Welcome to 2022: John Answers Your Questions

Optimism has at times morphed into weariness, but we have found creative ways to manage risk and come together.
President's Corner with John Pirner

Welcome to 2022. Who would have thought a year ago that we would still be talking about infection rates, mask mandates and vaccinations? Live backgammon has come back, to a certain extent, but the community remains cautious. Optimism has at times morphed into weariness, but we have found creative ways to manage risk and come together.

We had a Board of Directors election at the end of 2021 to fill five open seats.

We should be grateful to the tournament organizers who risk their time and money to produce tournaments. These are exceptionally stressful times for them. They sign contracts with hotels, with guarantees, six months or more in advance, but have no way to know if they will break even. New COVID variants and undependable airline schedules are keeping attendees away or causing last-minute cancellations. Tournaments are silently losing money. It is easy to find flaws in anything, but during these times, I hope we step back and pause for a moment before we criticize a tournament. This is a time to express our gratitude and support.

We had a Board of Directors election at the end of 2021 to fill five open seats. Eight people were nominated, including one woman, and five chose to run. I would like to congratulate the four incumbents, Frank Talbot, Dan Minardi, Jason Briggs, and Jeb Horton, for their reelection, and welcome Rory Pascar as a new Board member.

I asked for comments and suggestions on the election ballot. Here are the comments, with my responses.

“Sometimes following the rules seems silly. I.e. vote for five candidates and there are only five folks to vote for.”

“Why is there a need for a vote?”

“This makes no sense – if there are five candidates and five seats open, why vote?”

I received quite a few emails from people who asked, “What am I missing?” Yes, the rules do seem silly at times. We spent a lot of time preparing for an obvious outcome, but our elections have rules and we followed them.

“We received criticism for the number of candidates and lack of diversity.“

“Having five people for five positions does not inspire confidence in the number of USBGF volunteers. This is not so much an election as an appointment. Defeats the purpose. A minimum of seven candidates is needed.”

“Shouldn’t there be more candidates than positions? Also, I think the amount paid to the USBGF from a tourney should be in the $1 to $3 range. While $10 is not a burden for me personally, the fee will discourage participation.”

No one in the organization decides how many candidates are put on the Board election ballot. Some people nominate themselves; others are nominated by another member.

Not everyone who is nominated agrees to run. People run for different reasons. My hope is that those who do run, and win, will contribute significant time and personal resources to help us achieve our mission, which is to grow backgammon. We have some exceptionally generous Board members whom I am grateful for.

We have begun to pay staff for critical work, but, as a typical not-for-profit organization, we expect Board members to donate significant time and contribute money. Board members do not receive Board compensation, discounts for products or tournament entry fees, or travel reimbursement. This level of commitment is not for everyone. Many nominees decline to run because they would rather just play.

We have not seen evidence that the $10 ABT fee is a burden or has discouraged participation. However, two anonymous Board members have contributed $1,000 to create a fund to help those who tell us it is a burden.

We need money to fund the things you want us to do. We would not exist today without volunteers and the generous donations of Founding Sponsors. However, if we are to grow as an organization and increase the services we provide to members, we need dependable income sources that come from operations. $1 – $3 doesn’t move the needle as much as $10 does, and we haven’t seen evidence that $10 has kept people away from tournaments any more than registration fees and rakes.

We have begun to pay staff for critical work, but, as a typical not-for-profit organization, we expect Board members to donate significant time and contribute money.

“Gender balance. Where are the women? Next election better include at least two women.”

This is a challenging topic and one that I think about a lot. It is interesting that a higher percentage of ABT tournaments are organized by women – New York, Michigan, Los Angeles (2), Minnesota, Sunny Florida, and the Cherry Blossom – than the attendance percentage of women at ABT tournaments. In fact, all the women who organize those tournaments are respected leaders in our community. Some of them do not want to sit on the Board but their opinions are influential none the less.

A woman was nominated this election cycle but she chose not to run. We encourage you to nominate people whom you believe have the skills to help us grow backgammon. There are many qualities that make a good Board member. The most important, for me, is a commitment to serve beyond attending the Board meetings. I do not want to encourage anyone to run if the commitment to serve is not strong. I respect those who are nominated but decline to run because they do not feel they have the time or resources to participate.

