The 7th UK Backgammon Open was held online this year over the three days of the late August bank holiday weekend. It was a true celebration of backgammon not only for the UK but, with a record 22 nationalities taking part (24 if you include Scotland and Wales), also for the world of backgammon. We had a total of 181 players of which 155 were UKBGF Members competing for: two $995 P40 boards; a €500 entry package to a top European tour event; a £500 Geoffrey Parker Professional roll-up travel board; hotel and registration at next year’s UK Open Masters; hotel and entry at next year’s London Open Intermediates; commented match and lessons from Backgammon Workshop; and high street store vouchers.
With these prizes on offer for a total outlay of either £15 or £10, it’s not surprising that we attracted 113 players in the Masters flight and 78 in the Intermediates. We had deliberately kept the cost of entry low to encourage as many players as possible to take part.
The event had kicked off two weeks earlier with the 2020 UK Legends Invitational which was a double elimination format with 15 point matches throughout and two days between each round, culminating in the final on the bank holiday Monday. The Legends attracted a world class field led by World Number 1 – Masayuki Mochizuki, better known as Mochy, Galaxy No. 1 – Zdenek Zizka aka ZZ, Galaxy No. 2 from Lancashire, England – Tim Cross, top American player Victor Ashkenazi and the legendary Neil Kazaross. The field of 44 players contained at least ten Grand Masters. This was without doubt the strongest group of players ever assembled in any online competition.
We made it our aim to stream as many matches as possible and managed to record almost every match. Unfortunately we were unable to provide live commentary for all of them, but we persuaded Grandmaster Rory Pascar to commentate on matches from the fifth round onwards, with further expert analysis by World Number 2 Michihito Kageyama (‘Michy’), ‘Mathemagician’ Art Benjamin, Times Backgammon correspondent Chris Bray, Backgammon Workshop tutor Julian Fetterlein, and Grandmaster Tim Cross.
As you know, reputation counts for nothing in backgammon. By the end of round 2 we had lost two Grandmasters – Victor Ashkenazi and David Presser. In round 3 they were joined by the UK’s Gaz Owen, Chris Rogers, and Cat Bucur. In a shock round 4 we had to say goodbye to some of the favourites: Mochy, Zdenek_Zizka and Bill Riles. This was shaping up to be an interesting tournament and we still had Neil Kazaross, Toni Bernaba, Lawrence Powell and Michael Neagu in the mix.
Round 5 saw Toni Bernaba and Andrew Selby leave the competition. In round 6 we said goodbye to Mehmet Ismail, Geir Pedersen and Marcus Reinhard. In round 7 we were down to five players and Michael Neagu was now the only player remaining undefeated. For all the other players it would be sudden death. Lawrence Powell received the bye, Volker Schneider beat Neil Kazaross and Michael Neagu kept his undefeated run going to beat Elias Kritikos. Neil and Elias next played to decide 4th place. In an exciting match Neil played with a PR of 1.7 but still lost.
Because of the format, we now had three players in the semi-finals and there had to be a draw to see who would get a bye straight into the final. Volker Schneider was the lucky player so Lawrence Powell played Michael Neagu. Michael won 15-3 but the score did not reflect how well Lawrence had played thoughout the tournament. Now Michael faced Volker in the final which had a very one-sided score line. Volker just couldn’t get a toe hold and Michael Neagu won 15-2. He was also undefeated throughout – winning all nine rounds the hard way without a bye.
The UK Open first round started at 1pm on Saturday 29th August. With Arda Findikoğlu in charge, we had the best Tournament Director in the world running things. The event was played on the Backgammon Studio Heroes platform and everyone – TDs and players – communicated by WhatsApp. The schedule was for 12 rounds played four rounds per day. It was a double elimination format for both the Masters and Intermediates, just like the legends except for match lengths (11 points for the Masters; 9 for the Intermediates) and we had attracted some of the top players in the country as well as people from around the world. The big names included Catalin Bucur, Bill Riles, Terje Pedersen, Gaz Owen, Lawrence Powell and Tim Cross who had entered the Legends as well, and also Charles Hill, Chris Bray, Kevin Jones, David Brown, Jon Barnes and Peter Bennet.
After the first two rounds we had to say goodbye to 28 players in the Masters including Lawrence Powell who was third in the Legends, Peter Bennet, Nick Sandqvist and Mike Ireland. By the end of the day we had also lost Jon Barnes, Chris Bray and Gaz Owen. Backgammon has no respect for reputation.
Starting the second day we were down to 36 players in the Masters and 25 in the Intermediates. A special mention here to Jacob Rose who is 13 years old and made it to the 6th round of the Intermediates. He is for sure one of the players of the future.
Going into the final day, bank holiday Monday, we were down to five players in the Masters and four in the Intermediates. In the Masters (round 9) we had Brian Lever vs Charles Hill and Chris Hamilton vs Ary Nogueira of Brazil whilst Steve Bibby got a bye. In the Intermediates the semi-finals were Zigi Fibert vs Steve Fitton and Roger Salmon vs Bill Williamson. Both Zigi and Roger won so we had our Intermediate finalists. All the Monday players in both flights were UKBGF members so all were eligible to win one of those P40 boards.
In the Masters, Steve Bibby drew a bye and went straight into the semi-final where he was joined by Chris Hamilton and Charles Hill. Now there was a draw to see if Chris or Charles would have to play Steve for a place in the final, while the other player received a bye into the final. Chris Hamilton drew Steve Bibby while Charles Hill got the golden ticket.
It was a very close and exciting match which was won by Steve Bibby 11-10. Now all eyes were literally on our final match of the tournament, the Masters Final, as it was being streamed online with commentary by Rory Pascar and Tobias Hellwag. This was a thriller and a much closer match then our other two finals of the day. It was eventually won 11-7 by Charles Hill.
The results were:
Legends: 1st Michael Neagu, 2nd Volker Schneider, 3rd Lawrence Powell, 4th Elias Kritikos
Masters: 1st Charles Hill, 2nd Steve Bibby, 3rd Chris Hamilton, 4th Brian Lever.
Intermediates: 1st Zigi Fibert, 2nd Roger Salmon, 3rd Bill Williamson, 4th Steve Fitton.
We were able to live stream over 50 matches across the three competitions. They are all available on the UKBGF Facebook page (you don’t have to be on FB to see them) and you can find a round by round index of the matches here: Legends, UK Open.
It truly was an amazing world class event. Thank you to all who took part. A big thank you to Arda Findikoğlu and his team – Gokhan, Barbaros and Emre – who worked so hard to run the event and really made it one to remember. To Terje Pedersen who runs the Heroes platform, without which we could not have put on such an amazing online event. To Lovely Kish Sayon who did the graphics and the streaming. To Rory Pascar and his amazing guests for the live commentary. To Jill Gibbs for helping us out and keeping us sane. A special thank you to the UKBGF and our sponsors for their support and generosity. Finally, huge thanks to all the players for embracing the event with enthusiasm, patience and great sportsmanship.