President’s Column: Continuous Innovation Copy

The hallmark of a thriving organization is its ability to continue to innovate, building on what works and charting new ground. I’m delighted to announce that the U.S. Backgammon Federation (USBGF) will be aided in this quest by the addition of John Pirner, CEO of Gammon Stuff, to our Board of Directors. John is a proven entrepreneur who will bring his organizational ability and extensive experience to the roles of Chief Operating Officer and Treasurer of the USBGF.

John Pirner

John Pirner joined the USBGF Board of
Directors in July and serves as Chief Operating
Officer and Treasurer. He lives in Minnesota and
plays with the Twin Cities Backgammon Club.
He founded Gammon Stuff (gammonstuff.
com) in 2016 after being disappointed that he
could not buy an FTH Backgammon set from
stock in North America. Gammon Stuff was
organized to import, stock and exclusively
sell the handmade boards and accessories
built by Fazil Terlemez (FTH), a German
craftsman. Begun as a hobby, Gammon Stuff
is now an enthusiastic corporate sponsor
of the USBGF and ABT tournaments. John
is also a Platinum Sponsor of the USBGF.



Elevating the USBGF National Championship

Through the generosity of a sponsor, the USBGF has established the USBGF National Championship Backgammon Prize Fund. It will provide $10,000 annually in support of the USBGF National Championship.With this support, the USBGF will elevate this signature event to the premier competition on the American Backgammon Tour. The goals of the Fund are to: raise awareness and visibility of the mind-game of backgammon; recognize expert players for their mastery of the game; and support the growth of the U.S. Backgammon Federation.

In 2020 the USBGF National Championship will have $5,000 added money. It will be held on Sunday, May 3, in conjunction with the Cherry Blossom Backgammon Championships. It is a 256-player single elimination event open to USBGF members. The first entry is free; re-entries are $50. The winner will also receive an FTH National Championship backgammon board valued at $950.

Also beginning in 2020, four to eight ABT tournaments around the country will be selected as National Championship Regional Qualifiers. Selection will be made by the U.S. Backgammon Foundation Board of Directors, and will based on ABT tournament director interest, ABT tournament size, increase in ABT attendance, and USBGF member participation. A total of $4000 in prize money will be added to Regional Qualifiers. An additional $1000 will be dedicated to marketing, streaming, trophies, and recognition.


“In the coming months, the USBGF plans to undertake online surveys of the backgammon community to learn more about your interests, ideas, and suggestions for improvement. We hope to learn more, particularly, about player tournament experience and how modern tournament management systems can make playing in tournaments more enjoyable and instructive.”



The USBGF National Championship and Regional Qualifiers will be marketed through USBGF distribution channels including social media, bulk email to over 3000 players, the USBGF PrimeTime Backgammon quarterly magazine, and the USBGF website. Regional winners will compete in the 2021 USBGF National Championship Playoff. Key matches will be streamed. Winners will be recognized in these outlets as well as at an annual USBGF Award Dinner.


The U.S. Backgammon Federation is pleased to announce that it has a cool new logo! The new logo captures the essence of the backgammon board with pips and checkers, keeping with the U.S. flag colors of our original. We invite backgammon enthusiasts to join in the fun and enjoy the many benefits of membership!

Competing in World Team Championships

Two newly formed organizations are offering world team cham- pionships: 1) the World Backgammon Federation which has an annual World Team Championship in conjunction with a major backgammon tournament; and 2) the World Backgammon Inter- net Federation which has an Internet team championship. Both began as European events, but opened the competitions to other countries, with the U.S. fielding teams in both events in 2019.

In April 2019 Team USA competed for the first time in the World Backgammon Federation World Team Championships. The 2019 Team consisted of Blake Fleetwood (non-playing captain), Nick Blasier, Karen Davis, Roberto Litzenberger, Carter Mattig, and Frank Talbot (see the Summer issue of PrimeTime Backgammon). Team USA acquitted itself respectably, missing the cutoff of the top eight country finalists by one point. In all, 26 national teams including 161 players competed in the event.

Unfortunately, the 2020 WTC to be held in January near Paris conflicts with the NY Metropolitan Open and the U.S. does not plan to mount a WTC team. However, the USBGF plans to field a team again in 2021. The event will take place in Trier, Germany at a tournament directed by Tobias Hellwag. At present the plan is to select a U.S. team of four players and up to four alternates through an online USBGF World Team Championship Qualifier tournament. The online qualifier will have an entry fee, with the proceeds used to help defray the costs of participating (€1000 entry fee, €100 registration fee). We are seeking sponsors for Team USA to help defray travel and other expenses. Please contact if you are interested in being a team sponsor.

In 2019 the US also fielded a team for the first time in the World Backgammon Internet Federation tournament, an online event with 25 countries participating. The U.S. team included: Neil Kazaross, Steve Sax, Joe Russell (Captain), Roberto Litzenberger, and Alfred Mamlet. Taking place over a four-month period, the U.S. finished second in an exciting finish against Norway. Alfred Mamlet had a 10-0 win-loss record to win the individual competition.

