Checkers, backgammon, Go, and chess. Poker, Scrabble, and bridge. These seven games, ancient and modern, fascinate millions of people worldwide. Join journalist and author Oliver Roeder as he charts their origins and historical importance, the delightful arcana of their rules, and the ways their design makes them pleasurable.
Roeder discusses thrilling competitors, such as evangelical minister Marion Tinsley, who across four decades lost only three games of checkers; Shusai the Master, the last Go champion of imperial Japan, defending tradition against “modern rationalism;” and an IBM engineer who created a backgammon program so capable at self-learning that NASA used it on the space shuttle. He delves into the history and lore of each game: backgammon boards in ancient Egypt, the Indian origins of chess, and how certain shells from a particular beach in Japan make the finest white Go stones.
Beyond the cultural and personal stories, Roeder explores why games, seemingly trivial pastimes, speak so deeply to the human soul. He also tells the story of how AI inventors, pursuing scientific glory and competitive advantage, created programs capable of playing better than any human player, and what that means for the games—and for us.
Roeder has been a senior writer at FiveThirtyEight and editor of The Riddler, a collection of the site’s math puzzles. His book Seven Games: A Human History (W. W. Norton & Company) is available for purchase.
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