By Robert Wachtel
If you find yourself feeling overdressed when you put on a T-shirt along with your underwear to play backgammon, perhaps it is time that you entered a live tournament.
The Internet has spawned a whole generation of players who have never had to do a pip count, be on guard for their opponent’s illegal moves, play a match on a chartreuse and orange board with matching pips and dice, or wait as their opponent, needing to hit a shot, shakes his cup near his ear twenty times (listening to the numbers), finally throwing the dice so hard that they skid off the board into your lap.
It’s nice, on the other hand, to get out of the house. And if you go to the right live tournaments, you will not only get to wear your good clothes but have the pleasant experience of seeing a few decent-looking people wearing theirs. By “the right live tournaments” I am excluding most of those held within the territorial United States. There the nerds and geeks, like cockroaches after an atomic war, are the only life-forms surviving in what was once a fairly attractive scene.
Apart from the aesthetics, live backgammon tournaments offer all kinds of entertainment and education that are not available on line. Imagine being able to observe several of the top players in the world discussing and betting (without computers) on positions that have just come up, and challenging one another to all sorts of gambling wagers and propositions. It’s like being allowed to sit in on an advanced seminar on backgammon analysis and betting technique. And the price of admission is right: all of this disputation, when done in public, is absolutely free to watch.
Once you are ready to put your skills to the test, live tournaments offer roughly the same sorts of money games and jackpot side tournaments as on-line sites; but in the live venues, you will actually know who you are playing. There are no bots, and your adversaries (unless they are prepared to wear elaborate disguises) won’t be able to hide their identities from you with a simple change of screen name.
And then there are the chouettes. As I explained in a prior essay, this highly entertaining and instructive form of group backgammon competition is simply not available on line. Just a word of advice: enter (or organize) your chouette early in the tournament. People tend to play one another for days at a time, and if you come late to the party you may be rejected as an interloper – or (worse yet) as a predator trying to take advantage of the “stuck and steaming” losers in the game.
Of course it costs more money to participate in live backgammon tournaments than it does to boot up your computer. But nowadays you can earn an entry fee (and sometimes travel expenses as well) to most of the major tournaments in Europe (the elegant place for backgammon) through the satellites that several on-line sites offer. The road to victory in backgammon is not as long as it is poker, so it won’t take quite as much of a miracle to make yourself a Chris-Moneymaker-type hero, parlaying a tiny on-line investment into a huge live payoff.