As the dust settles on the London Open for another year, and the TDs put their feet up for a well earned break, we thought it would be good to take a look at the event from the other side – the players, without whom there wouldn’t be an event at all.
Brendan Burgess writes:
This year’s London Open was played over three days which allowed the organisers to experiment with a dramatically innovative format. From my point of view, it was a great success.
I played in the Professionals, in which there were 40 players.
Stage 1: Everyone played 4 rounds of Swiss – the first three rounds were played on the Saturday and Round 4 was played on the Sunday.
Stage 2: At 1.30 pm on Sunday
- The three people with 4 wins skipped Stage 2 and went straight through to the last 8
- 10 people had three wins and they went into a playoff for 2 places in the last 8
- 16 people had two wins and they went into a playoff for 2 places in the last 8
- 10 people had 1 win and they went into a play off for 1 place
- The 3 people with no wins were out of the tournament.
Stage 3: The Super 8 knock out format – 10 am on Monday morning
I really liked this format. Travelling from Dublin, the worst outcome for me is to get knocked out in the first round early on Saturday morning and then having to hang around until late on Monday night for my flight home. Those who drive to a tournament can go home as soon as they are knocked out.
In the usual banter on Saturday night, Tariq was going around telling everyone that he was still in. I hadn’t the heart to tell him that so was everyone else as players who lost all three matches on the Saturday were still in the tournament as they would qualify for Stage 2 if they won their 4th round match.
With 40 entrants, and making the very big assumption that I was an average player, I had a 1 in 40 chance of winning the tournament before Round 1.
I lost my first two matches on Saturday and won my third. I reckoned that my chances of winning the tournament had stretched out to around 1 in 72.
I lost my fourth round match so I went into the 10 person playoff for the last place in the Super 8. As I got an anti-bye, it was effectively a Round of 16 for me, so my tournament winning chances were now down to 1 in 128.
I won the 4 matches in the knockout stage so I qualified for the last 8. So now my chances are 1 in 8. Unfortunately, I was drawn against Aref who showed that my assumption of being average was not justified, and out of the tournament I went.
I loved the format, but then again, I was the biggest beneficiary. To qualify for the last 8, I had taken the scenic route – I played 8 long matches, winning only 5 of them. A player who won three matches in Round 1 and lost their first or second round match in Stage 2, did not qualify for the Super 8 and may have a different view of the format.
Those of us who are weaker players tend to like Swiss systems as we get to play at least two or three matches. The London Open was unusual in that everyone got to play 4. Although weaker players like the format, look at the strength of the last 8: Aref Alipour, Catalin Bucur, Dod Davies, Gaz Owen, Peter Bennet, Romolo Mudu, Sebastian Wilkinson and, of course, myself. The format seems to actually suit the stronger players.
Another good feature of the London Open was that each Round on the Saturday had a fixed start time. Round 1 began at 10 am; Round 2 began at 1.30 pm and Round 3 began at 4 pm. My opponent in Round 2 was ready to play at around 12.00 so we played immediately. We finished at around 2pm. The match which would produce my opponent was at a very early stage, so I had a two hour break until 4 pm which gave me a chance to view the wonderful tourist destination that is Hackney, with the assistance of Simon Morecroft’s “The Top Things to see and do in Hackney” specially written for backgammon players. I had a nap for the second hour.
Some other comments
There were two divisions, the Professionals and the Open. This seemed to confuse a lot of people because top players like Jon Barnes, Dale Taylor and Jason Pack entered the Open, while Tariq entered the Professionals. While it’s ok to allow players with more money than sense to enter the Professionals, I am not sure about allowing top players to enter the Open Division. I understand that some very good players may not be able to afford the £250 entry fee. If so, and they are allowed to play in the Open Division, then they should not be allowed to enter the side-pools. Alternatively, the Tournament Director should have the discretion to allow a top player to enter the Professionals at a reduced fee but then they would be excluded from the prize money.
Or better still with 40 in the Professionals and 65 in the Open, consideration should be given to making it one event with over 100 players. That would make it one of the biggest backgammon tournaments in the UK.
Finally a complex format over three days with two divisions requires a team of organisers. It’s a huge sacrifice for Sean Williams, Simon Morecroft, Martha Littlehailes and Ray Kershaw to give up playing in such a great tournament so that the rest of us can enjoy ourselves, so a huge thanks to them.
Anna Clarke writes:
I’ve been a fan of the London Open since I first became seriously hooked on Backgammon. The excellent YouTube videos, with commentary and interviews, from 2013 and 2014 gave me my first taste of the glamorous side of the game, introduced me to the Backgammon Greats and Heroes I now call my friends and provided dozens of gems to improve my game. Those commentaries are well worth revisiting, by the way, especially for us intermediates. There I first heard about The Dimitri Rule, how to vary my level of aggression depending on the match score, exactly how PRs worked and how to work out my gammon chances having closed out my opponent.
Sadly the iconic Carter Mattig “Beer and Chips” commentary of 2014 appears to be no longer available.
My first Open as a player was last year and I didn’t disgrace myself. I won through a couple of rounds against quality opponents, lost in the first round of the Hippodrome cup to the eventual winner, prevented my doubles partner from performing acts of violence on a pair of Russians with dodgy rolling actions and smiled at the barman while handing over £10 for a large gin and tonic. I even found myself in the commentary box at one point, luckily with no cameras that year, throwing goofy questions at Chris Bray to help him sell his latest offering.
