I should have felt happier….I had just won £110 after a lovely evening playing Backgammon in one of many jackpots hosted and run by Gill and Chris Bray at their annual Christmas Tournament in the sumptuous surroundings of their club in Roehampton, South-West London. Ordinarily, this victory would have led to the perfect evening but I felt empty. Undefeated, how could it be that I felt such dissatisfaction after winning three tough matches….?
It hit me on the drive home as a song came on the radio which I started to sing along to. Even though I had crisp winnings in my pocket this is what I sang:
Because you know I’m all about them points,
‘Bout them points, no money
I’m all ’bout them points, ’bout them points, no money
I’m all ’bout them points, ’bout them points, no money
I’m all ’bout them points, ’bout them points, points, points, points
Ref: Meghan Trainor – All About That Bass – YouTube
Most of us are fully aware of the incredible lengths that the unashamed points tart Tariq Siddiqi has gone to in order to remain top of the London Backgammon Tour (LBT) during 2014. He has covered extensive mileage around the London area often with Enzo, his dog, in tow. It wouldn’t surprise me if, every evening at around 6pm , he told Mrs Siddiqi that he was just taking the dog for a walk and then dashed off to wherever in London LBT points were on offer. It is not an exaggeration to say that, even by his own admission, he has become a man possessed on his quest for them points.
As we come to the end of the 2014 and the final LBT standings we see Jon Barnes coming up on the outside; just seven points separates them at the time of going to press. Both households’ Christmases will revolve around the last two St Albans Backgammon evenings this year, the only remaining opportunities to win LBT points and come first in a competition that has no prize money and probably doesn’t even have a trophy. These are two players who are not averse to playing for high stakes; both are accomplished players able to hold their own against most other UK players. What’s driving them more than prize money and plastic trophies are the bragging rights. The right to be known as the BSD in London even if only for a year makes all the time & money spent on travel around the Capital worthwhile. Your name in lights and hushed respect as you walk into any Backgammon Club in London and beyond. No prize money can buy that sort of happiness.
I have discussed this points-lust with a few Backgammon players and there is a growing recognition, as more Intermediate players come into the game, that it isn’t all about money.
Backgammon, historically, has been very much a gambling pastime, with every game carrying some financial incentive from a few pennies to thousands of pounds. Tournaments and Cash games required players to risk sums of money, some paltry and some beyond their means. I feel that while Backgammon remains so financially driven we put a cap on the number of new players willing to take up the game more competitively. These are players who have previously played socially and would like to take the game further but are put off by the financial investment of entry fees etc. They are not enticed by cash prizes beyond the reach of their own ability and, even worse, they are discouraged by the predatory nature of some of the game’s supposed role models. I have long since argued to anyone who would listen that social players remain the biggest untapped market in Backgammon and we shouldn’t be scaring them off with talk of playing for money. Them points on the other hand…
So when did this lust for points begin?
Those who have played the game competitively for a while, both live and online, will be familiar with the ELO rating system. ELO rating was originally inherited from Chess but quickly adopted by the First Internet Backgammon Server and then became the de facto standard used in Backgammon clubs and Internet game servers around the world. Let’s not beat about the bush here, even a very strong player needs to get lucky to win a tournament, so a rating system that allowed you to compare yourself against other players and give you bragging rights even if you hadn’t won a major tournament was always going to be popular. This system encouraged players to play and increase their ratings and is still very much used today and will continue to be so. Ratings tables were taken one stage further with the introduction of League Backgammon.
League Backgammon is essentially a glorified Round Robin where you play every other player in your division a defined number of times during a season to earn league points. At the end of a season you would either win promotion into a higher division, get relegated into a lower division or stay in the same division depending on where you finished in that division. The theory is that you will eventually find your level and end up playing in a division made up of players of a similar skill level. This is a methodology commonly used in many team sports and pub activities, like darts, pool etc. The difference being that in League Backgammon you are playing as a team of one, representing just you.
