Back to the Cradle: Cyprus Backgammon Open 2010

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By Robert Wachtel

Modern backgammon, as developed – and, nowadays studied – in Europe, the Americas and Japan, is just a small tweak removed from the traditional board game that has been played in the Middle East for millennia by millions and millions of people of every age and economic class. Most everyone, in countries like Iran, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Egypt and Iraq, learns backgammon as a kid, plays with friends and family growing up, and, leisure permitting, continues to compete and sharpen his or her skills as an adult.

Middle Eastern Backgammon vs. Western Backgammon

The Middle Eastern boards, of course, are not felt-padded, as are our backgammon sets, nor are dice cups the norm. The dice are tiny, and thrown by hand onto a wooden board with inlaid pips (often without the even-odd color variation that we use), where they make a sharp clacking sound as they roll. The pieces, to complete the percussive composition, are thwacked down with an impressive but measured amount of force: just a little less than required for the escape velocity that would send the rest of the checkers hurtling into orbit. The game is played fast, with constant banter – but no doubling cube.

Playing backgammon in Istanbul credit: zoonabar

Playing backgammon in Istanbul
credit: zoonabar

Unfortunately, the architects of backgammon’s latest renaissance, in the 1970’s and 80’s, looked eastwards only to lure the odd Arab sheik back to their gentlemen’s clubs in London and New York for an ultra-high-stakes session. They promoted the game, instead, to the American and European consumer, using the complex of Playboy/James Bond imagery that sold everything at the time from automobiles to liquor to stereo equipment. Cool, sophisticated, and elegant, backgammon briefly reached the masses as a lifestyle accouterment for upwardly dreaming young adults.

The cover of Bruce Becker’s Backgammon for Blood

The cover of Bruce Becker’s Backgammon for Blood

Just as the momentum from that great advertising-based surge had died, poker came along. A new rush of enthusiasm, new projects and investments designed to make backgammon a TV bonanza; but the target demographic was the old, familiar one.
Eastern Backgammon ReBy Robert Wachtel

Modern backgammon, as developed – and, nowadays studied – in Europe, the Americas and Japan, is just a small tweak removed from the traditional board game that has been played in the Middle East for millennia by millions and millions of people of every age and economic class. Most everyone, in countries like Iran, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Egypt and Iraq, learns backgammon as a kid, plays with friends and family growing up, and, leisure permitting, continues to compete and sharpen his or her skills as an adult.
Middle Eastern Backgammon vs. Western Backgammon

The Middle Eastern boards, of course, are not felt-padded, as are our backgammon sets, nor are dice cups the norm. The dice are tiny, and thrown by hand onto a wooden board with inlaid pips (often without the even-odd color variation that we use), where they make a sharp clacking sound as they roll. The pieces, to complete the percussive composition, are thwacked down with an impressive but measured amount of force: just a little less than required for the escape velocity that would send the rest of the checkers hurtling into orbit. The game is played fast, with constant banter – but no doubling cube.

Backgammon (Tavla) in Istanbul
Playing backgammon in Istanbul
credit: zoonabar

Unfortunately, the architects of backgammon’s latest renaissance, in the 1970’s and 80’s, looked eastwards only to lure the odd Arab sheik back to their gentlemen’s clubs in London and New York for an ultra-high-stakes session. They promoted the game, instead, to the American and European consumer, using the complex of Playboy/James Bond imagery that sold everything at the time from automobiles to liquor to stereo equipment. Cool, sophisticated, and elegant, backgammon briefly reached the masses as a lifestyle accouterment for upwardly dreaming young adults.

Backgammon for Blood
The cover of Bruce Becker’s Backgammon for Blood

Just as the momentum from that great advertising-based surge had died, poker came along. A new rush of enthusiasm, new projects and investments designed to make backgammon a TV bonanza; but the target demographic was the old, familiar one.
Eastern Backgammon Revival
It has only been in the last few years that the organizers and entrepreneurs have started training their guns in the natural direction. The pioneer of the eastward movement was the Israeli-based gaming company, Interlogic Ltd, founded in Haifa in 2004. Promoting the backgammon game in Israel, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Estonia and Russia, Interlogic has acquired thousands of customers for its online backgammon platforms Play65 and Gammonempire in the last six years.

