PrimeTime Backgammon, Mar-Apr



We are delighted, in this content-packed issue of PrimeTime Backgammon, to welcome two distinguished new authors to our galaxy of member-contributors. First Ray Fogerlund, three-time winner of the American Backgammon Tour and highest ABT annual point winner, lets readers inside his head to see how he conceived, executed, and almost successfully pulled off a daring game plan against world champion Mochy Mochizuki in the Dual-Duel event at the Texas Backgammon Championships. Then Jason Pack, a foreign-affairs expert who has written for (among others) the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, describes the game-theoretic strategy used by Slava Pryadkin in winning the 2013 Backgammon World Championship over former champion Lars Trabolt.

The excitement and buzz of first-class tournament play is attracting a growing field of entrants and world-wide streaming audiences. In this issue Steve Sax submits reports on two major events: the Texas Backgammon Championships and December’s California State Championships. From our foreign desk, the fine Turkish player Sabri Büyüksoy fills us in on the action in Cyprus, where several organizers have recently run very well-attended and successful tournaments, and provides a stunning pictorial album of the ISTAVDER 6th Anniversary Festival in Turkey. And I report, in prose and photos, on the New York Metro Open – where players from 10 countries converged at the beginning of the New Year to compete for Statue of Liberty trophies.

On the organizational front, Scott Butki, director of the Austin Backgammon Club, shares with us his approach to nurturing a local club. Scott, as a journalist and special education teacher, has received a wealth of on-the-job training in patience and persistence – qualities that he has put to good use in turning out his club members in force to enter this year’s Texas Backgammon Championships.

With its new President Bill Riles at the helm, the U.S. Backgammon Federation is thriving. Phil Simborg’s candid interview reveals what makes Bill such an effective leader. And speaking of leaders, the results of the first web-enabled, member-wide election of seats on the USBGF Board of Directors are in. Dorn Bishop and Neil Kazaross won seats on the Board, with Karen Davis, Patrick Gibson, and Richard Munitz coming back for second terms.

There’s much more – see especially the profile of Jamie Rosen, at age 14 the youngest participant in the NY Metropolitan Open event, and the feature on the Director’s Cup II online tournament winner Greg Kurrell.

Check out the live and online tournament rankings, and as Bill Riles says: Get in the Game!

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Illinois State Backgammon Championship: Anatomy of A Tournament Done Right

By Rochelle Hasson

Photo of Mary Ann Meese by Mary Hickey with permission of Mary Hickey and GammonVillage

The Illinois State Backgammon Championship took place over the weekend of October 8th, 2010, in Peoria, Illinois. Peoria is three hours southwest of Chicago; that is, if the wind lets you keep all four wheels of your car on the ground. As you make the drive along the miles and miles of farmland that line Interstate 55,  harvested corn fields are the only remnants of summer you can see. October usually brings cooler temperatures; but on this weekend, the Dice Gods benevolently provided balmy 82-85 degree weather the entire three days. Very enjoyable, especially if you have good company, as I did; but if the drive from Chicago is not your cup of tea, you can fly directly to Peoria from eight cities around the country. You can check out flight options at

The tournament was held at the Grand Hotel, owned by Nick Fady, a member of the local backgammon club. The hotel has a nicely-appointed lobby which leads, on the way to a luxurious indoor pool, through a bamboo-styled dining room lined with plentiful, lush greenery. Who needed Monte Carlo or other exotic venues? It was all right here in Peoria!

Mr. Fady offered tournament players a very reasonable room rate, which included a plentiful breakfast buffet (eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, cereal, muffins, toast, oatmeal, and of course, coffee and tea) held in the tropical alcove. With this offering under your belt, you began each day totally satiated and energized. The hotel provided a very accommodating staff, and spacious rooms equipped with everything you could ask for: tv, alarm clock/ radio, coffee maker and coffee, microwave, refrigerator, iron and ironing board, hair dryer and even a magnifying lighted mirror. Directly off the lobby, a complimentary room equipped with computer and printer was available at all hours, as was another area where laptops could be used. Room service from the hotel’s Pepper Tree restaurant was available throughout the day at very reasonable prices, delivered right to your board by a very accommodating waitress who circulated through the playing room taking orders. The Pepper Tree was open until 9:30, while the lounge stayed open until midnight. You really had everything you needed right there in the hotel!