So I was really looking forward to the 2016 tournament and I wasn’t disappointed. My first thought as I entered the venue was “quirky and spacious!”. My next thought was “blimey it’s hot!”. By the time I shook hands to start my first match, all my makeup had melted down to the level of my popliteal fossae and I didn’t bother with applying any more for the rest of the weekend. The London Open is an Open competition in the true sense – anyone can enter for little cost – so I was anticipating some difficult clashes as well as, hopefully, some easier ones. I had a very frustrating day, losing all three 11 pointers. I slunk to the pub at tea time to drown my sorrows a little bit (doubles later so I had to restrain myself) and was cheered up by Andrew “Gibbo” Gibson with the following: “How do you turn a duck into a rhythm and blues singer? Microwave it until it’s Bill Withers”
The venue – Dalston Heights
Saturday evening turned out to be a great improvement on Saturday daytime. Cecilia Sparke (the newly crowned Ladies World Champion) had asked if I’d like to be her partner and we had a closely fought clash with St Albans hardnuts Cat Bucur and Sean Clennell. We really wanted to win and were seeing ghosts, dropping cubes that we suspected were takes but too afraid of gammons in a 5 pointer. This was the worst one – a huge blunder to drop.
Despite that we did turn out the winners, but lost in the next round, on Sunday, to the other all girl partnership of Anna Price and Trudi Seely.
I had a better day on Sunday, over the board, winning an 11 point match at last, but with only one win out of 4 under my belt making it through the playoffs proved too difficult. So I had time to rest and recuperate before the Last Chance starting on Monday. The temperature had dropped a couple of degrees and the mood in the playing rooms was high.
As I wasn’t playing any more backgammon that day, I set up a Facebook Guess Who? competition instead. It was won by Danny Cohen who rapidly recognised Chris Purchase, apparently because “…it’s the arms…”. I know – I didn’t ask either.
I felt in good form on Bank Holiday Monday and played well. My first two Last Chance matches felt quite easy. I progressed no further, however, losing to Tad Collins next round, albeit in a close game.
I spent the remainder of the day catching up with the other competitions and watching some of the World’s top players do battle. Mochy was visiting from Japan and I saw his final tussle in the Professionals tournament, losing to a quietly jubilant Peter Bennet. Gaz Owen, Martin Birkhahn, Seb Wilkinson and Eric McAlpine were also drawing the attention of the room.
So, finally, it was time for the finals. The organisers and remaining players were still wilting in the heat but playing on regardless. I started to follow the action in the Professionals Final – Aref Alipour vs Dod Davies. They were drawing quite a crowd who were all taller than me, and the sunlight was streaming across the remarkably shiny Geoffrey Parker board (resplendent in UKBGF colours) so that it was hard to see which colour checkers were which. At 5 foot 4 inches tall I had no chance of seeing the dice throws either. So I decided to go and support the London Open Final itself, for which I had a front row seat complete with comfy cushion.
Jon Barnes, undefeated over the whole weekend and having a pretty good year (he reached the last 8 in both The Nordic Open and The World Championships), faced Mike Williams, brother of Tournament Director Sean. Mike was also undefeated (I think) and though his ponytail lacked the sheer length of that of his sibling, he looked likely to give Barnes a run for his money (or, in this case, a £1500 voucher towards a Geoffrey Parker board).
The first game was, however, somewhat bizarre. Mike was still in the semis of the Doubles with his partner, the lovely Donna Sherred. With time running out to complete the tournament before sundown, Donna, under the rules, needed to play on alone but Mike was eager to help out where possible and kept making quick forays away from the board. This actually didn’t make a great deal of difference to the run of play as, in his distraction, he had taken a dodgy cube very early on during an opening 55 blitz from Jon. He was, thus, enjoying plenty of time on the bar and was duly gammoned. I found the spectacle doubly enjoyable as Donna’s opponents had clearly had a very late night on Saturday and the player in the chair (you know who you are, Sebastian Wilkinson) enjoyed at least one short nap during her thinking time.
A little later Jon (Blue) was leading 6-2 to 13. Recube action?
Jon recubed and Mike took – correct by both players (though the recube was close, right by 0.015). Mike got a late hit though and continued to do well taking the score to 9-6 in his favour. In the next game the cube got up to 4, Jon won a gammon and the match to become London Open Champion 2016.
Aref won the Professionals, Antonio Sgambato the Super Jackpot, Andy Marshall and Mark Calderbank were Doubles Champions and Jason Pack took the Speedgammon. Last chancers were Raj Jansari (Professionals) and Matthew Fisher (Open).
I had an excellent weekend. All hail to the organisers Sean Williams, Simon Morecroft and the rest of the UKBGF board for overcoming the considerable difficulties put in their way. Running a tournament is not, now, a thankless task because, I thank you. Now I just need to go away and read a few more books…..
For those who are interested, the final brackets for the Open and Professionals are available on Challonge. With everything accounted for, the London Open made a net loss of £1900, which roughly equates to the registration discounts for UKBGF members who attended. This was offset somewhat because we signed up a fair number of new members during the lead up to, and at, the London Open. Given that the change of venue was forced on us very late into preparations, we had braced ourselves for a worse outcome than this. The London Open is clearly a much loved event and it would have been unthinkable to cancel at the last minute – but there will be plenty for the new Board to chew over for the future.