In 2000, the innovative Bristol Backgammon Club and its iconic founder Ian Tarr created the Bristol Backgammon League. Ten players took part in the first year. The league has grown to 46 players this year and is very much a staple part of the Bristol Backgammon calendar. Between 2010 and 2013, I had the pleasure of playing in the Bristol League, despite living 120 miles from Bristol. It was one of those occasions when, before I had a chance to realise how nonsensical it was to travel that far for a couple of Backgammon matches, I was hooked on the relentless pursuit of league points and promotion. Thus, for four years, I travelled several thousand miles feeding my addiction for them points.
I eventually came to my senses and, to reduce my travelling costs, founded the London Players Backgammon League at the tail end of 2011 with 28 players. It has since grown to 67 players and is expected to surpass the 70-player mark next season. Slightly different in structure and format to the Bristol League but equally as gripping and, most poignantly, allowing the contagion of points addiction to spread from the South-West across to the South-East. Attracting players from inside and outside London, the league has become a focal point for all participating players and often the topic of conversation at club nights as players brag or otherwise about their league exploits. On any given night in London, on average, there are three league matches being played.
Following the growing popularity of League Backgammon down South, The North-West Backgammon League launched their qualifying season with 25 players in the middle of 2014. Again, slightly different from the other leagues in structure and format, the overlying principles of promotion and relegation are the same. Following the end of the qualifying season, these players will be placed in divisions depending on how they have done this season. All indications are that they will retain most of their players next season and possibly have new players joining as the word spreads as to how enjoyable League Backgammon is. Contact Us – North-West Backgammon League
And so we now move onto the Midlands Backgammon League which is currently recruiting players for their Qualifying Season which will launch on January 1st, 2015. Modelled on the London League, it is anticipated to open with 20 or so players all battling it out to qualify for the higher divisions when promotion and relegation is introduced in their second season. Players are currently being recruited from the handful of Backgammon Clubs in the Midlands – Coventry, Birmingham, Rugby and Nottingham. Basically any player who is willing to travel for up to one hour to play a league fixture would be a suitable candidate for this league.
There is an enthusiastic team launching the Midlands League in Mike Wood and David Pritchard. Mike has successfully hosted the Annual Birmingham Open; David, with more time on his hands following retirement, is dipping his toe into Backgammon organisation for the first time but is a favourite to be in Division One as he is so very hard to beat! The project has the full blooded support of Midlands Backgammon Supremo Phil Tutchings so it is certain to be a huge success.
Why is League Backgammon attractive to players
So what makes League Backgammon so attractive compared to more traditional backgammon formats?
For a start, you, the player, have much more control about where and when you play your Backgammon, as you arrange the match with your divisional opponent at a time and place that suit you both. So this is not a tournament that may take you miles from home, requiring a hotel stay and taking up your whole weekend. This is a competition that you can partake in bite-size chunks making it far easier to fit around your life rather than fitting your life around Backgammon. Isn’t it frustrating if your local BG Club night clashes every week with another favourite hobby or pastime? It can be a tough choice as one pastime has to take the back seat. League Backgammon takes up about one evening a month so it can easily complement any other Backgammon you may play without making too great an impact on the rest of your life.
Likewise, without denigrating the sterling work done by BG Club organisers around the country, we do seem to be second-class citizens when it comes to playing our Club Backgammon. Call me a snob but I seem to spend too much of my time playing Backgammon in tired old social clubs and hotel conference rooms long in need of a lick of paint. Some might say full of character; I say shabby. I wouldn’t go to these places if it wasn’t for the Backgammon so why do I seem to spend so much time in them pursuing my favourite hobby. In defence of BG Club organisers, it is not easy to find a venue that is willing to give over the space to a bunch of tight-fisted Backgammon players, so it is not surprising that we are bottom of the food chain. Actually I genuinely don’t believe most BG players are tight-fisted but we are more likely to spend our heard-earned money in nicer establishments. Most of us first learnt to play Backgammon on holiday in exotic locations and, for many, playing in a pleasant environment is as much part of the joy as the actual playing itself.
