In only its second year, the Gibraltar Championship has established itself as one of the largest and most popular in the World. On Day 1, over 230 players sat down to play in two divisions, Championship and Intermediate. There were 3 previous World Champions and a generous smattering of Grand Masters present in the room as the Swiss format got underway – 11 point matches for the Championships and 9 pointers for the Intermediates. 5 wins (out of a possible 7 matches maximum) guaranteed qualification for the knockout stages.
The organising team remained unchanged from last year led by veteran Tournament Director Steen Grønbech, in close collaboration with Franco Ostuni (General Manager of the venue, the Caleta Hotel) and the Gibraltar Government. The Gibraltarians have embraced this competition and backgammon in general with open arms. Despite being minnows in the giant pond of European backgammon, they fielded a 7 strong team at the European Backgammon Team Championships in Denmark this year.
There was a generous pot of added money spread among the various competitions and Government Ministers are an active presence – the Minister for Tourism Gilbert Licudi played in the Intermediate Division. Then, at the prize giving dinner, Minister for Culture, Media, Youth and Sport Stephen Linares announced that Gibraltar will be bidding to host the 2018 European Team Championships.
British interest was keen as 49 of us had made the trip to the rock this year. We were nearly reduced to 48 – “The Capped Crusader” Eric McAlpine missed his flight out of Heathrow by a whisker. After a change of route and a night spent in Madrid Airport, he made it to the hotel to play with only 30 minutes to spare!
In the end, however, we were disappointed that only a handful of Brits made it into the knockouts. 5 players in the Championships (Peter Bennet, Paul Gilbertson, Gaz Owen, Anne Pocknell and Julian Minwalla) and 3 Intermediates (Steve Lee, Dorothy Lee and Roger Porter). Peter Bennet progressed the furthest, into the last 8. We also had some success in the Consolations – Roland Herrera and Irving Czechowicz were quarter finalists and special mention for Kate Porter who was Intermediate division semi-finalist in her first competition back after a 20 year break.
It was, really, the year of the Danes. The final was an all Danish battle between Karsten Bredahl and Thomas Myhr, with Karsten the victor. Jesper Pretzer, also Danish, won the Intermediates.
Full results can be found here: http://www.chicagopoint.com/results.html
So, as Peter Bennet was our most successful player this year I asked him for a few comments about his tournament. “I had a great time in Gibraltar!” was his opening roll. “First of all they use British pounds and secondly, plenty of Brits were attracted to this well organised tournament, so it felt like we were still in the UK. That and the rain of course! Getting to the Main quarter-final, and cashing as a result, also magnified the ‘feelgood factor’ although of course it would have been nice to go a couple of steps further….
“Nevertheless I was lucky to get as far as I did. Winning all four 11 point matches on the Thursday put me in a good position – needing just one more win from three matches on Friday to qualify for the knockout stage. Even losing round 5 to the young American player Jack Edelson didn’t unduly worry me, and when I went 6-0 up against Jurgen Mohr in round 6 things were again looking very good. Until….
“I had doubled a few rolls earlier when threatening to close out Jurgen’s straggler. Unfortunately, after cubing, my dice were not quite so co-operative as they had been previously and I now found myself on the bar against Jurgen’s closed board. The good news was that to avoid cracking Jurgen needed an immediate 5, other than 51 (or double 6 which would allow him to re-roll). With no timing the temptation for Jurgen is to wait until he escapes before recubing…but is that too late?
“Not surprisingly the correct cube action here is score-dependent and Jurgen got it spot on. I hated the cube coming towards me on 4, but I reasoned that my winning chances were too good to give this up, and that I would have to be very unlucky to lose a gammon. Both deductions were correct: passing would have been a quarter-point blunder, but nevertheless a couple of minutes later the score was 8-6 to Jurgen after he managed to find one of the 8% gammon wins from this position, even without picking up my other loose blot. Thankfully, my good fortune immediately resumed and Jurgen didn’t win another game.”
So that put Peter through to the last 32 and his next two wins vs Alain Babillon and Jacek Wojciechowski are both available to view on the Gibraltar Open YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCywZW-YBS4Fu7TYj9LB1Y6Q. The live streaming was a constant feature of the weekend with two matches being broadcast for all sessions. There was an active commentary team too, ably led by Carter Mattig (USA) who is never short of something to say! The organisers are to be congratulated for such comprehensive coverage, and for the social media updates in general. Check out the video of the final when the commentators included our very own Paul Gilbertson: http://www.gibraltarbackgammon.com/index.htm
Unfortunately Peter finally went down to American youngster Jack Edelson – a 17-2 drubbing in the quarter final. “My luck just ran out at that point. But if you’d like to see an outrageous piece of good fortune, look at the video of my match against Alain. (link above, at the 1hour 42minute mark). This was being watched live in the hotel bar, and there was uproar after this sequence of double 6s. I don’t know who was making the most noise – Brits supporting me or French players up in arms!”
The programme of events outside of the Main tournament is another feature that marks Gibraltar high in the backgammon calendar. Education was covered with an excellent seminar by Mochy on “The Backgame” (also free to view on the Gibraltar Open website http://www.gibraltarbackgammon.com/index.htm).
Our sightseeing was unfortunately curtailed this year by the appalling weather as the Saturday morning Dolphin Safari was cancelled. This was actually with some relief from most of us as we had been viewing the angry sea through the rain spattered windows of the Caleta Hotel bar. We still managed to enjoy the, thankfully indoor, reception that followed – you might like to look at the excellent official photographs. https://www.facebook.com/GibraltarBackgammon/
As ever, the Grand Finale of the tournament was the prize giving dinner on Sunday evening. This was elevated to new heights this year, quite literally, as the venue was the stunning St Michael’s Cave which is situated almost at the top of the Rock. The usual speeches and thanks were given with accompaniment from a Military brass band and a drumming display. The evening was particularly poignant as Steen said a few words about the recent, unexpected loss of Martin Birkhahn who had been planning to attend the Gibraltar Open before his death just days before.
Next year’s tournament will be held between 7th and 11th February 2018 – you are advised to book early to avoid disappointment!