How I spend it: Chris Blackwell “believes in rolling the dice”

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I started playing backgammon with my parents when I was eight or nine years old. I liked everything about the game: the tactility of the pieces, the civility of it, spending time with friends. While I loved all games as a kid, backgammon was my favorite. I still play at least once a week – and sometimes every day if the weather permits – and have played all over the world: at Annabel’s in Mayfair, on the beaches, whatever you want. Everywhere I sleep I have a board nearby.

When I was growing up in the 1950s in Montego Bay, the canasta card game was very important. My mom always played and there were times when I never fed myself because the games lasted for hours and there was often gambling. She also enjoyed playing backgammon – and swimming – at Ian Fleming’s villa, GoldenEye, on Jamaica’s north coast, where friends like Errol Flynn and Noel Coward often gathered. After Fleming died, I wanted to buy the property for her, but I was not in the best position financially, so I asked Bob Marley if he wanted to buy it. He didn’t feel the vibe. A few years later I was able to buy the house myself and now manage it as a hotel. I felt like there was a sort of serendipity at work.

Chris Blackwell in New York with one of his backgammon boards © Island Outpost Images / David Yellen

Backgammon is a game of skill and chance, and in life I believe a lot in luck, in rolling the dice. I walk a lot and love that there is always the random opportunity to take a different path. I do this in the hope of seeing or learning something new. I have always been like this in all facets of my life, including backgammon, and I feel I have been very lucky overall. Some of my best relationships – with Bob Marley and the Wailers, for example, whom I ran into while stranded in England after a show – came with a bit of luck. I was asked to research bands in Birmingham in 1965 and I heard a voice that sounded like Ray Charles, but higher. It was finally Steve Winwood. I was just lucky to have been selected to Scout that day, otherwise I would never have met him.

Over the years I have purchased many tables and sets, but my most prized was purchased at Hugh Hefner’s backgammon club / disco, Pips, LA in the late 1960s. Pips was nominated for the 24 points on the backgammon board, and Hefner was very passionate about the game, although I never had the chance to play with him. This particular set is huge and painted in the striking red and green colors of Gucci. The coins are also quite large – 1.5 inches in diameter – which makes them even more unusual. I went to the club one day, saw it and thought it was amazing, so I ordered one there. It’s currently in my country house in England and it really is the best in the game.

Blackwell with (left to right) Junior Marvin, Bob Marley and Jacob Miller, 1980

Blackwell with (from left to right) Junior Marvin, Bob Marley and Jacob Miller, 1980 © Nathalie Delon / Island Trading Archive

Blackwell on the set of

Blackwell on the set of “Dr No” in Jamaica with Sean Connery and Ursula Andress, 1961 © Courtesy of Island Trading

Another favorite is in the spotlight in the Fleming villa. It’s designed with hand painted peacocks, and everyone who remains is playing on this board. Another board that I treasure is the one given to me by my late wife, Mary Vinson. It is a beautiful leather table. You remove the top to reveal the tray. One day as I was cleaning the apartment, inside the drawer was a letter from Mary to me. I left it there to keep it, and it’s still there. This painting is currently in my apartment in New York and during Covid it was occupied. I played, drank coffee, and ate cakes every night, only stopping to applaud the health heroes at 7 p.m.

Ultimately, it’s the company that makes the game so special, and GoldenEye – and Jamaica in general – has seen a lot of action over the years. Before Covid, I used to play with our guests at Bizot Bar and we also had a tournament at my other resort, Strawberry Hill; I can’t wait to be able to do these things again. Worthy opponents over the years have included everyone from Grace Jones to Princess Michael of Kent. I enjoyed the long matches with the late Broadway producer Terry Allen Kramer in New York City, Harbor Island and London – and Dennis Hopper was an entertaining contender too. The only place I lived where I didn’t play backgammon at all was in Miami; people there were more interested in watching women in bikinis than focusing on a board game.

I have played every day since returning to Jamaica after confinement. My girlfriend beat me hard the whole time we were in New York; she was lucky and it was amazing for both of us. It is the luck of the dice.


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