This is why I love League Backgammon, because I say to my opponent – take me to your favourite pub, coffee shop, riverside picnic table or sunset-drenched balcony and that is where we play: the way Backgammon should be played in an enjoyable setting. Some London League players make an event of it with all the players from one division going to someone’s house, food is organised, perhaps a few drinks and a fun social time is had by all. This fun does not take anything away from the competitiveness but it gives you the prospect of playing in all sorts of exciting places. With only two players trying to find space, a whole new world of opportunity is open to you. The Royal Festival Hall in London is hugely popular with London League players but we also share our common knowledge about other Backgammon-friendly establishments on the league website.
As we try to grow the game, a key question to ask at this stage is how are we more likely to give Backgammon more visibility and thereby recruit more players? Locked away in a hotel conference room or social club, or out and about in trendy night spots, groovy cafes, riverside pubs etc? Playing in one of these latter establishments, we are far more likely to arouse the curiosity of potential new players.
But what are the format advantages of League Backgammon over traditional formats? Bristol, London, and the Midlands leagues adopt an approach of 2 x eleven-point matches against each divisional opponent. After the flitting around of club and tournament formats in which you play lots of different opponents over one session that might include some interminable waits, it is a pleasure to sit down and play one player over the course of one evening or afternoon over a meal and/or drink. Getting to know your opponents, not only their playing style but in a social context. Common feedback I have received is that League Backgammon is the most sociable and enjoyable Backgammon there is.
On the whole, playing League Backgammon requires the same strategy as tournament play. You need to win the matches to gain league points. So every match has purpose, has meaning; moving you one step closer to promotion and one step away from relegation. However, towards the end of the season it may be that “score difference” may become relevant. Score difference is the difference between the aggregate scores (yours minus your opponent’s) of all your league matches played over a season. It may be the eventual tie-breaker required to separate two players on equal league points. So not only do you have to contend with game winning chances and match equity, but league equity may require you to win your final match by a certain number of points. This can make it very exciting, leading to some quite aggressive play. Now, I am aware this has some Backgammon purists running for cover, arguing that it shouldn’t matter what the match score is, you either win a match or you don’t. Some folk can’t cope with change. That’s fine – League Backgammon is not for everyone and, if they are happy to continue playing traditional Backgammon, that is fine too as there is still plenty of that available. Sadly for them, they’re missing out on an exciting format that is doing much to attract and keep new Backgammon players.
Last but not least, League Backgammon is an inexpensive pastime. With modest entry fees and prize funds it is a reasonable way to get the chance to play tournament length matches without having to pay the inflated entry fees that we see in many tournaments both at home and abroad. One doesn’t play League Backgammon for the prize money. You play for the social enjoyment, the desire to earn league points that float you higher up the league, and the kudos stakes. In fact I know that in London I could remove the entry fee/prize fund aspect of the league and not lose one single player, despite having many high stakes players in the league. Its all ’bout them points, ’bout them points, no money.
Having said that, I do think a notional entry fee is required as it buys commitment from the players. It requires organisation to play in the league because you are organising all your own matches. An entry fee filters out the time-wasters.
Why is League Backgammon attractive to club organisers
As a league organiser, I do not have to find dates or venues to hold a competition. The players do all that. We have already talked about how difficult it is to find a venue and have sniffy players like me moaning about flaking wallpaper and nasty jukeboxes. The only venue I need to run a league is my desktop PC, but I can also run the league from any laptop, tablet or phone using the free www.leaguerepublic.com at a time and place that suits me. Anybody who has tried to organise a Backgammon event will have used the expression, “herding cats.” This doesn’t exist in League Backgammon as the players do all the work themselves organising their matches and then reporting the scores to you by email/text. In London, if they fail to report the match they don’t get the points so, because the onus is on them, you don’t have to do any chasing.
Likewise, London League players know that if they fail to pay their entry fee for next season, they will be dropped from the league and made to start again from the bottom division. Again, this means everyone pays on time. Londoners respect my approach of “no ifs, no buts, no sob stories” which means the league can run itself; I just give the wheel a spin every now and then.
I know other league organisers might be an little easier on their “customers” than I am and therefore have a little more work to do than me, but I am sure they would all agree it is easier than organising a traditional tournament for the same number of people.
The biggest sacrifice any Backgammon organiser makes is the rarely-mentioned loss of their own playing time. They are so busy preparing and running events that they don’t get to play themselves. Ask any organiser of a large multi-player event and most will grumble about this. None of them started playing backgammon with a view to becoming an unpaid administrator. They want to play as much as the next man. Perhaps this is why so few BG Club/event organisers last the course, Michael Crane at BIBA being the exception.