Now that you’ve had a taste of the hotel’s hospitality, on to the main event!

With pumpkins and black cats next to the trophy table and Halloween trolls bedecking the podium, the tournament staff complemented the serious business of the tournament with a playful holiday ambience. Sub-titled “The Graveyard Gala”, the tournament boasted a huge playing room with Halloween decorations wherever you turned.  It was fabulous!  The tournament director and committee dazzled the assemblage by wearing Halloween-themed outfits and accessories every day.  As you approached the director’s table, you were confronted with a sign:  “THERE WILL BE A $5.00 CHARGE FOR WHINING.” A post-it note underneath it added… “per incident.”  There was a spidery table set up offering brochures of upcoming ABT tournament events, backgammon software, brochures about the USBGF, tournament score cards and a thoughtful, comprehensive list of area restaurants for those who wished to go out during the dinner break.  Speaking of food, there was no lack of snacks at this tournament.  There was a gigantic bowl of assorted chocolates, Halloween candies, trail-mix-type goodies, cookies, and more, which disappeared very quickly every day. There were continuously refilled urns of ice water, coffee and tea; and in addition a huge cauldron-type skull on the Director’s table which offered an incredible array of Halloween gag trinkets, from rubber bloodshot eyeballs to slimy things and ghoulies — to mention just a few.  I noticed that skull being refilled a good number of times.  One can only wonder who was having more fun with all this… the tournament committee or the players?

Now for a little background.  The Illinois State Backgammon Championship began in the 1980s, run by Yamin Yamin and based in Chicago.  It moved to Springfield after Yamin stopped directing the event and Bill Davis encouraged the Springfield club to pick it up, since he liked the idea of having the Illinois tournament in Illinois’ state capitol. Shortly afterward, the tournament’s venue alternated between Springfield and Peoria.  During those years it was apparent that attendance at the tournament was better in Peoria, and that city then became it’s permanent home. The director and staff donate well over 200 hours of their time and energy to plan the tournament. In the words of TD Linda Rockwell, “running it is physically and psychically draining, but given the love of the game we all have and having players remark about how much fun they had and how warm and welcoming the tournament staff has been, it makes all that time and effort worthwhile.”

The Illinois State Backgammon Championship has earned a reputation for being a very well-run and enjoyable tournament. Linda, former co-director for ten years (with Sue Will) of the Peoria backgammon club, took over the reins four years ago when former director Ed Zell decided to step down. Somewhere in her pre-backgammon life she was a social worker, earning a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Perfect training to deal with the eccentricities and delicate handling that backgammon players sometimes need!  Today, she lives in Skokie, Illinois (three hours from Peoria) with her husband David, and works as a Special Events & Sponsorship Manager — which translates, in layman’s terms, into organizing events and raising money. She and husband David are a great doubles team and going for a world record in number of doubles tournaments won together!

The other tournament committee members have equally interesting backgrounds.  Sue Will is a retired adoption counselor and runs the Peoria Backgammon Club.  Mary Ann Meese is a home health nurse in Indianapolis, Indiana, and together with husband Butch, has directed large tournaments for many years.  Dru Heggen is a marathon runner, teaches physical education, coaches girl’s sports and has been “Pig Mistress” for over 20 years at Bill Davis’ tournaments.  One can only imagine what that title represents…

Let’s take a look now at the events of the Peoria Championship.  There were thirty championship, twenty-three intermediate and five novice division players. A few additional people who were unable to play over the weekend participated in Friday’s Prairie Classic and the Doubles tournaments.  And of course, there was the famous Calcutta auction, skillfully conducted by Phil Simborg and Michael Plog. Side events included Peoria quickies, the Midstate Microblitz, and a very challenging form of backgammon play called “Kill Phil” (Simborg) Randomgammon.  There was something to keep everyone happy and challenged throughout the tourney.  Want to know what’s in store for next year?  After reading this article, hopefully you will put this tournament on your calendar, and find out first hand what they’ve cooked up!  It’s an ABT event that should not be missed.