Nordic Final - Rzymann versus Mathiesen: a match worth winning
by Will Cockerell - 24 March 2008
Here we go then with the final showdown of a tournament which has attracted so many of the best players in the world. .

Tassilo Rzymann (“shee-mann”, Austria [Hereafter known as TR] versus Hans Christien Mathiesen, Denmark [Hereafter known as HCM]

Here we go then with the final showdown of a tournament which has attracted so many of the best players in the world. HCM is seen to be the ‘purer’ player, and TR the ‘amateur’ who relies on his wits, and a fine, natural read on the game. It’s too close to call this one, although obviously a majority of the support is with the Dane, who feels as though he’s in his living room at home, and has invited 400 friends and family. The prize at stake is 32,000€ for the win, 10,000€ for the Cannes WSOB seat in July, and 7,000€ for the beautiful ‘GOLD CUBE’ on display at the table. This, you might say, is a match worth winning.

TR draws first blood for 1-0, but then cubes too early in the next (a quarter point blunder), and we’re quickly into a 100-all race. Contact is broken and we come down to a bear-off position which is an almost pure 4-roll position. HCM (on roll) has two on his 4-point, and five on the ace. TR has one on the ace, three on the deuce, and then one, one, one. HCM also has that super anti-joker of 32. He correctly fires in the cube, and TR disgustingly passes. Honestly, the 4 roll bear-off position is something we all learnt in ‘Backgammon 101’. 2-1 HCM.

Blows are traded in the next two games to give us 3-3. In Game 5 another early cube from TR is eagerly accepted. HCM swings the game and then erroneously cashes it when too good. 5-3 HCM.

TR fires in a fine cube in Game 6 at 65-35%, and it’s double whopper time (with a liberal sprinkling of bacon and gherkins), when HCM passes. 5-4.

Here’s an amazing game, check it out: TR cubes a bit light and HCM takes. TR builds a 5-prime in front of HCM’s anchor on the 3-point. It becomes a 6-prime, and then a 7-prime, to equal the world record. Bouquets all round. TR happily reels his fish in; only 63 will leave a shot now. Out it comes! And HCM finds the hitting 3. However, his board is badly crunched but he has big racing equity now. He misses TR when he comes into the outfield, and now anything but a 21 31 11 for TR and he’ll have a gin race. Out pops 21! And there’s the hitting deuce for HCM! That’s the old 17x3x7x3 parlay folks, a real truckload of manure dumped on poor TR’s head, and instead of being 6-5 up, he’s 7-4 down. Nasty.

TR’s 1,5 defence in the next yields some real equity but not enough to take the cube when it comes. 4-8 now, and TR asks for his second, and last comfort break of the match. If his bladder fills again during the next couple of hours he’ll be relying on the kindness of strangers to be allowed to empty it. (And he’s still drinking like a parched ultra-marathoner by the way…a mixture of beer and ‘Ocean Spray’.)

TR verbally explains to HCM in the next that the reason he’s not cubing is because “I’m too afraid!” All information gratefully received. Falafel in the commentary box notes: “Rzymann has been snake-bitten one too many times with his early cubes, and now he’s gun shy.” Finally it comes, HCM takes, squirms like an eel and it boils down to a race not for the faint of heart. TR’s dice just have the greater firepower, and HCM on his last roll, needs 55 or 66 to nick it. He implores his fans to whistle. Out pops 21. Insufficient. 8-6 HCM.

Game 10 is ebb and flow before it swings big time to Austria. But where is that cube? TR is now being positively timid. And then he cashes when MILES too good. He’s not going to win it like this – no way man. 8-7 HCM.

In Game 11 TR takes a big pass! Whoever said BG was easy? But then HCM fans with 66 on a 1-point board and it’s all up for grabs again. Eventually the game materializes into an absorbing 1-2 back-game for TR which he almost times, and is very, very unlucky to get just a single shot, which he misses (not that I’m a back-game lover or anything…) Gammon. 12-7 HCM.

Game 12. A simple cash for HCM. Hmmm, I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Could we be getting a damp squib final?

Game 13. It gets gammonish for TR, he simply MUST get radical with that cube when so far behind. Instead he cashes, and one can’t help feeling that he could have had an extra three points there with a little more bravery. TR ain’t half-way yet, and they’ve been out there 2 hours 15 mins. 13-8 HCM.

Game 14, and yet another late cube and pass for TR. Limpy limpy. 13-9 HCM.

Game 15. OOOOOOHHHH, HCM takes when nailed back on TR’s deuce point behind TR’s gorgeous 4 prime. Absolutely no need to take that. A real lemon. But then the computer flashes up 69.9%, with 26.6 gammons, take. Well done HCM, looked like he had a touch of the “Jan Jacobowitz’s” about him; instead all credit due.

Still, it doesn’t stop HCM later owning TR’s 5 point but with one on the roof of a 5 point board, and a near certain gammon for TR who starts his bear-off. But an oh so timely 55 gives HCM a chance to wriggle off the gammon. He has one final checker left to bear-in on the 11 point. Any 5 or 6 will do PROVIDED it doesn’t come with an ace. He finds 52 for the ab fab gammon save. 13-11 HCM.