I think it is testament to the ease of running League Backgammon that an organiser is able to play in his/her own league. I would never dream of playing in a weekend tournament of 70 players if I was meant to be organising it as well. After all, I started up the London League so I could play League Backgammon closer to home and not travel the 240 mile roundtrip to Bristol every month. There was no way I was going to organise anything I couldn’t play in. I had to make it easy.
Finally, with a database of active league players with a proven track record of organising themselves, spin-off competitions are possible using the same format of players organising their own matches as seen in the London League Cup 2014
By the end of 2015, we will have at least four mature leagues in the UK and it will soon be time to look at a Champions League Competition. Several ideas have been mooted as to what format this would be. There is no point speculating on it now but perhaps this is something that the UKBGF could promote with the cooperation of the four leagues. Watch this space.
Now is the time to join your Local League
So after 3000 words, I finally get round to the raison d’etre of this article. This is prime recruiting time for all four leagues as they all have seasons commencing on January 1st. There is some urgency if you wish to join the leagues in time for the New Year.
Midlands League is launching its inaugural 3 month season – a qualifier for the season proper in April 2015. Get in now to avoid having to start at the bottom of the league in April. Players have already signed up so this league is now a reality. Entry is £12 and entries must be in by December 30th.
Bristol Premier League seasons run from January 1st to November 30th. There are three divisions in a pyramid structure. Playing criteria will govern which Division you enter. In the event that you miss the Premier deadline, it is possible to join the Bristol Conference League which acts as a feeder for the Premier. But if you are interested in joining, I would get your skates on now to see if you are eligible for the Premier on Jan 1st. For more info contact Ian Tarr, email@example.com
North-West League has six-month seasons. They have just had their Qualifying Season which will govern which division existing players will enter on January 1st. My understanding is that new players will start from the bottom division as in the London League. Again, you need to get your registration in urgently to be eligible for the January 1st start.
Contact Us – North-West Backgammon League.
Web site: www.northwestbackgammonleague.weebly.com
London Players’ League has a three-month season commencing January 1st, with a strict joining deadline of December 28th. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org for more info or to join.
A quick word about new players having to start at the bottom of the league
A few players have suggested to me that they are put off joining the league because they would have to start at the bottom. London is now a large league of 16 divisions. Some have even suggested a special dispensation to give them an accelerated entry level. I am very thankful that they are put off joining as it acts as a great filter. These players also tend to be sore losers and luck moaners, believing that they are much stronger players than they actually are. London League Backgammon is sociable and is better off without players that make other players feel uncomfortable with their prima donna behaviour.
As it is we still have some very strong players joining, so the result is that there is strength all the way through the league. Making progress up the league is as challenging (if not more so) as finishing top of Division 1 and most humble players recognise this. So it does not matter where you are in the London League, there is kudos in finishing top of your division whatever number it is.
But I don’t live in an area served by a League
Move house…..or you could consider starting your own league You only need four players to start a league and you’ll be surprised how you will then go on to attract more players once you have something concrete in place. Contact me for advice on how to start the league but also take the time to explore how all the leagues in the UK function and select a format that best suits what you are trying to achieve. With free tools like www.leaguerepublic.com, setting up and running a league is easy. If I can do it, anyone can.
As you have probably gathered by now I am passionate about League Backgammon but, before you accuse me of bias, I was singing its praises whilst playing in the Bristol League, long before I set up the London League. I play in many Backgammon events of many different formats but I make no secret of the fact the most exciting for me is the league format. I do not see League Backgammon as a replacement for traditional forms of Backgammon which I still very much enjoy playing but I would rather remain in London League Division 1 next year than win the Nordic. Don’t worry, neither event is likely but I suspect many London League players measure their own success not by tournament triumphs or lack of but by their own league progress. It’s joyfully addictive so I urge all of you who have yet to try it to come and give it a go. The majority of you will be hooked. I’m all ’bout them points, ’bout them points, no money!
Update – 24th December 2014