Swiss Elegance


By Robert Wachtel

Although online backgammon games and tournaments are nowadays pretty much available to players 24/7 and 365 days a year, the live international tournament circuit has been a seasonal affair for the last fifteen years or so. There are events aplenty in Europe from April (Nordic Open time) through October; but it’s just when you need a getaway the most, in the drear of winter, that the schedule tapers off.

Wintertime Tournaments

It was not always so. Back in the day, the backgammon sybarite would repair to Cancun in December, the Bahamas in January, and other sun-splashed isles like St. Marten and Aruba to party the rest of the cold months away. I was living in frozen Toronto in January, 1978, a newly-minted, unemployed PhD, when I took off for my first tournament: the “world championship,” held on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. As I swam up to the palm-shaded pool bar to order a Goombay Smash after winning $500 in a chouette in my first few hours at the tournament hotel, even a dummy like me could see that I had stumbled upon a lifestyle worth pursuing.

Swiss Backgammon Championship in Lake Geneva

Swiss Backgammon Championship in Lake Geneva

The other way to cope with the cold is to get active. Head for the hills: the ski slopes, that is. And this, in backgammon’s glory days, was where the player would spend the rest of the his winter. The circuit ran through the Alps from one exquisite ski resort to another: Courchevel (France); Gastein (Austria); Lugano, Crans Montana, Gstaad, and San Moritz (Switzerland). Beautiful but expensive: in the late 1980s, at the storied Palace Hotel in San Moritz, I remember a high-rolling friend of mine ordering small bowls of mixed fresh berries (his favorite snack) at $40 a pop – more like $80 at today’s prices. No matter, the money action was fantastic.

Swiss Backgammon Championships

It feels like the good times are on their way back. Last year British ski mogul Clive Kay organized a backgammon tournament in Meribel, a lovely village in the French Alps, equidistant from Lyon and Geneva. The second edition of this elegant event will debut on December 8, 2010. And, Switzerland is now back in the act. The Swiss Championship was revived by backgammon enthusiast Marcel Liechti, who held that event this August at the Casino Barriere, on the shore of Lake Geneva in Montreux.

Ski mogul Clive Kay in Montreux

Ski mogul Clive Kay in Montreux

I must admit that when I attend a tournament I can be guilty of certain obliviousness to my surroundings. As the competition consumes me, the environment fades into a blurry backdrop: a nondescript computer screen upon which the real action of pips, shots and primes appears in relief. But, it was impossible to ignore the sheer beauty of this venue. We looked out from the second-floor playing room down and across the lake, ringed with mountains which were usually half-submerged in mist and cloud. As in a classic Japanese painting, a solitary boat would occasionally drift lazily across the tableau.

The backgammon playing room at the Casino Barriere

The backgammon playing room at the Casino Barriere

Mr Liechti’s tournament direction was also old school (the way I like it). We used clocks, but the schedule was casual: you found your next opponent and arranged a starting time with him (or her) that left both of you ample time to eat, drink, and enjoy the scenery. And so, with under very little pressure, we enjoyed a doubles event and two tournaments: the Swiss Championship (entry fee: 170 Swiss kroners, about $200), which began on Friday night, and the Swiss Open Championship (entry fee 440 Swiss kroners, about $500), which began on Saturday night.

Swiss Backgammon Championship Results:

Championship (45)

1-Serge Didisheim (Switzerland), 2-Robert Wachtel (USA), 3/4- René Kälin (Switzerland) / Jean-Pierre Schoeffel (Switzerland)

Consolation flight: 1-Marco Benetti (Switzerland), 2-Agripa Leib-Ionescu (Switzerland)

Last chance: 1-Clive Kaye (England), 2-Bruno Kürsteiner (Switzerland).

Swiss Open Championship (16)

1-Denis Etienne (Switzerland), 2-Tobias Hellwag (Germany)

Consolation flight: 1-Frédéric Rochat (Switzerland), 2-Gian-Reto Iseppi (Switzerland and Play65 satellite winner).

Swiss Open Intermediate (20)

1-Nils Baumann (Switzerland), 2-Sefik Mancilikcilar (Switzerland)

Consolation flight: 1-Denise Kaiser (Switzerland), 2-Anne-Marie Zarb (Switzerland).

Swiss Team Championship (8 teams)

1-Weckiwecki: Tom Meyer (Switzerland) / Daniel Bruni (Switzerland) / Daniel Scheidiger (Switzerland), 2-Sound Go Round: Rico Fussenegger (Switzerland) / Silvio Carrese (Switzerland) / Halil Tulan (Switzerland).

Swiss 1-point Championship (64)

1-Roland Himmelberger (Switzerland), 2-Eddy Pfenninger (Switzerland).

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