Record Numbers Flock to WSOB’s Latest Extravaganza in Denmark!

by Will Cockerell - 21 March 2008
ELSINORE, Denmark: Welcome back to the WSOB road show, and the quest for one man or woman to be crowned World Series of Backgammon Champion 2008. You’ve gotta be in it to win it, and after the stunning success of the UK Masters last November where 125 hopefuls had a shake at it, we are now situated in icy, windswept Helsingor for the 2008 Nordic Open.

We have a magnificent draw of 154 in the main Championship flight alone! This is an amazing, pioneering wave the world’s backgammon community is currently surfing, and it’s a privilege to be along for the ride.

Due to the huge number of entrants, 48 unlucky souls had to dodge the awful sniper’s bullet that is the round of 256. I dodged it for about 17 seconds, before my name projectile vomited itself out of the hat, immediately followed by one of the most famous players in the world, Matvey “Falafel” Natanzon... more on our match later. The tension in the room was electrifying as people cowered in corners and hopped from foot to foot to avoid the ‘256 bullet’, and after match number 24 was read out a huge roar went out around the Marienlyst Hotel, as people savoured saving 800 euros worth of equity. Big names who failed to secure the bye were Japan’s leading ambassador for the game Mochy Mochizuki, and his British equivalent John Clark. Mochy fought like ,a tiger for some three and a half hours before bowing out 14-17 to Thomas Hansen, and Clark battled for 12 minutes shy of four hours before succumbing 13-17 to Johnny Pedersen. Thank goodness for the clocks, huh?!

John Clark of the UK in action. Next to John (R) is Dr. Christos Groutsos, one of five competitors from Greece.

A match-up in the round of 128 that particularly caught my eye was American veteran Ed O’Laughlin against the strongest lady in the field, and Last Chance winner in London, Maya Peycheva of Bulgaria. The match was simply sensational. O’Laughlin scampered his way to a formidable 12-0 lead, and recubed to 4 in the next at about 97%. Peycheva snatched, whipped it back to 8, and duly found her 3% win. Another 4 cube in the next, O’Laughlin over 90% to win that one too, but a racing 66 off the roof for Maya, and it was 12-12. And then EO’L goes 12-13 down! Backgammon at its most impish. EO’L fought grimly back to 13-13 and went nicely ahead in the next. Peycheva took his cube, and then pinged a spectacular 4-cube off the roof when she only had 13 numbers to hit. She missed but hit one later and, get this, CLOSED O’Laughlin out, had one last checker on EO’L’s 5-point and his only barricade was that he had his 6 point, 8 point and 10 points. In other words Maya had some half a dozen rolls to find one ‘even’ number to sew up the match. But she KEPT rolling 5-1, had to open up her own 6 point. EO’L entered, managed to contain Maya’s hapless checker, and closed her out for match. That’s Backgammon!

I had an exciting match with Falafel and at 5-8 down had chance after chance to win on a 4-cube for 9-8; but I danced endlessly and lost another volatile game at 4 to go 5-16. But then post-Crawford I had a near certain gammon and a lot of triples, as Matvey had three men pinned to my ace-point, while I just had four left on my deuce and three on my 3 point to bear-off. 12-16 would have been exciting! Instead (of course), I left the shot, got hit, and lost the race. GRRRRR! Still, it was a pleasure to play this luminary of the game; and such flagellation has only left me hungry for more.

Elsewhere, another US Giant of BG Ray Fogerlund also got stuck in the round of 256, which he won, but then found himself 4-10 down in his second of the night. But then Ray reeled off a stunning 14 points on the spin to take his place in tomorrow’s draw. He is joined by Morton Holm in his favourite flower-power shirt and Burberry hat, prevailing 17-14. UK Masters Semi-finalist Allan Westermann wasn’t so lucky. 99.5% to win the race at 16-16, his opponent threw 66 66 to nick it. A quick round round-up of the other big winners and losers: Mads Anderson, Rida Hassan, Claus Cato are all still in. Piergiorgio D’Ancona, Henrik Veje, Atle Von der Fehr, Carter Mattig, and Riviera Cup champ Sander Lylloff have all bitten the dust.

And the last word, as your correspondent signs off at 2am is that Falafel is in an almighty slugfest with Götz Hildsberg - they are locked at 10-10; and 2006 World Champion Philip Vischjager is slowly but surely grinding down the plucky Inge Christoffersen 13-10. All matches to 17. It has been a dismal day for Britain, with last remaining hopes pinned on Nicky Check. Till tomorrow then, when we’ll know the identity of the last 16, and what a line up that’ll be.

WSOB Hostess Jessie Cantrell

The World Series of Backgammon is on location here filming this second stop of their Season 2 where one can qualify to play in the WSOB Championship 160,000 Shoot-Out Decider happening July 21, 2008 at the Palm Beach Casino, Cannes.


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