I believe that the USBGF will benefit from more women in leadership roles. We are making progress. April Mesich is a key member of the USBGF team. She was hired in 2020 to develop our new website and lead marketing. She was elected to the Board in the same year. Karen Davis, a Board member and past President, was elected to the Hall of Fame. Candace Mayeron received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021.

A new group called Women in Backgammon was formed in 2021. I expect that they will have a large impact on backgammon and the USBGF. I believe they will succeed in increasing the participation of women at tournaments. They will certainly be influential in the next Board election.

“These folks are willing to stand for election and contribute their time. Many thanks!”

“Thank goodness we could vote for all five, would have been impossible to leave anyone out!”

I agree! We had a very strong slate of candidates and it would have been difficult to see any of them excluded.

“If GridGammon is destined to stay, PLEASE improve it to compete with much more comprehensive play sites. FIX the never ending dice-bias issues.”

We frequently get comments similar to this and other complaints about GridGammon. We do not own GridGammon. Our affiliation with GridGammon is casual and symbiotic, but we have no formal business relationship.

We get frequent complaints about dice bias on all of the playing sites. Multiple people have looked into electronic dice bias and no one has found anything irregular. There isn’t a reason for a computer to take one side or another. I have seen players complain about dice bias in live play, too. Dice and life doesn’t seem fair when you are losing. I have not heard anyone, who won after rolling a slew of jokers, complain about unfair dice!

“Drop the vaccine mandate and let people choose to get one and or wear a mask or not.“

“It’s time to read and study the research relating to the decision to require vaccinations so that the unvaccinated can play at the ABT tournaments again.”

This is easily the most controversial topic of the past two years. We have an aging and vulnerable community that we must protect. It isn’t about politics or control, but our best effort to manage safety. The USBGF has mandated vaccinations but the tournament organizers have in some situations added their own safety measures, including the wearing of masks. Hotels may also have their own requirements that are not negotiable. I do not anticipate that the USBGF will relax the vaccination policy.

Some people who are unhappy with the policy tell us that we are keeping people away from tournaments. I know that is true, but I believe that people would stay way if we did not have the vaccination policy. The policy was made with concern for safety, not a calculation to maximize attendance.

I wish there was a better way of seeing updated brackets and streaming schedules for live tournaments. Also, what about an all online series for those of us that just can’t get out that much for live play? The online tournaments just vanished after live play started back up. The online tournaments could be secondary.”

We are working on real-time bracket updates. It isn’t an easy problem to solve but we have a possible solution.

Yes, we should do a better job of posting streaming schedules.You are correct, ABT Online! went silent when live play started up again last summer. We recognize that we abandoned the ABT Online! but we will correct that in 2022. Our bottleneck is Ben Friesen’s time. One of my top five goals for 2022 is to recruit and train people to work with Ben and learn from him.

My other priorities are 1) to get more marketing help, 2) to continue support for Rich Munitz’s development of the Online Tournament Series (OTS). His work incorporates the development of live bracket updates, 3) to expand educational opportunities, and 4) increase support for local clubs.“

My advice is the same as always: pay more attention to grass roots organizing, including local clubs. Provide support for new players, especially including lessons.

Excellent advice. Local clubs and education are our future.

“More streaming. More ABT tourneys.”

“Commentary on every USBGF stream. Commentator doesn’t have to be an expert player, just a knowledgeable player.”

“Would be nice to see a lot more live streaming with commentary at all ABT events.”

We have invested in streaming hardware and people. It takes a lot of time, technology, and trial and error, to make a good stream. Antoinette Williams is our stream commentator recruiter and coordinator. This is a work in progress. Please let us know if you would like to help with our streaming, either as a technical support person or a commentator.

“Add a senior clock time adjustment for seniors over 65 years of age. I suggest that the senior have the option of adding 15 seconds of time per point, and 5 seconds to the delay. This is optional for the senior, and would be added to BOTH players’ clocks (even if the other player is not a senior). [Top experienced seniors are free to say that they don’t need the additional time.]”

Clocks usage is enforced for pace of play. It only takes one match to slow a bracket down and get off schedule. I don’t think the Rules Committee or tournament directors will be in favor of this, but we will discuss it. Perhaps we can find a compromise.

Thank you for your questions and comments. Always feel free to let me know what is on your mind.

– John Pirner

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