President’s Corner: Winners and How They Win

John Pirner discusses his thoughts on what is needed to become a champion.
President's Corner with John Pirner

As we pass the midpoint of 2023, I hope you are doing well. A couple of weeks ago the USBGF acknowledged the success and achievements of some important and distinguished people in our backgammon community at the annual USBGF Awards and Hall of Fame Induction dinner. This year the ceremony was held in Novi, Michigan at the 2023 Michigan Summer Championships. Carol Joy Cole was our host. We inducted two people to the Hall of Fame this year. Matvey Natanzon, whom we know as “Falafel,” and Masayuki Mochizuki, or Mochy. Although Falafel passed away in 2020, his spirit continues to shine brightly. If you are only vaguely familiar with Falafel and his ethos, I suggest that you read an article about him called “The Chaos of the Dice,” published in The New Yorker, May 13, 2013. He had a large personality that made his legend as a player even more imposing. Mochy, who may arguably be the best backgammon player in the world, is still young, and will undoubtedly influence and change our game beyond his contributions thus far. His accomplishments are extraordinary. There was a special serendipity to the awards this year. As we learned, Falafel was Mochy’s mentor. Mochy, whose sentiment is shared by other elite players in the world, said that he would not have become the player he is today without his friendship with Falafel . Second, Mochy was presented with the #1 Giant of Backgammon award by Jake Jacobs, who has helped oversee the Giants elections from the beginning. Third, a Michigan Summer Championship was Mochy’s first ABT tournament.   

Butch and Mary Ann Meese were presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Together they published a backgammon newsletter that had a 21-year run. They organized a local club and ABT tournaments. Together they have worked as staff at the World Cup, the Las Vegas Open, and they continue their 35-year run assisting with the Michigan Summer Championships. Butch contributed hundreds of hours designing complex brackets. Marty Storer, who barnstormed through the ABT last year, was presented with the 2022 ABT Point Leader Award. Tigran Avanesian was presented with the 2022 ABT Point Leader Advanced / Intermediate Division Award. Ted Chee was presented with the USBGF Online Master Point Leader Award. Acknowledging these extraordinary people got me thinking about the qualities these people have to become champions. Here are some thoughts:

  • Risk Management. Outcomes cannot be predicted, but risk and reward can be calculated and managed. Avoiding catastrophe and recognizing opportunity are clearly vital to winning.
  • Strategic Thinking. The best plan is only valid until the next roll. Flexibility, nimbleness, and clarity are characteristics that help with risk management.
  • Controlling the board. What are your priorities given your assets and your opponent’s assets? What is more likely, and what requires a lot of luck?
  • Knowledge. The best players are full time students. They are open to new concepts and discard their cherished tactics when proven ineffective.
  • Timing. They are patient when the dice are not cooperating, and they are aggressive when they see weakness.
  • Emotional control. They know they cannot control the dice so they wait for their moment. They observe their opponent and adapt to their playing style. They take advantage of their opponent’s timidity or emotionally aggressive style.

And what makes backgammon so frustrating?

  • The dice.
  • The dice.
  • The dice.

Beyond the dice, it’s tough for competitive people to maintain an emotional balance when the walls come crashing down because:

  • You made the wrong choice.
  • Your opponent made the wrong choice and got away with it.
  • You fall into a losing streak.

And what makes playing backgammon so rewarding?

  • It’s fast-paced competition. Win or lose, it can be a thrill.
  • The outcome cannot be known. Hope remains when everything else is failing.
  • Backgammon is a skill that challenges our mind and stimulates our problem-solving abilities. It is an intellectual challenge.
  • We are social beings. Backgammon gives us the opportunity to engage in rewarding opportunities to joust with old friends and new found friends. Even in losing, we form a camaraderie that can be respectful and long lasting.

Thank you for supporting backgammon. Hope to see you at an upcoming tournament!

Regards, John Pirner President and Executive Director U.S. Backgammon Federation

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