Israel's 'Falafel' Natanzon rules at Las Vegas Backgammon Open
by Gregg Cattanach - 9 November 2006
The 2006 Las Vegas Backgammon Open kicked off again last week in the penthouse ballroom of the Riviera Hotel in exciting Las Vegas, Nevada. This has been the largest tournament each year in the US, and this edition did not disappoint.

Ninety-two players competed in the Championship Division, 108 faced off in the Intermediates and another 34 in the Beginners for a total attendance of 234 players.

Riviera Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas.

Through the name sponsor's addition of $25,000 in added prize money, this was also one of the biggest prize pools in recent history.  In the three main events between the entry fees, re-buys, added prize money and Calcutta pool there was over $125,000 to be divided up.  The top prize was over $25,000 along with a similar first prize in the Super Jackpot.  There was also added prize money in many of the side-events and extra jackpots, creating many events with over 100% return in each.  We hope for more tournaments in the future with this kind of major added prize money.

The Championship event had a very strong field, as usual, with 17 of the top 64 players on the Calcutta sheet. Matvey Natanzon of Israel, universally known as 'Falafel' throughout the backgammon community endured a very difficult draw to take the Championship first prize.He faced off with Carter Mattig of Illinois in the 17-point final which got down to double-match-point.  Falafel found himself in this unenviable position in the final game:

Red - Falafel, score 16

White - Mattig, score 15

Red on roll


There is one number that can make him a favorite and the double-fives almost magically fell out of his dice cup to the oohs and aahs of the large crowd watching.  Even good players get super-jokers from time to time and Falafel is clearly one of the best in the world.  Carter retained contact by leaving the blot on the 9-point, but that checker was hit, and another set of double-fives a few rolls later sealed the deal.

Ray Fogerlund of California of California managed to avoid another 2nd place finish and captured the Super Jackpot final over Ed Olaughlin of Florida. A nice five-figure win for Ray. Congratulations!

In other events, Marv Porten of California won the Intermediate first prize and Jen Nakamura of California was the Beginner's Champion.  Mary Hickey (OH) outlasted all the 8-player groups to capture the Blitz Trophy, and the Limited Jackpot was won by Harry Brown (MI).

This was the first year that the Las Vegas tournament became part of the ABT tour. In the past, the fear was that the winner of this event would always win the ABT because of the size of the tournament and the large number of points for winning the event. The prize distribution in past events gave 42% of the money to the winner, but director Howard Markowitz modified the prize structure to change this number to 38.5% which is somewhat more reasonable.

Starting next year a new 'normalized' point system for the ABT will be in place that will smooth out the ABT point distribution at all events, so the specific dollar amounts of the prizes won't determine the ABT points, rather just the number of prizes awarded. You can read the description of the new system (which I created and the directors approved) at the Chicago Point web site.

Personally I had a mediocre tournament winning six matches and losing five, losing in the third round of the Main, Consolation and the Mini-Match.  Because the event is in Las Vegas, it is easy to be distracted by all the other entertainment opportunities so I didn't take time to enter any other events other than the Super Jackpot (where I lost in round 1).  All of my losses had the same pattern, where I would achieve a lead (12-8/15, 6-5/15, 6-0/11, and 2-0/5) but then watch my opponent win all or almost all of the final games.  It's much better to be lucky at the end than the beginning!

My wife and I enjoyed our free time in town visiting Downtown twice and seeing the new Cirque de Soleil show: “The Beatles – LOVE” at the Mirage.  We also spent time watching the fountain show in front of Bellagio which is a must-see on every trip.  The Cirque show was wonderful and the music was outstanding, as you might expect.  We prefaced the show with an outstanding dinner at Onda, the fine dining Italian restaurant inside Mirage.  I also spend a fair amount of time at the blackjack tables, doing well at the beginning having 7 straight winning sessions, but giving it all back at the end.  I see how they keep the lights on in this town!

Fountains at Bellagio.

Howard and his staff did a fabulous job of running this large event.  Each of his staff members could direct their own tournament (many of them do).  He is very fortunate to be able to assemble such a competent group.  From handling the Calcutta to all the side events, everything goes well and according to plan.

I always look forward to this tournament and the excuse to go to Las Vegas.  The town is great fun and the tournament action is top-notch.  Devoting five days to a backgammon tournament may be a bit much for some people, but I always feel like it is time well spent.

We're looking forward to the next edition in June, 2007.  See you there!

Here is the complete list of winners:

CHAMPIONSHIP (92+36 rebuys)

1 - Matvey "Falafel" Natanzon (Israel)

2 - Carter Mattig (IL)

3/4 - Emil Mortuk (MI)

3/4 Steve Sax (CA)

1C - Aram Kouleyan (CA)

2C - Arkadiy Tsinis (NV)

3C/4C - Bob Glass (CA)

3C/4C Mike Senkiewicz (NY)

1LC - Walter Trice (MA)

2LC - Kit Woolsey (CA)

INTERMEDIATE (108+20 rebuys)

1 - Marv Porten (CA)

2 - Charles Toots (CA)

3/4 - Sam Orandle (NV)

3/4 - Andy Palumbo (NY)

1C - Robert Appell (CA)

2C - David Taniguchi (CA)

3C/4C - Thomas Loew (Germany)

3C/4C Jonah Seewald (CO)

1LC - Butch Meese (IN)

2LC - Mark Donaldson (MN)


1 - Jen Nakamura (CA)

2 - Yehuda Hodara (NY)

3/4 - Virgine Kouleyan (CA)

3/4 George Ramia (IL)

1C - Mike Freeman (NC)

2C - Don Thompson Sr. (NV)

1LC - Carol Manzi (NV)

2LC - Sue Martin (IL)

SUPER JACKPOT (16 @ $2,000)

1 - Ray Fogerlund (CA), 2 - Ed Olaughlin (FL)

LIMITED JACKPOT (16 @$1,000)

1 - Harry Brown (MI), 2 - Richard White (NV)


1 - Walter Trice (MA), 2 - Herb Gurland (MA)


1 - Al Cantito (CT) & Gerhard Roland (CT)

2 - Danielle Bastarache (FL) & Mike Corbett (FL)


1 - Albert Lee (CA)

2 - Dave Settles (IL)


1 - Mary Hickey (OH)

2 - Art Grater (CA)


1 - Ken Fischer (CA)

2 - Ted Chee (CA)


1 - Ken Bame (CA)

2 - Sam Ahmed (CA)


1 - Don Thompson, Sr. (NV)

2 - Jon Jenkins (CT)


1 - Kit Woolsey (CA)

2 - Greg Cottle (NV)


1 - Marianne Gatenby (Canada)

2 - Tom Duggan (England)

Gregg Cattanach's previous reports can be found in the News Section

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