Grand Duke Dmitri was Likely Inventor of Doubling in BG
by Michael Strato - 16 November 2008


Who invented doubling in Backgammon? For decades backgammon enthusiasts have sought the answer to this question.  Well, the mystery has probably been solved! According to a 1930 New Yorker magazine article unearthed by 1994 World Champion Frank Frigo it was most likely Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia!

UPDATE! Feb. 5, 2009 - Bill Davis' latest article on ChicagoPoint.com has new facts about the invention of doubling and the doubling cube, click here.

Yes, the same Grand Duke Dmitri who was said to be involved in the murder of Grigori Rasputin. And believe it or not Grand Duke Dmitri is also noted to have been involved in the creation of the famed Chanel No. 5 perfume! (Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich was born September 18, 1891 and died of tuberculosis on March 5, 1941, see information about his parents below as well as a link to Wikipedia where you can read more information about his life .)

As the story goes, some 80 years or so ago, around the mid to late 1920s, a backgammon player in New York City introduced doubling in backgammon, adding a whole new perspective to the game while igniting new life to it in an era when it had become very fashionable.

When the game’s popularity enjoyed an enormous resurgence again in the 1960s to late 1980s, modern-day researchers of the game’s history including authors of books were never able to find a record, specifically the name of the player, who introduced the doubling cube to the game.

In The Backgammon Book written in 1970, authors Oswald Jacoby and John R. Crawford state:

“In the United States and Europe interest in backgammon greatly revived in the 1920s when some unknown genius playing in one of the American clubs came up with a revolutionary idea. He proposed that, at his turn to play, a player might insist on doubling the stakes. His opponent would have the right to refuse, in which case the game would then end and be scored at the original stake.” Introduction: The History of Backgammon chapter of The Backgammon Book printed in 1970 .

Bill Davis, Editor of the Chicago Point Newsletter has been researching the topic and publishes his findings on ChicagoPoint.com, updating his article whenever he receives new information on the topic.

Then, on October 28, 2008 Ken Bame posted a message on Stick Rice’s BGOnline.org Forum that mentions an article about doubling written by John Longacre in a July 1931 issue of Vanity Fair and which refers to Grand Duke Dmitri at the "reputed father" of doubling in Backgammon. See Bame's post at this link: www.bgonline.org/forums/webbbs_config.pl?read=28703

Today, November 16, 2008, Frank Frigo of the USA, the 1994 World Champion, contacted GammonLife.com and ChicagoPoint.com to say he had been researching the topic further. He has come up with a magnificent find that virtually confirms what was suggested in Ken Bame’s post.

Frigo has discovered an article in the September 6, 1930 issue of The New Yorker magazine (online archive) that provides new evidence that the doubling innovation was indeed most likely introduced to our game by Grand Duke Dmitri, who had come to the United States in the 1920s (in 1927, Dmitri married American heiress Audrey Emery).

Here is an excerpt from that article:

"Also, they say the innovation of "doubling" was important. This, according to one story, was thought of by the Grand Duke Dmitri, who lives in Paris where backgammon is called "tric trac", and who has been playing it for years." The New Yorker magazine, Talk of the Town section, pages 12 and 13, September 6, 1930.

Frank Frigo wrote to GammonLife summing up the high points of these findings, which we publish below in green text:

Ken Bame first referenced a Vanity Fair article from 1931.

Dmitri Pavlovich was a nephew and great grandson of Russian Royalty.

Grand Duke Dmitri is one of the only members of the family to escape the Bolsheviks and survive the murders of the royal family.

In the New Yorker "Talk of the Town" column in the September 6, 1930 issue (pages 12-13)  Grand Duke Dmitri is mentioned as the inventor of the doubling cube, and being an avid player in Paris - this article also mentions Chouette being invented in France.

He was romantically linked to Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel and played a part in the creation of Chanel #5 perfume.

He married American Heiress Audrey Embry (from Cincinnati) and they had a son Paul who later became Mayor of Palm Beach.

He left no memoirs but his diaries are located at the Houghton Library at Harvard University - they are available on microfilm and contain his personal address book and guest book.

The diaries are mostly in Russian and contain information from 1917-1921, 1935, 1940.

The address book was started in 1917, and another begins in 1940.

There may be additional diaries in the possession of his grandchildren (the children of Paul Illyinsky, ex-Mayor of Palm Beach).

He was a known conspirator in the murder of Grigori Rasputin with Felix Yussupov and may have indeed pulled the trigger when the poison didn't take effect. Rasputin was a charlatan who was detested by many members of the Russian Royal Family for holding a strong influence on the Tsar.

Grand Duke Dmitri was exiled to the Persian front to join the Russian army as a means of avoiding a royal scandal, which ironically saved his life as his entire family was murdered.

He did spend time in New York and was an active socialite, playboy and gambler.

A bit about Grand Duke Dmitri's character is mentioned in the Memoirs of Count Felix Yussupov in Chapter 10, beginning at paragraph five on this site:


Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich died in 1941 of kidney failure related to his ongoing battle against tuberculosis.

Read more about the life of Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich at Wikipedia here.

Coincidentally, another Russian of royalty, Prince Alexis Obolensky, is the Father of Modern Backgammon:

“From the 1960s through to 1980s, the game was a huge fad and backgammon boards were a fixture at most clubs and discothèques in North America. Many big live tournaments were organized, including the first World Championship, and people young and old, from all walks of live, were playing the game everywhere night and day.