Game 16. TR, bladder screaming in protest, gently asks HCM if he’d care to take one of his comfort breaks. “No, but thank you for your interest,” HCM politely replies. TR gets stuck on HCM’s 3 point behind a growing prime. But then a super duper 44 joker snakes a way through, and it’s followed up with 55 to nail the game down! It’s 13-12 now, and HCM’s campaign has stalled BIG time. Perhaps he really should take a break for his own good, and not worry about the sharky tactic of waiting for TR to wet himself.

Game 17. TR cubes late YET again before finally risking it when 16 pips up. 13-13, and we have a 4 point match.

Game 18. Can you believe it. 18 whole games, and we could have a ways to go yet. A near instant pass by TR, and HCM has finally stopped the rot. 14-13 HCM.

Game 19. Gus Hansen in the commentary booth, suggests about TR’s growing pains due to nature’s call: “What ‘Kedde’ should do is summon a waiter, order two beers, and offer them both to Rzymann.” In the game HCM ‘comes under the gun’ like a pure novice and is marmalized with a 22. He still may just be able to squeeze out a take but instead TR MISSES the cube action. Terrible! He could have been playing for the match right there. Instead he cashes next roll for 14-14.

Game 20. HCM eyes the cube after a great 11 for the 4-prime with TR’s one man back on the ace. A huge cheer from the crowd as the cube sails over, even though it’s a touch early. TR MUST hit on his own ace point to take away HCM’s tempo and stop him growing his prime. He declines and dodges the 50% 5-prime bullet. The next go, TR has the same conundrum. It is HUGELY right to hit on the ace and this time he investigates it all thoroughly but AGAIN declines. And HCM makes the all but killer 5-prime. But the game has some life in it after TR scrambles furiously to counter-prime the HCM checker on the ace. HCM finds a 6 to leap TR’s 5-prime, and in reply TR finds an incredible 16 in reply. This EITHER creeps the primed checker from the back, and leaps into the outfield, but leaves 15 shots, two blots and a stack of gammons. OR he can hit HCM’s escaped checker with the ace and worry about the primed checker later. He has a 5-point board after all, so should have a few rolls at the ace then the six. But he chooses to escape the checker, blundering hugely. HCM needs an ace or a 7. He finds 16! Whaaaaaah, that looks like the match folks. Gammons 33% and rising. TR playing a phantom ace-point game now, with two on the roof. Can HCM close him out with any of several numbers? He has three men on his 5-point and two on his 6 point, and an empty ace point. AND HE ROLLS 65!!! The ghoulish only shot leaving number! He bears off two men. Can TR find a 6? YES!! What a swing. Over comes the cube at 26%. Thus a slime take, since, if HCM passes he goes to 25% in the match, but he passes, preferring to try his luck from 14-16. And it’s more good news for TR as a break is finally called, and he scuttles off to the Gents like a Mexican who’s been stung by a scorpion.

Game 21, Crawford. HCM off to a tangy start. But then it’s punch and counter-punch and a real blot-hitting fest. TR gets into minor time trouble at 2:27. Finally it comes down to this: a rather sorry deuce point game for TR. “We’ve all won lots of deuce point games in our time,” warns Falafel ominously. In the bear off HCM has 3 on his ace, TR has a lone desperate sentry on the deuce, HCM has three on the 3-point and two on the four point. AND HE ROLLS 62 to peel and hit!! It’s a deuce shot from the bar for TR who is even looking at some backgammons for match against him now. HE FINDS THE DEUCE, and covers his own two-point with the 3, to make a 5-point board. Can HCM enter on the 5? No! Can TR cover? YES!! It’s a 50-50 game now.

TR start ripping his men, with HCM shut out on the roof. TR forgets to stop his clock in between shakes, and it shimmies down from 1:51 to 1:18. FINALLY he remembers. “That could just be his best play of the entire match,” cracks Gus Hansen. When daylight appears HCM finds a great 65, and then swings his baby round the corners with a fine 64. He’s going to be ok I think. It comes down to this. HCM has two on his ace-point, one on his 3. TR five on his ace, on roll. 44 for TR!! Ohhhh nooooo. Only five numbers will save HCM now. He was in this exact position in his last 16 match, and found 33. He gets up, and takes a stroll around the stage. Takes a run up and hurls his dice. One lands on the board, and another about 25 feet away under the wheels of a TV camera. Was it a double? We’ll never know. HCM takes another run-up. An even longer one. The dice fly out of the cup, and bounce wildly. But this time they land ON the board, IN the correct half, without cocking or anything. It’s a legal throw! Wow. Hans Christian Mathiesen has turned into an all-singing, all-dancing dice-throwing acrobat before our very eyes.

The dice read 52.

It is a heart-warming win for the gutsy and colourful Rzymann who I ‘talent-spotted’ in the second-round and immediately found WSOB producer Andy Bell and said, “I’ve just seen someone who’d be great to have in the final.” He has a chiselled, weather-beaten face, similar to that of the late Roy Scheider, vanquisher of Jaws. Well, Rzymann has slayed a few monsters of his own these past four days.

I have made many friends here in Helsingor and will have endless memories of four wonderful days. London’s UK Masters was fantastic, but this has equalled it in many ways. Provided I get permission from my rather scary wife, I can’t wait to do it all over again in Cannes in July. She says she’ll leave me if I keep gallivanting off to these madcap Backgammon tournaments. Shame – I’ll miss her.


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