• American Backgammon Hall of Fame

Matvey “Falafel” Natanzon

Matvey "Falafel" Natanzon photo
Inducted in 2023
From Israel/New York

With a career that spanned over two decades, Matvey Natanzon, better known affectionately as Falafel, has left an indelible mark on the game we hold dear through his extraordinary skill, intuitive gameplay, and magnetic personality. Falafel’s remarkable achievements earned him a place among the Giants of Backgammon. He was voted in the top 10 of the Giants list for seven consecutive years and claimed the coveted No. 1 spot twice and No. 2 once. His intuitive playing style repeatedly triumphed against advanced artificial intelligence, helping him emerge victorious in numerous national and international events and solidifying his reputation as one of the game’s greatest natural players.

A true luminary of backgammon, Falafel’s influence extended far beyond his victories. His dedication to mentoring and nurturing talent has shaped the careers of countless players, including renowned names like Masayuki “Mochy” Mochizuki, Michihito “Michy” Kageyama, Zdeněk Žižka, and Matt Cohn-Geier. Reflecting on his time studying with Falafel, Mochy — regarded as the world’s best backgammon player — expressed profound gratitude, stating, “In the spring of 2009, I stayed in his apartment in Tel Aviv for two weeks to study backgammon with him. I played on GridGammon, and he pointed out my mistakes and provided an explanation of the best play. He was so fast to find the right play and so confident. He had no hesitation to criticize my lack of understanding, and while it was really painful, I was forced to accept how stupid I was and kept on. We did it for hours and hours. Later in the same year, I won the world championship, and my life changed forever. I owe him a lot. Without that lesson, I would not be standing today as a backgammon professional.”

His witty and insightful commentary enthralled audiences worldwide, making him the game’s preeminent commentator throughout his lifetime. He was recognized in numerous publications, including the New York Times. He even became the subject of a documentary titled Falafel’s Game. As we honor Falafel’s outstanding contributions, let us reflect on his lasting impact as an international ambassador for backgammon. His dedication to promoting and elevating the game has inspired players across the globe, uniting us in our shared love for this strategic pursuit. He is greatly missed.