The 39th Backgammon World Championship gave my wife and me a holiday opportunity this year. Since I am a Mediterranean guy — energized by its special blue and the sun — I adore the scene offered by the mountains and the sea in Monaco, the second smallest country of the world. The glamour of the city is dreamlike: I can visit this part of the French Riviera without playing backgammon just to enjoy the atmosphere. Luxury is not one of my priorities; but I still I like being in such a charming place: dressed up, dining at wonderful restaurants, watching beautiful people and expensive cars drive around. And for a break from the high life, there are the nearby towns and cities like Menton, Nice, and Cannes. Menton, for example, is a very normal-looking, nice town to hide away in if Monte Carlo makes you dizzy. In Monaco itself, you can enhance your experience by visiting the Palace or relaxing by the sea, either at a public beach or a private cove.
This August it was my fourth consecutive visit to the World Championship. I was alone at my first visit and together with my wife at the second one. These trips had given a rough impression of the Monte Carlo backgammon experience – an impression that was confirmed by last year’s and this year’s tournaments. To us, this “World Championship” tournament means high stakes, both in the tournament and in the side games. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is very different from how the game is perceived by my part of the world.
Backgammon is a sacred game for me. In Turkey we play backgammon in the streets with wooden boards. There is a backgammon board in almost in every house. Playing the game is an opportunity to socialize and understand life. This is the vision that I have tried to convey to the public ever since I was introduced to the international backgammon scene seven years ago. I have tried to encourage people to participate in the game so that they could see life, and especially themselves, through its special window. But the reality of Monte Carlo is very different from my vision.
I am not discouraged. I will continue to work with volunteers from other backgammon-loving countries to elevate the discussion, so that backgammon will evolve to complement all of the higher aspects of life — including mind sports, education, business and art. As for Monte Carlo: well, it has its place, reflecting a colorful, elegant era when style was paramount, and the players participated en grande toilette.
The tournament has been trying, over the last four years, to increase attendance. This goal has (to some extent) been achieved — but alas, at the expense of organization. For example: this year there was a new double-elimination format; but it was not properly explained. Nor was the scheduling adequate. Because there are so many distractions in Monte Carlo and some prefer money games over tournament activities, I had a lot of trouble finding my opponents. There were two improvements, though, even if they were accidental: the big ballroom was not available this year, so we played in the promenade outside it, with its beautiful Mediterranean view. And for the same reason, the prize-giving cocktail and ceremony took place at another nice room. I prefer these venues, and hope they can be used in the future.
During the last couple of years I have witnessed very nice tournaments such as the Merit Open in Cyprus, Chicago Open, Texas State Championships in San Antonio, Cannes, Japan Open, Nordic Open, Istavder Anniversary, and Georgian Championship. Organizers all around the world are building on top of what other organizers are doing best. I hope that the Monte Carlo organizers will incorporate the best practices to be found today, enriching the experience of players and making the World Championships the best that it can be.
After all this fussing, let’s talk about what happened backgammon-wise during that week. I believe the most important point was how and why Akiko Yazawa won the tournament. I have been a fan of hers over the last three years. We have played a lot, and I know her and her game very well. She is my idol, for although her results are the best in the world she signifies to me that low error rate is not the only quality a backgammon player should have.
Over the last seven years since I started playing backgammon I have been developing a business related to this kind of holistic viewpoint. I will briefly explain its implications for backgammon in a separate article. Meanwhile, here are some nice moments from 39th Backgammon World Championship:
Another reflective Anish Kapoor piece, located outside the Buddha Bar.
A digital-photographic art shot by my wife, redesigned by my Samsung phone’s imaging software Fabri (Fabrizio Lo Surdo of Italy) and Sabri playing a speedgammon match. I had trouble with time in this match because of the side I have to roll. I believe we will see more speedgammon in coming years because it is fun to play and watch.
Shogi grand master Moriuchi Ioshiyuki (Japan) did very well in reaching the final eight. The games are related to each other in terms of strategies and tactics. For example I became a better chess player after seven years of backgammon.
Winner Akiko Yazawa (Japan). She is the third lady winning the Monte Carlo World Backgammon Championship. She won the Super Jackpot in 2012 and 2013. No player has ever performed at her level. It was a highly emotional moment when the principal organizer Patti Donner-Rubin gave her the trophy.