The awakening of the live backgammon game in the Middle East did not commence until 2007, when the Turkish expert Fuat Erdag founded his organization, Istavder, in Istanbul. A backgammon community already existed in Turkey, but it was mainly the old game, tavla, that it promoted. Fuat’s vision was to change that orientation, bringing his country up to speed with Europe and America. In September 2007, he traveled to Chiva Taffazoli’s premier tournament in Enghien les Bains, France, with a delegation of other Turkish players, and asked the director for an audience. “They explained,” says Chiva, “that they just founded an association to promote modern backgammon, and wanted the WBA (Chiva’s World Backgammon Association) to back them … I was cautious, not knowing exactly what they were doing and having been burned elsewhere in the East (in India and Pakistan, where a lot was promised and nothing was done).”

But Chiva did give Istavder a chance, and was thrilled with the result. “Fuat began working even harder, finding sponsors, setting up a website, establishing a club magazine, organizing lectures and monthly backgammon tournaments, and eventually creating a national league with a rating system. They were in touch with me on a regular basis, reporting. They sent players to all major events to look and to learn. Our successful cooperation became a real friendship, and then Fuat came up with the idea of Cyprus.”
Cyprus Backgammon Open History
Cyprus, an island nestled in the easternmost tip of the Mediterranean, close to the shores of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel, was indeed a good idea. Most forms of gambling are forbidden in those countries and in many others throughout the Middle East, and Cyprus, where they are not, is to the region what Cuba was once to the United States: an offshore, quick and easy getaway from the austerities of the visitor’s homeland.

1st Cyprus Backgammon Open final

1st Cyprus Backgammon Open final

Fuat Erdag vs. Jürgen Orlowski at the 1st Cyprus Backgammon Open final

The first Cyprus Backgammon Open, a joint venture of the WBA and Istavder, was held in the winter of 2009, with the founder and president of Istavder, Fuat Erdag, beating the fine German expert, Jürgen Orlowski, in the final. And in the second Cyprus Open, held in May 2010, Fuat came in second, losing only in the final to the Israeli star Eli Roymi! These awesome results were, of course, better publicity for Turkish backgammon than Fuat could have hoped to write. And so, it was no surprise that Cyprus 3, held in the first week of December, 2010, attracted 91 entrants, a record.

Next up: The Cyprus backgammon games begin and some interesting backgammon positions
vival
It has only been in the last few years that the organizers and entrepreneurs have started training their guns in the natural direction. The pioneer of the eastward movement was the Israeli-based gaming company, Interlogic Ltd, founded in Haifa in 2004. Promoting the backgammon game in Israel, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Estonia and Russia, Interlogic has acquired thousands of customers for its online backgammon platforms Play65 and Gammonempire in the last six years.

The awakening of the live backgammon game in the Middle East did not commence until 2007, when the Turkish expert Fuat Erdag founded his organization, Istavder, in Istanbul. A backgammon community already existed in Turkey, but it was mainly the old game, tavla, that it promoted. Fuat’s vision was to change that orientation, bringing his country up to speed with Europe and America. In September 2007, he traveled to Chiva Taffazoli’s premier tournament in Enghien les Bains, France, with a delegation of other Turkish players, and asked the director for an audience. “They explained,” says Chiva, “that they just founded an association to promote modern backgammon, and wanted the WBA (Chiva’s World Backgammon Association) to back them … I was cautious, not knowing exactly what they were doing and having been burned elsewhere in the East (in India and Pakistan, where a lot was promised and nothing was done).”

But Chiva did give Istavder a chance, and was thrilled with the result. “Fuat began working even harder, finding sponsors, setting up a website, establishing a club magazine, organizing lectures and monthly backgammon tournaments, and eventually creating a national league with a rating system. They were in touch with me on a regular basis, reporting. They sent players to all major events to look and to learn. Our successful cooperation became a real friendship, and then Fuat came up with the idea of Cyprus.”
Cyprus Backgammon Open History
Cyprus, an island nestled in the easternmost tip of the Mediterranean, close to the shores of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel, was indeed a good idea. Most forms of gambling are forbidden in those countries and in many others throughout the Middle East, and Cyprus, where they are not, is to the region what Cuba was once to the United States: an offshore, quick and easy getaway from the austerities of the visitor’s homeland.

1st Cyprus Backgammon Open final
Fuat Erdag vs. Jürgen Orlowski at the 1st Cyprus Backgammon Open final

The first Cyprus Backgammon Open, a joint venture of the WBA and Istavder, was held in the winter of 2009, with the founder and president of Istavder, Fuat Erdag, beating the fine German expert, Jürgen Orlowski, in the final. And in the second Cyprus Open, held in May 2010, Fuat came in second, losing only in the final to the Israeli star Eli Roymi! These awesome results were, of course, better publicity for Turkish backgammon than Fuat could have hoped to write. And so, it was no surprise that Cyprus 3, held in the first week of December, 2010, attracted 91 entrants, a record.

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