especially in coffee shops, betting involves only paying for the coffee or drinks that the players consume during the game.
There are three main types of game: portes (doors), plakoto (step over) and fevga (get away).
Tavli is played by two players. They have 15 pawns (or checkers, or disks or πούλια in Greek) each, placed usually in opposing sides of the board. They also have two dice (ζάρια), which they roll each time their turn comes to play.
The tavli box, when opened, has 24 triangular marks, 12 on each part, 6 on each side; in English these are called points.
The main goal is to take one’s checkers to the opponent’s side and then pick them up before the other. The rules are explained below.
To start the game, each player rolls one dice, and the player with the higher number moves first using the numbers shown on both dice. If the players roll the same number, they must roll again. Both dice must land completely flat on the right-hand side of the gameboard. The players then alternate turns, rolling two dice at the beginning of each turn. After rolling the dice, players must, move their checkers according to the number shown on each dice. For example if the dice show 4 and 2, they have to either move one checker 6 points or two checkers, one 4 points, the other one 2.
In the course of a move, a checker may land on any point that is unoccupied or is occupied by one or more of the player's own checkers. It may also land on a point occupied by exactly one opposing checker. In this case, the checker is being "hit". According to the rules of the specific version played, this checker is either taken out of the game and placed in the middle of the board on the bar or occupied permanently by the checker that hit it. 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.
Checkers placed on the bar must re-enter the game through the opponent's home board before any other move can be made. If a player has checkers on the bar, but rolls a combination that does not allow any of those checkers to re-enter, the player does not move. If the opponent's home board is completely covered by checkers in pairs (i.e. there is no single checker which would be hit), that player stops rolling the dice until at least one point becomes open due to the opponent's moves.
When all of a player's checkers are in that player's home board, that player may start removing them; this is called "bearing off" (μάζεμα). A roll of 1 may be used to bear off a checker from the 1-point, a 2 from the 2-point, and so on. If all of a player's checkers are on points lower than the number showing on a particular dice, the player has to move a checker closer to that number. When bearing off, a player may also move a lower die roll before the higher even if that means the full value of the higher die is not fully utilized. For example, if a player has exactly one checker remaining on the 6-point, and rolls a 6 and a 1, the player may move the 6-point checker one place to the 5-point with the lower die roll of 1, and then bear that checker off the 5-point using the die roll of 6; this is sometimes useful tactically. As before, if there is a way to use all moves showing on the dice, by moving checkers within the home board or bearing them off, the player must do so.
If one player has not borne off any checkers by the time the opponent has borne off all fifteen, then this counts for double a normal loss (διπλό).
The most widespread game, and the first one to learn is portes. In this game, the checkers are place strategically widespread on the board and the opponent’s checkers, when hit, are taken out on the bar. In another game, plakoto, the single checkers hit in the course of the game are being occupied by the opponent’s checker. This means that they can’t move and thus it will be more difficult for the opponent to win.