Charlie Oliver writes about taking the step from casual to Club play…
So, you like playing backgammon. You play with your family or mate down the pub. You maybe use the doubling cube, but you’re not really sure what you’re doing with it. You’d like to get better and beat your family or mate every time instead of sometimes. You’ve thought about buying a book, you’ve watched a few YouTube videos, read a few articles; but now you’re thinking you’d like to play other people. Welcome to the wonderful world of backgammon clubs!
Backgammon is a social game, and club members are the most sociable of all – that’s why they’re in a club! Perhaps you’re finding the prospect daunting? You don’t know anyone, and you don’t know the format, and it all seems a bit, well, serious. You couldn’t be more wrong! Every player at the club you’re thinking of visiting was in your position once. They all thought “I want to improve, but maybe this isn’t the right place? Maybe I’m not good enough to play?” Every player at a backgammon club would be delighted to show you the ropes, but most importantly, they want you to join and enjoy playing the game as much as they do.
So, what does a typical club night involve? There’s usually about 8 or so players in a regional club, but some have double that, and some have less. Play is either tournament or informal and with or without an entry fee and prize pools. Most clubs run a Swiss Tournament or a Round Robin on club nights. These are usually designed so that everyone plays at least 3 matches with 3 different people, which is great for gaining experience of different playing styles and tactics. The main difference between the two types is that in a Round Robin you play everyone else in turn, so it works well when there are only, say, 4 to 6 players. In a Swiss, on the other hand, you will play a fixed number of rounds irrespective of the number of players in the tournament. Many clubs run 8 player Swiss tournaments which work very well.
If the club you choose runs an informal night, then it’s up to you who you play on the night, and you can stay for as few or as many matches as you like. All clubs have someone whose role is to make sure that everyone gets to play. They’re often referred to as the Tournament Director (TD) and will quickly spot you and introduce themselves. In my experience they are all enthusiastic about having new players, and very welcoming. They’ll always ask how long you’ve been playing, and how familiar you are with the doubling cube and etiquette. After that you can usually choose either to be paired up with someone who’ll talk you through a game whilst playing (and usually give you some very helpful strategy hints!), or to play in the tournament. Most clubs charge a small registration fee (typically £3) per visit. This is to cover their venue and staffing costs, and is usually waived if it’s your first time. As for prize pools, very few TDs will suggest you enter on your first visit.
So, now you just need to pick a club – there are now over 70 listed for the UK on the UKBGF Clubs page – and make a date to have some fun! Hope to play you soon!