The U.S. is participating again in 2020, with a team consisting of: Art Benjamin, Neil Kazaross, Alfred Mamlet, Joe Russell (captain), Steve Sax, and Frank Talbot. Giants of Backgammon, grandmasters, and other leading players were invited to participate, and a best 2-of-3 11-point match qualifier determined seats on the team.

Growing the Grass Roots

Local clubs are the grass-roots foundation of the U.S. backgam- mon community. The USBGF supports the growth of local clubs by listing clubs on our website, providing added money for annual local club events, and providing technical assistance, tools, and support to new club directors.

The USBGF is delighted to announce a new Corporate Sponsor, the Grunwald Newcomer Fund, dedicated to help ease the transition of newcomers to competitive play. The Grunwald Fund is encouraging local clubs and/or ABT tournaments to hold Novice-Mentor Doubles events where novices are paired with expert players. A minimum of eight teams is required. Novices will serve as captain of the team, with the mentor providing advice on the captain’s proposed moves and cube deci- sions. The winning team will receive two Belair watches donated by the Fund (for novice and mentor doubles partners), plus the novice will receive a free lesson from a USBGF expert member and one-year USBGF Novice membership. The watches will be engraved with the USBGF logo.

Two years ago, the USBGF launched a Local Club Initiative (LCI) to encourage more USBGF members to play in local club tournaments, and more local club players to join the USBGF. Twenty-two local clubs participated both years. This year the USBGF will again provide added money to an annual LCI event held between November 1, 2019 and February 28, 2020. The formula for adding money has been simplified to $5 for each USBGF mem- ber who designates the local club as their primary or secondary club as of October 1, 2019.

The winners of the local club events compete in an online USBGF Local Club Champi- onship, where the first prize is a free entry to the ABT tournament of the winner’s choice. Carl Sorg of the Atlanta Northside Club won the prize in 2019 and used it to enter the 2019 Michigan Summer Classic.

Gus Contos of Gammon Associates in Los Angeles won the prize in 2018 and applied it to the 2018 California State tournament entry fee.

Jack Edelson, a member of the USBGF Board of Directors, chairs the USBGF Local Club Advisory Committee consisting of Jack, Ray Bills (USBGF Membership Direc- tor), Ted Chee (director of Backgammon by the Bay club in San Francisco area), Ross Gordon (director of the Connecticut Backgammon Club), Joe Miller (director of the Ohio State Backgammon Club), Jeff Proctor (director of the Atlanta Northside Club), and Albert Steg (director of the New England Backgammon Club). The charge to the committee is to provide information and support to potential new local club directors; refine the information packet for directors; advise on website redesign to support local club directors; oversee the Local Club Initiative; advise on the local club master point system; and assist with the annual Local Club Player of Year article for the PrimeTme Backgammon magazine. The Committee provides advice and suggestions on how the USBGF can best nurture and support the growth of local clubs.

Raising Awareness through Streaming and Expert Commentary

The U.S. Backgammon Foundation, a chari- table foundation established by the USBGF as described above, provides over $5,000 annually to help cover the cost of stream- ing staff at ABT tournaments. More than 1400 streamed matches on YouTube have received one million views. An estimated 350 matches are added to the USBGF YouTube archives annually.  The USBGF YouTube channel has over 2,600 subscribers.

The USBGF streaming initiative aims to raise awareness of the mind sport of backgammon and help viewers improve their skill. Specifically, it is intended to:

  • »  Increase interest in playing competitive tournament back- gammon
  • »  Improve the skill level of the backgammon community
  • »  Bring recognition to skilled backgammon players
  • »  Increase attendance at ABT tournaments
  • »  Increase membership in the USBGF
  • »  Attract corporate sponsors and philanthropic donations to the U.S. Backgammon Foundation.A new USBGF Remote Commentary Support Center, headed by USBGF Board member Matt Reklaitis, now provides offsite com- mentary and streaming production support for the final Cham- pionship match of ABT tournaments. Top-flight commentators have provided live commentary from offsite with the local venue providing a webcam feed.

nnovations are ongoing. Increasingly, ABT tournaments post drawsheet information on, an electronic bracket system developed by USBGF Board member Matt Reklaitis, so that those unable to attend can follow the action during the tournament and see how friends and fellow players are faring. Some tourna- ments are now arranging large digital display screens for players to view streamed matches. In addition to expert commentary, some matches have simultaneous analysis by the eXtreme Gammon software providing the viewers with instantaneous information on alternative plays or cube decisions.

Looking to the Future

In the coming months, the USBGF plans to undertake online surveys of the backgammon community to learn more about your interests, ideas, and suggestions for improvement. We hope to learn more, particularly, about player tournament experience and how modern tournament management systems can make playing in tournaments more enjoyable and instructive. We hope you will participate and share your thoughts with us.

The USBGF is a member-driven organization. We count on your engagement. Do participate in the upcoming Board of Directors election, as well as nominate worthy candidates for the American Backgammon Hall of Fame.

“Get Into the Game—Become a Member”

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