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Tbilisi’s Beer Pong Phenomenon, Loser Buys
04 December, 2014
Games and drink are as old as time. Dice and wine, cards and beer, they go together well, one vice aiding and abetting the other. The ancient Greeks played a game called Kottabos, which dates to at least the 4th century BC, and involved players throwing dregs of their wine at a target to see if they could hit it. A couple millennia later, in the late 1950s students at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire started placing cups on a
ping pong table and used paddles to try and knock a ping pong ball into them. Then in the 1970s, according to Bucknell University’s student paper, students at one of the school’s fraternities were playing a game called Throw Pong, which is essentially the game we know today as Beer Pong. That is, unless you live in Tbilisi, where bars across the city now offer their patrons the game Ludis Tamashi (Beer Game) or, more familiarly, Bir Pongi.

While there are many people who claim to have introduced the game to Tbilisians (yours truly among them) no one knows exactly, due to the beautiful simplicity of the game. All you need is a table of sufficient length (8 feet preferably, about 2.5 meters), 22 cups of a reasonable stature (red plastic SOLO brand preferably), two liters of beer (or more) and two ping pong balls.
The rules are equally Spartan but with countless twists and location specific amendments. The basics are as follows: two teams of two players each face each other across a table. In front of each team are ten cups arranged in a triangle with the point facing the opposite team. Approximately two liters of beer is divided evenly among the twenty cups. Each team also has a cup of water to the side used for cleaning the ball.
The play consists of teams alternating two shots apiece trying to throw the ball into the opposing side’s cups. If a ball lands in a cup, the cup is removed from play and drunk by that team. The first team to make a ball into all ten of the opposing team’s cups wins the game. Again, the deceptive simplicity of the game belies its charm. It is both childishly easy and maddeningly difficult. As the center mass of the original triangle of cups disappears one cup at a time, true hand-eye coordination takes hold.
Sinking the final remaining cup can take attempt after attempt, while a crowd of onlookers (some waiting in line to play) berates your lack of talent and inability to finish the game. The longer you take the more the taunting from spectators increases. As the game increases in popularity, modifications to the rules are inevitable. Some are orthodox additions, common to the frat house basements from whence the game was birthed. Others are new additions.
With the game’s basic simplicity, and almost unlimited ability for variation and modification, Beer Pong has taken off with enormous popularity in the last couple of years. What was originally a house party element or tailgate distraction has now become a bar specialty. Today, numerous Tbilisian bars, such as the hipster hangout DIVE Bar and hippie haven Canudos, advertise space for the game within their establishments, with the former having a regulation-sized table and occasional tournaments.
So with the cold winter approaching and outdoor activity becoming less tantalizing, grab some friends and continue a tradition started by the ancient Greeks thousands of years ago by throwing an object at a target while drinking. Or you could always come to DIVE Bar and challenge this author to a game yourself. Loser buys.

Author: Cory Greenberg
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