Greek Backgammon Federation a Go; Chris Groutsos Wins Athens Tourney
by Michael Strato - 12 November 2007
The culmination of GammonLife’s quest to Greece to assist in the creation of a national backgammon federation was a combined meeting/tournament held at Cafe Iris in Athens that was attended by what locals called, the strongest group of Greek players ever assembled together under one roof.

Players at the meeting, and two other meetings held previously with other players and tournament organizers in Greece, have all agreed that a national backgammon federation is a must for Greece and that they will cooperate together to play their part in whatever is needed to see it come to life.

Initially, the first hurdle would be to register a number of backgammon associations – apparently, according to Greek law, to form a gaming federation, one must first have established 20 associations with at least 20 or 21 registered members in each. Not counting the work of a lawyer, the fees or paperwork to register an association are about €400. A lawyer might then charge an additional €400 to €600 for his work, though perhaps less. Already five people have pledged that they will each put up the money and time to create one of the 20 associations needed – we are now seeking another 15 dedicated players to create the other associations in Greece – we will have more news on that when it happens.

One of our meetings in Athens to discuss the creation of a backgammon federation was with (L to R) Tserliagos Platonas, Costa Chiotinis and Andreas Kourouklis, who have organized live backgammon events in Greece in the past and who all agreed to support the new project.
Another meeting was held at Cafe Iris where we found more support for the project, (from L-R top) Chrysa, Manos Mastorakis and Michael Manolios. (L-R bottom) Cafe Iris owner Vasilis Zebekis, GammonLife Editor Michael Strato Liberopoulos and backgammon aficionado Giannis Vallianos.
Here is a group of buddies, all university students, that play backgammon and chess regularly at Cafe Rock in the Papagou district near two major universities. From left to right are Vasilis, Elias, Yannis, Yannis, Andreas, Nikos, Nikos and Giorgos. Backgammon boards are available to use free in all cafes and if you ever look into the window of any cafe, any afternoon, you're bound to see (as I did) backgammon action on three to five tables. I also spoke to people on the street and personally handed out more than 750 letters to students at two universities.

Meanwhile, it has been a couple of years since regular backgammon tournaments (using international rules) have been held in Athens. We were told that there was a time when there was much interest but newcomers were consistently defeated by stronger players and quickly lost interest. However, now that more and more players are discovering and are using the excellent free program (or bot) known as GNUbg, players in general are much stronger than ever before. Plus a backgammon federation would divide players into divisions, meaning more chances for all to win more often at their particular skill level, and over time, advanced to a higher competition level.

The tournament at Cafe Iris, hosted by owner Mr. Vasilis Zebekis, had an excellent turnout for an event announced just five days before - a total of 35 players participating with an entry fee of €100. The event, which was held on November 3, was sponsored by PartoucheGammon who sent a box of PartoucheGammon gear and other goodies from France to hand out to the players – there were T-shirts, caps, pens, doubling cubes and more.

Several players drove in one car, some seven or eight hours to come from Thessalonki, Greece’s second largest city, and one newcomer, Konstantinos Sarris, travelled to Athens from the island of Chios, to get some experience in international tournament play before heading to London this week to play in the UK Masters.

Players arrive and begin to fill out the tournament registration form.

Michael Manolios finishes the random draw and begins to

assign players to tables for their Round 1 matches.

Play begins in the 1st PartoucheGammon.fr Cafe Iris Backgammon Open.

Many of you will recognize the names of these “usual suspects” that attended this 1st PartoucheGammon.com - Cafe Iris Backgammon Open – Dr. Christos Groutsos, Manos Mastorakis, Aris Hadjiaslanis-Saracakis, Filomila Karantzali, Iakovos Iakovidis and Alexandros Kolonias - all of which have been playing internationally in recent years.

However, much to the surprise of many of us, players that have not been around for a long while re-surfaced to compete in this tournament – many of you may have heard of Giorgos Klitsas, who was a member of the panel on Kit Woolsey’s former GammOnLine monthly quiz; George Stephanopoulos, who lived in the UK for some time and is said to be the strongest player in Greece (has a 2.8 Snowie rating); and Michael Manolios, another World Class competitor who plays on GamesGrid, under the nickname of Glass.

Costa Chiotinis versus Giorgos Klitsas.
Iakovos Iakovidis versus George Stephanopoulos.

