GammonLife - Greetings François, it is a pleasure to have the new #3 Giant of Backgammon and three-time Champion of Europe for our first interview on GammonLife – quite fitting since backgammon is your life. Tell us about yourself and how you got into the game?
François Tardieu - Greetings, first of all I am honoured to be #3 on the Giants list and I would like to thank all the voters especially those who voted for me believing in my level of play.
I would also like to congratulate all the nominees. It is a pity that the number of voters has not increased as some new, good players have not reached the top 32. For my part I tried to put active players high on my list and put down less active or totally inactive players who have turned to Poker – although I think that players such as Jerry Grandell or Gus Hansen would easily deserve their place if they would play in some live competition.
I think Yamin Yamin’s Giants of Backgammon list is a good initiative to see the trend and the evolution of the competition for last two years even though we can argue for hours about how realistic it is. Until we find the right way to rank players the Giants list can be a good indicator as to who is involved in competitions and who is well respected in the community even though many other players deserve to be in this list. I am not even sure that a ranking is so important, since it is a matter of fact that there are about 12 players who are a little bit above the rest, but the level among the others is pretty close.
Regarding my background, I am 42 years old and a former software engineer in Finance. I have been playing backgammon for about 20 years now. I learnt the game with some chess buddies and then discovered that competition existed all over the world. I went to the World Championship in Monaco six months after I first started playing and got hooked to the game.
I have studied backgammon since but more seriously as of about six years ago, dedicating a lot of time to the game. I promoted backgammon for four years as the Tournament Director of the Paris Masters & Open tournaments and I was for a time the Secretary-General of the French Backgammon Federation. My hobbies are swimming and reading books on history.
GammonLife - What is your average error rate and what should an aspiring player do to become world class like you?
François Tardieu - I recently sent recorded matches from the last three years of live play to the Karsten Nielsen and Iancho Hristov who are surveying seasonal players and listing their average results. They have computed my average at 3.16 using Snowie 4 Pro, based on 50 matches.
My average might be slightly worse these days because I have played a lot of online poker in the last 18 months or so – I also participated in some live European Poker Tour events. I have had some decent results in Poker but not as good as those of some other backgammon players that have done really well in recent times. But I have now returned to Backgammon, my favourite game, and I am practicing and studying it about 12 hours a week.
I recommend to every player to record your live matches whenever the opportunity arises. I have always tried to record mine for the last six years. When I am out of a tournament, I also record my friends’ matches. Recording matches helps you learn from your mistakes and those of others. Trying to understand why you or someone else makes a mistake helps to improve your thinking process in future matches. For my part, I record every match (7-pointer) I play at the weekly tourney organized by the French BG Federation in Paris.
If you dedicate enough time to the game and want to play at your best level it is vital to accumulate this knowledge. Most of the time players, including myself, make a mistake because of an oversight or because we have not taken enough factors into consideration before making the decision on how to move. I think at least 25% of the mistakes are due to two conditions – not enough practice, which induces a lack of concentration, and secondly, the pressure of the match can affects one’s ability to find the right play.
There is no point in trying to play at a zero error rate for a number of reasons – first you need to adapt your cube decision according to your opponent’s skill and tendencies, and then, bots still make some errors that humans don’t make - therefore some plays bots tag as error can be considered negligible. I think it possible for a hard-working human, under perfect conditions, to play somewhere around an average of 2.2 and consider this the best one can achieve on a consistent basis. This might take three to four years of regular analysis and some hundred of matches played. Another way to improve is to systemize your analysis studying specific aspects of the game and classifying positions into groups.
In regards to clock play, and the pressure involved, I am in favour clocks just to prevent abuse but I think that seven minutes per point is correct because some matches have tough decisions which need time - Backgammon is not like Chess. I think the future is to find the proper cadence with the Bronstein system used in Chess which adds time per move played.
GammonLife - You travel the globe playing at live tournaments – which is your favourite event and why?
François Tardieu - I love live events, life is a challenge, and usually you play long matches with all types of opponents whose styles you have to adapt to. Then you meet and share time with real backgammon enthusiasts who are there not only to play but to study and analyze. Overall I like the community that gathers for the love of the game even though they come from all walks of life.
I usually try to play in as many live tournaments as possible, about 12 per year, including at least one edition of regular European tournaments. I particularly enjoy Consulting Doubles competitions.
I like to discover new places and new players and help those organizers who dedicate a lot of their effort and spare time to promote the game with international events in their own countries.
I have a slight preference for the World Championship in Monaco for several reasons. It was the first event I attended and it gave me the incentive to learn more about the game. It is still the most attended tournament in the world with people coming from more 40 countries. Monte Carlo and the French Riviera is also a splendid region to visit in the summer time, well worth visiting.
Finally, you are fighting for a title you will keep in your mind forever. By the way, although I have played in all Monte Carlo World Championships since 1986, I think this tournament can and should be improved in several ways.
GammonLife - You intend to play in the upcoming BackgammonMillion tournament in The Bahamas next January – what are your thoughts on this event?
François Tardieu - I think this event will be a major breakthrough for backgammon since the inception of tournaments back in 1964. I think it will be a real opportunity to show the world, other than the insiders of our game, that this is a game that is not all luck and one of intriguing strategy. Backgammon is a game that requires deep analysis and one in which players can use various psychological tactics. I wish BackgammonMillion all the best and I hope it takes backgammon to the next level.
GammonLife - I read French pretty well and checked out your interesting Backgammon Academy website www.bg-academie.com - it is a very noble gesture to offer a free strategy resource to French players. The site is coming along nicely, what are your future plans for it?
François Tardieu - Besides Paul Magriel’s famous book, which was translated in French three years ago, most backgammon literature is in English. It is already difficult enough to learn a subject in one’s own language and the French community needs information in French.
English is not generally mastered enough here to follow technical literature found in backgammon and players need to go a step further after reading Magriel’s book. So I created this site to help people with the basic, essential concepts of the game. I offer some problems with comments on a regular basis. This takes lot of time but in the long run, the articles will add up and people will have a good resource of material to study with.
I also write articles dedicated to Beginners for a French games magazine which is published every two months. I might write one or two books with all the material I have compiled, perhaps within the next year or so, if I find time.
GammonLife - How about the backgammon scene in France, you have long contributed to the growth of backgammon through the French Backgammon Federation, is the game catching on in France?
François Tardieu - I am not involved directly in the federation anymore but I still give my point of view and support whenever I can. For example, I offer a free 90-minute lesson for Beginner and Intermediate players at the weekly Federation tourney in an effort to attract and keep newcomers that are a little bit lost when they realize that the game is not that easy. I think there are about 1,000 players who practice backgammon regularly in France.
GammonLife - What is your vision of the future of Backgammon?
François Tardieu - Even though the number of players has diminished severely in last four years because of the poker craze, backgammon will never die because of its peculiar and fascinating facets that attract and hook you to the game. Big events like BackgammonMillion can make it rebound and rejuvenate the game with new ideas to promote the game that the Worldwide Backgammon Federation accurately describes in their motto as “The Sport of Mind”.