(That’s North East Backgammon Association, if you didn’t already know!)
Earlier in the year COVID intervened to prevent us holding our physical Clubs Championship… but there was such a strong reaction to the thought of us missing it out for a year that we leaped into the unknown and assembled an Online Clubs Championship at relatively short notice.
The format was the same as normal – round robins of about four teams leading to a last-sixteen knockout and a consolation knockout. In theory, without a venue to constrain us we had the potential for an unlimited number of teams rather than the 24 maximum of York. Signups seemed slow at first but a sudden rush in the last week saw us fly past our usual numbers. And on the day, the first good omen for me as TD was that when I closed the list we had exactly 32 teams – just right for every group to be the same size, no byes anywhere in the format!
It was great to see new names appearing for the first time – Belfast, The HarroGaters, Citygammon, Wanstead and The Union Club were all making their first appearance. It was also good to see a number of our regulars coming back with B and even C teams, and quite a few people taking their first attempt at a large tournament. I had been a little apprehensive that with three platforms available for play, Gridgammon, Galaxy and Heroes, and everyone with their own preferences I’d have loads of issues to deal with people not having accounts ready, but fortunately that wasn’t the case… I spent most of my time on Heroes watching in the tournament room as it meant I could keep an eye on most matches, with the occasional trip across to Galaxy… oh, if only they had a way to search for people! My other problem was coming up with a draw that didn’t pair up teams from the same place – in the end my random number generator behaved itself and gave us a good draw first time.
In some previous years one or two teams have been super-strong and dominated all the way through. The first sign that we had a lot of clubs who were really in with a good chance was the lack of big wins – out of the 48 round robin matches, only three were 5-0 results; NEBA A were the first, defeating Manchester; Worcester A and North West League followed them. Two-thirds of matches finished 3-2. And those individual games proved very valuable for some; The Union Club progressed to the last 16 with just one rubber win, but one more game won than NEBA B; meanwhile Brighton A won two rubbers but missed out by just the single game.
Again the TD’s delight – no playoffs needed!
The schedule was pretty relaxed – we didn’t want people to be glued to their screens for unhealthy periods! – so Saturday evening was just the first round of the knockout. Some familiar names, some surprises, not least a somewhat depleted Cambridge side showing they clearly didn’t need me to have their most successful year. On Sunday, though, with longer matches, the stronger sides started to converge on the title.
Meanwhile in the consolation, the Union Club clearly were exceeding their own expectations by a long way – every conversation about their next opponents felt like they were pinching themselves to see if it was all real… all the way through to the final. Sadly the run came to an end there, as Manchester had recovered from their terrible first match and powered their way through the knockout with some convincing wins.
And so to our final: NEBA A (Dave Gallagher, Alex Schofield, Oliver Squire, John Horton and captain Martin Barkwill) vs Holland Park (Charles Gornicki, captain Tariq Siddiqi, Mike Ireland, Alex Polden and Saravanan Sathyanandha). I set out to watch as much as I could, with relatively few teams left and multiple windows open across my big screens – yes, having all my work kit at home has some advantages! – but by the time I managed to find Martin on Galaxy he was already 0-8 down, and 0-11 defeat soon followed. First blood to the south! However, I then spent a while tracking down the next match on my list, and got there just in time to see Oliver level the match with an 11-3 win.
The other three games were much closer affairs, but when I returned from getting the final consolation match going the odds were swinging in Holland Park’s favour with them leading in all three – Tariq and Charles both on Crawford games (11-9 and 11-7) and Alex leading 8-7. Spectators were gathering around all the boards and with the online chat hidden from the players, there was a buzz as updated scores were shared. The first game to turn was Tariq’s – Alex levelled the game at 10-10, and then grabbed the final point to put NEBA in front for the first time. Then John won the decisive game winning a 4-cube at 7-8. Unaware that his one was only going to be the icing on the cake, Dave dramatically backgammoned Charles at 7-10 and then won the final game to make it 4-1 to NEBA. So the Tutchings Trophy doesn’t have far to travel, spending its third consecutive year in the north.
At 160 players, it was certainly our biggest online tournament – for a while. But that’s another blog post…
Many thanks to all our players – the Clubs Championship was a pleasure to run, and it all worked on the day! Next year we hope to see you all in Liverpool in April – viruses permitting…