"The birth of that era is credited to Prince Alexis Obolensky who organized the first major international Backgammon tournament in The Bahamas in March, 1964 and later his first major European Backgammon tournament in Monte Carlo in 1973. Prince Obolensky was the President of the World Backgammon Club of Manhattan, New York and passed away in 1986 at the age of 71.”

Excerpt from the History Section of GammonLife

Prince Alexis Obolensky with Princess Grace of Monaco

Royalty in Backgammon: Prince Alexis Obolensky with Princess
Grace Kelly of Monaco in the playing room at “The Coupe de
Monaco”, the very first major European tournament he
organized in exotic Monte Carlo back in July, 1973.

Photo copyright ©1973 by Joseph Pasternack.


POSTSCRIPT: (Editor Michael Strato - November 17, 2008) - In response to comments I received by email or have seen on at least one backgammon forum today...

1) My article above states that Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich invented or introduced the concept of doubling in backgammon, and even says the doubling "cube" as well. Actually, he did not really invent the cube itself, but the cube is just one of many possible methods of keeping track of the doubled stakes. And when players refer to doubling in backgammon we usually refer to it as “cube action”.

So whether it is a cube (the device us backgammon players use today) or some other method used in the past, such a pointing device like one that can be seen in Bill Davis' article, or even little pieces of paper marked 2, 4, 8 16, etc., or some other apparatus such as they might built into backgammon boards someday (why haven’t they yet?) is of little significance in my personal opinion.

2) When I was contacted by Frank Frigo yesterday, I was very excited to hear this sensational news and took time away from other work to prepare a GammonLife article immediately. I even bought a full-year subscription to The New Yorker online to see the exact words in the article, and I will eventually research their entire archives for more possible articles on this and anything else related to backgammon.

Yes, The New Yorker article says that "according to one story" Grand Duke Dmitri introduced doubling in backgammon – I did not hide or omit that in my article.

Maybe he did not! That’s possible.

Is there another, second story?

Well, there might be as Bill Davis wrote to me today saying he will reveal new information he received from Ed Bennet leading to the possibility that it could have been someone else.


Bill did not say. However, he did say he will be updating his article on ChicagoPoint.com soon, so keep checking there for more information on the other “possible” inventor of doubling.

3) So, the likelihood exists that someone else may have introduced doubling in backgammon. My article offers all the available information, with references and links to everything, which I purposely did to effectively allow the readers to view the most recent information available on the topic and make their own assumptions.

But, I also did this hoping that one might feel challenged to research further and come up with more substantial proof or another possibility.

Note also this part of the article that was written by Frank Frigo:

“He left no memoirs but his diaries are located at the Houghton Library at Harvard University - they are available on microfilm and contain his personal address book and guest book. The diaries are mostly in Russian and contain information from 1917-1921, 1935, 1940. The address book was started in 1917, and another begins in 1940.”

That’s a hint, and I included it because Frank and I are hoping that maybe someone who reads Russian (some of it is apparently in French as well) would come forward and offer to go Houghton Library and check the microfilm for any references to backgammon, especially anything about doubling.

However, the year(s) when doubling was probably introduced by Grand Duke Dmitri seems to be missing or it is likely he never kept a diary during those busy social years of his life. (If you were playing late night backgammon for days upon end, when would you ever have time to keep a diary?)

In the end, I’ll go with “where there's smoke there is fire” and until someone else comes along with a different or more factual story (which I would gladly welcome), I am willing to accept and believe (and maybe even bet) that it was Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich that introduced doubling.

One must remember that information about social activities back in the 1920s, travelled around in rather limited circles (of course, so did gossip!) and although the article in The New Yorker does not provide the author’s by-line, I believe The New Yorker was then and still is today a much respected magazine and that their information on this was probably from a reliable source. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the guy who provided the info to The New Yorker article may have been Dmitri himself...

Incidentally, today I heard from Frank Frigo that the person who wrote the backgammon piece for The New Yorker article we have quoted, was Charles Cooke who was a regular contributor to the “Talk of the Town" section, so there you go!.

4) Finally, doubling apparently existed in the game of Golf well before it was introduced to backgammon and apparently may have been invented in Golf in France - Dmitri lived in Paris part of his live and perhaps he played Golf or may have learnt some other backgammon game there that involved doubling considering this part of Bill Davis’ article:

“David Levy, in a 2003 GammOnLine forum discussion, references Francis Willughby’s Book of Games: a 17th Century Treatise on Sports, Games, and Pastimes (ca 1660 in England), edited by David Cram, Jeffrey L. Forgeng and Dorothy Johnston, and published by Ashgate in 2003. In “Ticktack,” one of the described backgammon-like games, doubling the stakes is part of the rules. The term “vie” means to double. If a player accepts the double, he says “I see it.” Otherwise, he can yield the game. The big difference is that only the initial “vie” doubles the stakes. Future “vies” in the same game triple and next quadruple the stakes.”

Now the question would be... if “Ticktack” or some of the countless other “backgammon-like” games that existed in the past involved doubling, does that mean Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich was just a copycat?

The image of Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich used in this article can be found on various websites of the Internet including http://www.alexanderpalace.org


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