Last year Team Denmark crushed the Rest of the World. But in terms of error (or performance) rate the squads had played on a comparable level. Now the World sought its revenge.
The Danish lineup was pretty much the same as last year’s, with the notable absence of poker/backgammon superstar Gus Hansen. It seems that Gus, an amazing physical as well as mental specimen (he was a competitive junior tennis player in Denmark before turning gambler) has been playing a lot of squash lately and decided to become the patron of the Danish national squash team! “We have a meet coming up in Finland, so I won’t be able to make it for the backgammon,” he told me when I saw him at the Monte Carlo tennis tournament the week prior to the Nordic.
The Danes: Morten Holm, bookmaker and sports bettor extraordinaire; poker (and backgammon, of course) stars Sander Lylloff, Mads Andersen and Thomas Kristensen; Monte Carlo winner (2008) and finalist (2009) Lars Trabolt; the precocious 25-year-old soccer star and backgammon author Marc Olsen; and Thomas Myhr, the “unknown” expert I had encountered when playing in the Danish backgammon leagues for the Copenhagen team Nemoland last year.
The World team, for its part, was missing its ace as well: Stick Rice, who had faced off against Hansen, in a captivating battle of trash talk and technique, in one of last year’s heads-up singles matches. Instead, world #1 Mochy organized the team this year, calling upon the prior #1 and perennial “giant” Falafel to again serve as playing captain. I, Ralf Jonas, and American poker-and-backgammon expert David Wells replaced Stick and last year’s team members Peter Heitmuller (Germany) Fernando Braconi (Italy).
This time around, the organizers eliminated the women’s competition, which had been criticized, both for the usual reasons and because the World entry, Katja Spillum, though technically Norwegian, was as good as Danish herself, having lived in Copenhagen for some years.
Our team trained together for a few days prior to the competition. Stick, writing on his backgammon web forum had expressed his trepidations about Falafel’s captaincy, now that neither he nor Kazeross would be present to counterbalance the giant’s assertiveness:
“... now the World team is left with Falafel, as vocal as anyone could dream of, and 6 people who don't speak up! With Neil there would have been some solid arguing/entertainment between him and Falafel, now I fear for the final matchup between the teams it'll be Falafel Falafel Falafel. Sending out an SOS to the World team; put your two cent's worth in, no staying quiet, no mumbling, don't make Falafel ask only when he isn't sure, spit out your opinion and your confidence level.”
Stick had a point: Falafel, a betting man down to his boots, sprouts strong opinions like dandelions after a spring rain shower, immediately expressing them with a confidence that can be intimidating indeed. And so, in our training matches, we made a point of speaking out, if not with Falafel’s assuredness, then at least firmly enough to put him on notice of our convictions. And it did seem like we were doing enough: our fearless captain acceded to the will of the majority on several occasions -- and when the Bot analyzed our matches afterwards, it told us that we had played almost flawlessly.
Besides these full-team consultation matches, we spent most of our time practicing for the speed gammon competition. Mochy had designated Jonas, Wells and Falafel to represent us in this unusual variant; and it took a bit of drill before they had all gotten the idea: in speed gammon, you cannot strive for perfection, or anything close to it. Losing on time, as Mochy had done in one match last year, is the ultimate sin. The third or fourth best move is preferable to the best move, if that move costs you too many precious seconds on the clock. Falafel in particular insisted that it was “completely unacceptable” that anyone lose on time; and so obvious did this seem to him that in the bookmaking powwow he held with Holm just before the competition began he made the odds 6 to 1 that anyone, on either team, would lose a match on time. Holm was less sanguine about that proposition, making it a 3 to 1 bet. But they were both way off.
The format, as it had last year, consisted of the teams' starting with three sets of three speed matches, followed by three sets of five dmp (1-point) matches, two singles matches, and two consulting doubles matches, followed by a final match in which the full teams would consult against one another.
This year, the world jumped out to a nice lead. Our preparation had paid off: in the speed matches, David Wells went three for three versus Lars Trabolt; Ralf Jonas won two out of three versus Morten Holm; and Falafel won one out of three versus Sander Lyloff. Since each speed match, according to the complex scoring system, counted for two points, this meant that the World led 12-6. We kept our lead through the dmps and doubles sessions, partly due to the circumstance, entirely unimaginable to Falafel, that Dane Mads Andersen lost one of his five dmp matches on time: but then in the singles, the two Japanese stars went down: Mochy to Andersen and Michy to Thomas Myhr. This left the Danes ahead, for the first time, 26-23. They would take this lead into the finale, a full-consulting match to 35.