By Robert Wachtel
With all the excitement and media attention generated by the World vs. Denmark backgammon match, it would have been easy to forget that one of Europe’s biggest and most prestigious backgammon tournaments was taking place in the same venue at the same time — were it not for the crowds. One hundred and thirty four players paid 700 euros apiece to enter the Championship division of the Nordic Open. Held at the Scandic Hotel in central Copenhagen, the field included all of the members of the World team; and although a few of their Danish adversaries missed the event due to gambling obligations elsewhere, a world-class host of their countrymen, including the former Nordic titleholders Anders Nielander, Karsten Bredahl and Thomas Jespersen, filled the breach.
Nordic Open Tournament Format
The Nordic Open tournament format dispensed with the traditional consolation flight (with its own separate, smaller prize pool) in favor of a double-elimination structure. Losers in the main flight were entered in a second chance, or “fighter’s” bracket — a long and winding road that would lead, for exactly four intrepid souls, back to the big prize pool of the main draw, where they would join the last four undefeated players from the main bracket.
When the dust had settled, these quarterfinalists included two members of the World team (Falafel and Michy), only two Danes (Soren Larsen and Henrik Lober), one Norwegian (Tore Fredricksen), a Swede (Pavel Bielewicz), an Italian (Carlo Melzi), and a German (Frank Simon).
Backgammon’s version of Houdini, Falafel had pulled off one of his signature escapes in the round of 64 after finding himself down 15-5 in a 17 point match against the German expert Volker Sonnabend. The format had now changed (the quarters were best-two-out-of-three 7-point matches), but he remained just as resourceful, somehow coming back from a 5-1 deficit in his third match against Michi. But his luck ran out in the final, as he lost two matches in a row to Soren Larsen, yet another great Dane virtually unknown in international circles.