With the 2017 Manchester Open just a few days away, Gregge Madan looks at the varied backgammon scene in and around Manchester:
Not only is Manchester famous for a rich musical history rocking on from Herman’s Hermits, the Hollies through 10cc, Joy Division, cruising through Oasis and James and ending up at Stone Roses. Now it is also becoming famous for ROLLING – backgammon rolling. There has been an accelerated growth in backgammon within Manchester and surrounds and this is epitomised through not only greater numbers playing but also the fact that many of the country’s top players are from the area.
Something for Everyone
We are lucky enough to enjoy a number of different formats and tournaments catering for all levels. Ranging from the social nature of Jackgammon, ideal for new players, through to the highly competitive monthly 11 point tournaments. Not only that, but a large amount of players from the area play in the North West Backgammon League, now in its 7th season with 5 divisions. We now have:
- The North West League played in six monthly chunks and with 37 players
- The Manchester monthly 11 point, consolation and last chance tournament with average of 30 players
- Manchester weekly club nights with average of 18 players
- Jackgammon weekly nights with average of 8-10 players.
I hope you enjoy reading a little about the history of some of our formats which have flourished through the excellent stewardship of Rodney Lighton, Kevin Jones, Irving Czechowicz and Lee Gorton.
Manchester Backgammon Club
In 1999 Kevin Stebbing played snooker at the Moor Club in Stockport. A keen backgammon player, he found a few friends who played (notably the Shimwell family, Ian is our only founder member) and started the Manchester Backgammon Club which met once a month.
In 2002 Kevin departed to York, saying “Rodney, you’re in charge now!”. The “committee” of Rodney Lighton and Irving Czechowicz set about improving the club. Rodney set up a web site which helped to recruit more members. Gradually the number of meetings was increased, mainly due to Irving’s enthusiasm, first to twice a month and then to every Tuesday. We experimented with various tournament formats, many invented by Irving, most vetoed by Rodney. Eventually we hit upon the current method of running eight player knockouts most Tuesdays and a one point all-play-all tournament once a month, which has been used since 2008.
In 2003 the annual Manchester One Day tournament was started and has proved popular ever since, maybe due to the quality of the food rather than the backgammon. It has sold out most years recently.
An annual club championship and the annual 11 point knock out were started in 2004. Irving inaugurated Saturday tournaments once a month in 2008. In the last few years Kevin Jones has taken over the running of the Tuesday and Saturday events for which Rodney and Irving are grateful.
Over the years several hundred players have played at the club, some regularly, others occasionally, but on average about 15 people turn up each Tuesday to moan about their bad luck or gloat when they win and the Saturday events are popular, often full.
Jackgammon – How, why, what, where, when
Top class backgammon player, retired troubadour and current entrepreneur, Lee Gorton decided to throw a games night at his bar, Jackalope, some four years ago. An evening of games such as Ticket to Ride, Shut the Box and BACKGAMMON were played in a warm, friendly atmosphere. Other games were quickly discarded and we were left with that one with checkers and dice…resulting in the birth of JACKGAMMON.
People played what they wanted, with or without cube, 1 point through to 5 points and if you wanted a break to have a drink or a chat then you could always come back. The format encouraged new players and was sociable backgammon with a competitive element. You could decide how sociable you wanted to be!
The King of Formats
He came along, a seasoned backgammon player over many years with a tremendous capacity to connect with people and bring something into the room and the conversation every time he spoke. Yes, even when talking about Leyton Orient. Irving Czechowicz and his compendium of formats brought an array of interesting new ideas that found a natural home at Jackgammon – just a few include:
- Trapdoor – where everyone wins at least one game
- The Chip Format – each person has 5 chips and you choose who you want to play and eventually the person winning all the chips scoops the pool
- Backgammon Bingo – where everyone gets the same rolls in all the games and whoever wins out takes the pot
Jackgammon has an average age of around 30, thus bringing new people into the game but has also entered teams onto the Club Championships and reached the semi-final. Various hostelries in Chorlton such as Jackalope, the Beech, Odders Bar and the Beech again have played host each Monday night. One really nice outcome has been the crossover between those playing socially in Chorlton on Mondays and those playing in the Manchester club evenings in Heaton Moor on the Tuesday.
The “Manchester Monthly”
The Manchester monthly tournaments were started by Irving Czechowicz in 2008 and little did any of us know a decade ago, how popular backgammon would become both in Manchester and the wider north-west. Irv’s unique Saturday events, combined with his enthusiasm, played a significant part in the growth of backgammon in the region.
There was a change of organiser in 2014, with Irv taking a well-earned rest and Kev Jones taking over the reins. Back in the early days an auction was held with the 8 highest bidders getting a place in the main 11-point tournament, and the remainder playing in a secondary event. With the ever increasing attendances in recent years, the tournament became a straight KO with a maximum 32 player entry, separate consolation and last chance events being held each month. The average attendance for 2017 is currently a very healthy 28.
Over the years, 154 different players have arrived at the Moor Club in a leafy Cheshire suburb close to Stockport and Manchester, with the hope that the dice gods will smile on them. Of those 154 players, a mere 28 players have emerged victorious, of course some are multiple winners. Mark Calderbank deserves a special mention as he has played the most games, won the most matches, has a terrific win percentage, and has also won the most events.
In 2014, the Wright brothers (Arthur and John), together with Mark Calderbank and Kev Jones, devised the North West League with the intention of providing an additional opportunity for people of all levels to play backgammon alongside the well-established clubs/events in the north-west region. This competition loosely covers the M62 corridor (Leeds / Liverpool / Manchester). The first season started with 25 players and has grown steadily with 37 players now competing in season 7. Since 2015 the league has been invited to enter players into Richard Biddle’s annual UK Champions League tournament. For the last two years the league has sent a team to the UKBGF Club Championship, finishing runners-up in their first attempt. We’ll gloss over their second attempt in 2017!
In 2015, Kev and Steve Lee (the Bradford monthly tournament organiser), launched a combined Pennine Trophy with the intention of encouraging play at both Manchester and Bradford monthly events. This unusual Lancashire/Yorkshire alliance has proved to be very successful with player numbers increasing on both sides of the Pennines. Both tournaments host popular Christmas events, as well as quarterly bonus tournaments and raffles to reward the most regular players.
New players of all abilities are always welcome to join us. Our “regulars” range from beginners through to UK Champions (past and present). If you’re interested in finding out more then check out our websites: