The Backgammon World lost one of its movers and shakers yesterday: Andy Bell, founder of The World Series of Backgammon, passed away at the shockingly early age of 52.
Andy suffered horrific injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, in a road accident in Mallorca in July 2014. Although his gradual recovery since then appeared to be nothing short of miraculous, it seems that the after effects of this accident finally took their toll. Andy was, however, able to demonstrate that in spite of what he had suffered he still had what it takes to play winning backgammon: he became a BMAB Master and in May of this year he won the London Open Masters Championship.
We don’t have any information at present about funeral arrangements, but anything which Andy’s family would like us to pass on will be added to this post by way of a comment below.
I didn’t know Andy very well, but three players swiftly responded to my request today for their memories of him which are published below.
Carter Mattig writes:
Andy Bell passed yesterday. That’s not a statement you heard a lot if you ever played backgammon with him. And while you may not forgive me for starting a eulogy with a joke, you aren’t the one that will be haunted by him if I make this a sorrowful tale with lots of hand wringing and tears. I was lucky enough to be good friends with the man, and he was a funny, smart, and passionate person. While I’m sure he wants people to mourn, I know he would want us to tell stories of him, and what he did for not only his friends, but the whole backgammon community. How he in 2006 started the World Series of Backgammon and brought the game we loved to ESPN! How he left a legacy in what he created…not just a video treasure trove of backgammon lessons and commentaries, but two amazing daughters in Ines and Lexi.
It is hard to impress on the world what Andy did. He took backgammon and put it on TV. He made a series of events with actual production values not seen before or since. He did this in multiple countries, using friends and connections to take this game we love and introduce this to the masses. This is a legacy that truly will stand the test of time. Some of the top players, probably ever, commentating on the game. Before XG, hell, before Facebook was fully realized, Andy took our game and made it a social media event.
That isn’t what’s most important though. Two girls lost a dad. Alexandra lost a partner. I and many others lost a good friend who always picked up the phone when you needed help. Or just to talk. A wicked naughty boy at times who loved the Jam, a funny insightful friend who cared massively for the people around him. A person who had a vision to bring the game he loved to the world around him.
There are bright lights in the world who make it a better place to be. We just lost one, and there won’t be another like him. Thank you Andy for all you did, and know that your contributions will never be forgotten. Love, Carter
Andrew Selby remembers Andy winning this year’s London Open Masters:
In the short time I came to know Andy, through my capacity as TD of The London Open last year, I gleaned enough to know he would not have been one to dwell on flowery words and extended sympathies. Nevertheless as this was my first venture into a major Tour Event and he was the eventual Masters Champion I felt, in a Backgammon capacity, he would enjoy me sharing our (sadly way too short) journey together.
It was the Friday morning of the event, and I had just received a late withdrawal so I emailed The Waiting List in the hope of finding a last minute stand-in for the “final place”, as the event was sold out. A few hours later, a PayPal deposit arrived without Andy even telling me he wanted to enter! Andy had secured the final seat.
In our subsequent conversations, as we shared a love of sport we joked that history had proved a number of times, most notably with John Daly at the USPGA, that the last minute replacement could end up the Winner.
This was to be our silent handshake for the weekend, shared by a mischievous smile. We would acknowledge each win he secured, as Andy navigated the fraught 5 Round Swiss on the Saturday, to Qualify for the final 16 knockout. On the Sunday, in the last 16, as he managed to edge past such notable players as Aref Alipour, Romolo Mudu, and Sean Casey he would report each result and, “for luck”, would sign his name on the Master Score-Sheet in the reception area.
In a final played in the spirit of all that is good in the game, with Sean Jones, and with an irony of Shakespearean proportions, his final roll in backgammon was enough to be crowned The London Open Champion 2019.
So it transpired that the mischievous smile and silent handshake are the last abiding memories I have of Andy, as he left the hotel with his trophy proudly clasped in hand. And, although not as legendary as the story of John Daly, his tale will long find a place in future conversations within the BG fraternity.
I am certain I speak on behalf of everyone in extending our deepest condolences to all his family and friends and, in May at the 2020 London Open, I hope you will join me in a fitting remembrance of a truly valued member of our BG community and for many, more importantly, beyond into the bonds of friendship.
