Congrats to Eric Barr and Kathleen Davis of Kansas City. These two visionary people have begun a movement that could do more to bring tremendous growth to backgammon in the U.S. than anything to date. Of course, I hope what they are doing here will spread to the rest of the world as well.
Most tournaments involve significant entry fees, but there are tens of thousands of people playing backgammon on line for the fun of it. Many of these people have never played in a live backgammon tournament, because live tournaments are expensive, they are all about gambling and the money, and for many parts of the world, there are very few tournaments if any at all. They are expensive because much of the entry fee goes to prize money.
Many people stay away because they don’t like gambling. They don’t want to come and bring their children because they don’t want to expose their children to gambling either.
Don’t get me wrong…I happen to be one of those people who love to gamble. I often make side bets just to get more action. But I also love the game for the pure enjoyment of it. I have played many hours on line, for years, working hard just to get my rating up and practice my game, and, well, just because playing backgammon is fun. I would gladly compete in tournaments where the only prize is points or a nice trophy.
For years I have asked the question: “Why can’t we have a national point/rating system and still have money events for the Open Division or for those people who want to enter special money divisions? Or why not an optional side pool for those who want some action?” I never got a good answer from any of the organizers of the game. People generally resist change, and this is a good example.
But Eric and Kathleen took action. They simply formed a group to organize the game nationally and do what I, and others, had just been talking about. They formed the United States Backgammon League (USBL) and it is dedicated to promoting tournaments that are not about the money, but is all about achieving ranking status.
After talking with some of the leaders of the ABT (American Backgammon Tour) who were not interested in joining them in this venture, they just went ahead and did it. I want to add that although the ABT leaders were not personally interested, they were not negative. In fact, Eric and Kathleen credit Bill Davis for giving them a lot of helpful advice and material and encouragement about setting up a local club and tournaments.
In April of 2006 the USBL held its first tournament in Kansas City. There is no charge to the players; they get rating points based on performance; and the local backgammon clubs pay an annual fee that allows them to run USBL sanctioned events.
In addition to being allowed to run the events, local clubs get all the materials they need to run tournaments including a traveling trophy, draw sheets, score sheets, and even pencils. And they get support and suggestions from Eric and Kathleen. Their player results and standings get posting on the USBL web site.
As of this writing (May 2007) they have 11 clubs signed up, some of which are in New York, Indiana, Nebraska, Missouri, Arizona and Ohio. They are talking with people around the country with existing clubs or people who want to start them, and they expect to have 20 clubs by the end of the year. Their long-term goal is to have clubs in all major cities and every state and eventually have regional and national tournaments in addition to weekly events. (As you may know, there are bridge clubs in every major city and there are local bridge tournaments every day and night in some places—there’s no reason why backgammon can’t be there some day too!) The USBL currently has over 200 players participating.
Eric and Kathleen will be the first to admit that they don’t have all the kinks out yet. Jeb Horton, Bill Davis, myself, and others have offered suggestions that are being considered that will make the USBL format and tournaments more attractive to existing clubs and players, and there may even be a way to combine their free, or very low-cost events with some of the bigger money events currently run by the ABT and others. They are also considering a rating system that awards points more along the lines of Duplicate Bridge to encourage more participation and reward results.
They are working to establish a registered non-profit organization which will encourage corporate donations and support, and they have already received a lot of help from the people at Snowie, gaming companies, and some local Kansas City folk. They don’t take a fee or make a profit for their efforts—they’re in it just to see the game they love prosper. And they are starting to get noticed and helped by many of use that believes they are just what the game needs.
For those of you who enjoy the money and gambling aspects of the game, can you imagine how much that area will grow as well as hundreds and thousands of more players start showing up regularly to play in live events? Imagine how much sponsorship money and donations will be available to help promote the game once the numbers get up there!
I hope the entire backgammon world will join me in thanking and supporting Eric and Kathleen. I truly believe this is the first step in taking backgammon to a much higher level.
Note: If you or anyone in your club is interested in starting a USBL club, contact Kathleen Davis at 913-706-1125, or Kathleen@usbackgammon.org.
For more information, check out their web site at www.usbackgammon.org.
Note: Phil Simborg is a tournament backgammon player from Chicago who has been playing the game for some 45 years and has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the US ABT.