And many other top players in Greece were there, from all walks of life; there were a few businessmen, a lawyer, a doctor, a real estate agent, a computer programmer, as well as several university students. The meeting also attracted the interest of Mr. Giorgos Tsapogas, Head Department of Mathematics at University of the Aegean in Samos, who told us he has been playing backgammon since the age of 10, “I learned the real game (doubling cube etc.) in the U.S. during my graduate studies in the late 80's. I am willing to help in the creation of the federation.”

Professor Giorgos Tsapogas chats with Nikos Diamantopoulos.

The tournament at Cafe Iris started at 3 p.m. but many of the players arrived an hour or so earlier and discussed the creation of the backgammon federation; each player received a letter that I had written in English but which was also translated into Greek by Alexandros Kolonias.

Everyone wanted to play in the tournament so the responsibility of the direction of the event was shared by Manos Mastorakis, Tournament Director of the 1st Halkidiki Backgammon Open at the Porto Carras Grand Resort in April of 2005, and Costas Chiotinis and Michael Manolios, who have both been active in organized backgammon events in Greece in the past.

Tournament Directors Michael Manolios and Manos Mastorakis.

A 64-player bracket sheet was created along with a second sheet for a progressive Consolation. In order to finish the tournament the same day, we made the match length 9-points for the first four rounds, with 11-points in the Semi-Finals and a 13-point match for the Final. The Consolation matches were 7-pointers but with a 9-point Final. The event finished at about 2 a.m. the next morning. See the completed bracket sheets (in Greek) at these links - the Main sheet and the Consolation sheet.

We have noticed in the past that when a player is good and his dice are hot, he can sometimes win more than one or two tournaments in a row or in the same year - recent examples are Götz Hildsberg of Germany, who has won several tournaments this year; another is that of Richard Munitz’s success on the American Backgammon Tour (ABT) last year. Well, the winner of this 1st PartoucheGammon.com - Cafe Iris Backgammon Tournament was none other than Dr. Christos Groutsos, who just won the Worldwide Backgammon Federation’s 16th Mitteleuropa Backgammon Championship in Nova Gorica, Slovenia in early September. Dr. Groutsos and some five or six other Greek players head to London, England this week to compete in the UK Masters, the first event of Season 2 of the World Series of Backgammon. Will Dr. Groutsos' winning streak continue in London? Let’s wait and see.

In the PG/Cafe Iris Final, Groutsos faced Kostas Mitrelis in a tight 13-point match that went all the way down to DMP. The score was close up until Game 16 when Mitrelis took an 11-7 lead. However, Groutsos came back to win 4 points in Game 17 to go to DMP and Game 18 and went on to win first place.

Kostas Mitrelis (L) plays the final against Dr. Christos Groutsos.
Champion Groutsos and Runner-Up Mitrelis with their trophies.

The Semi-Finalists of the Main were Nikos Mastroperros and Filippos Avanidis.

George Stephanopoulos was victorious in the Consolation defeating Nikos Sapountzakis in the Final.

Consolation Runner-Up Nikos Sapountzakis (L) with

Consolation Winner George Stephanopoulos.

The Final match of the Main was manually recorded, copied into Snowie and analyzed – see the final match at this link.

It was a fine tournament, and Cafe Iris will continue to hold a monthly event from now on, probably on the first Saturday or Sunday of each month.

If you are ever in Athens and want some backgammon action, call Vasilis Zebekis of Cafe Iris at 0030 98.45.791.

Cafe Iris owner Mr. Vasilis Zebekis - a great host and

an avid supporter of Backgammon in Greece.

I would like to thank everyone who helped in making my trip to Greece a success:

 - A special thank you to Nikos Diamantopoulos for allowing me to stay at your home and who helped to orient myself around Athens.

 - Many, many thanks to Manos Mastorakis, for your tireless efforts to support Backgammon in Greece - Manos arranged meetings with backgammon people, and drove me around, despite the fact that he is currently doing programming work for a special project, sometimes working on it for 16 hours or more per day.

 - To Alexandros Kolonias, a brotherly hug and thank you for suggesting I come to Greece, it was the first time I visited the country of my heritage, I will remember Greece forever and intend to return there as soon as time permits.

 - A very special thank you also to Mrs. Kolonias, Alex’s mom, who is a lawyer and did some research to give us important legal information, and advice, on how to go forward with the federation.

We will publish many more photos from our trip to Athens soon.


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