To conclude, Will Cockerell recalls the halcyon days of the World Series of Backgammon (WSOB), founded by Andy Bell.
After Andy’s tenacity and imagination brought the entertaining High Stakes Backgammon to the small green in 2005 with Paul Magriel and John Clark riffing smoothly in the commentary box, and Kara Scott cutting her presenter’s teeth before going on to world domination; the World Series of Backgammon was launched in 2006, and all who were present at the UK Masters in Leicester Square November 2007 will never forget it – especially that joyous opening night, where the atmosphere fizzed and crackled as never before, as the cameras rolled. We welcomed poker doyen Gus Hansen into the comm box for added glamour and sass.
After many highlights including a stunning Falafel-Tardieu showdown, we savoured two splendid semi-finals and then an outrageous final, won by the “smiling assassin” John Hurst in a rope-a-dope comeback win over Christian Plenz, a report of which may be found here.
The Nordic Open of 2008 was another treat, with a huge field of 154 in the top flight alone, and everyone loving the cameras. We saw another brilliant final, this time with the suave and enigmatic Tassilo Rzymann defeating the heavily favoured purist Hans Christian Mathiesen. To view the thrilling denouement to that match, and the fine WSOB production values, click here.
And so onto Cannes with major value added prize money win for the winner of the World Series after the 16 qualifiers had been suited and booted. And what a 16 they were with many of the biggest names in BG history locking horns; from Svobodny to Trabby to Falafel to Bredahl to Tardieu. Matches were just 3-pointers and there were some magical moments at “Backgammon’s Longest Day,” before Fred Andrieu defeated UBK [‘Unflappable Bob Koca’].
Andrieu was not perhaps fancied by many [scarily handsome though he was], but as Carter Mattig opined afterwards: “How many French photographers does it take to beat four Danes? Just the one!”
All match reports can still be found at gammonlife here, but my personal favourite was the round one affair between David and Goliath, of which David so nearly won. Anyone in the Green Room that night will never forget it:
Matvey “Falafel” Natanzon (ISR) vs Aron Korper (NETH)
The great Falafel clashes with Korper who’s won 16 matches in a row online just to be here, but has never played on a live board, and is bamboozled by the clocks/checkers/heat/dice cups/Jessie’s questions etc. Mismatch? Anything but. The crowd loved this pearl of a match, rooting for the underdog and their favourite son in almost equal measure.
After an easy start for 1-0, Falafel plays the opponent and not the position by not cubing when 84-94 up in the all-but non-contact race. He easily cashes later for 2-0. Korper wins a tense Crawford and then wins the free drop. In the decider it is Falafel who slips in to early mire but Korper’s four-point board (points 6 thru 3) can’t contain him, and the game turns into a grueling slugfest. Soon Korper has the 4-point anchor, and gives the anchor a friend for company: it’s a 2-4 back-game, and real danger for Falafel. Korper under 40 seconds now, and Falafel under a minute. Korper’s timing is desperately close but he manages to keep a four-point board with only one man burnt. The crowd are whooping and hollering after every roll, and the clock issue is mesmerizing. “16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10…!” They chant as Korper agonizes. Finally the double shot comes! Missed. And then a last gasp single shot for the gutsy underdog. Missed. And Falafel is home. Pea green but home. 3-2 Falafel.
And that, right there, was the heart of WSOB – it brought backgammon to life in a manner we all knew was possible, but didn’t quite know how to go about it. Splendid drama in a magical atmosphere of our beloved game, and it was Andy’s creativity and determination that made it possible.
I listed my top 10 WSOB moments here. Great memories.
Was all this high jinks, big budget stuntwork sustainable? Alas no, and when WSOB and Partouche’s partnership ended, and the credit crunch hit its peak, there was an overreach, and although the next edition while still outstanding quality-wise, attendances declined and the WSOB experienced “a little local difficulty”. But the likes of Falafel & Mochy remained so loyal and kind to Andy throughout some tough times, because they saw a man of vision and guts who won backgammon some major publicity and tv coverage, and captured the imagination of the many hundreds who played at the events.
Recalling Andy, I’m reminded of Irish philosopher Charles Handy’s words:
“We cannot wait for great visions from great people, for they are in short supply. It is up to us to light our own small fires in the darkness.”