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.”
Following Andy’s funeral, his wife Alexandra very kindly provided us with a copy of her eulogy to him.
The first time I saw Andy I immediately thought what a pretty boy he was: tall, blonde, blue-eyed and looked a bit like my teenage crush Simon le Bon. It was actually only recently that Andy told me that as a young man he used to copy Simon Le Bon’s hairstyles from the front covers of Smash Hits magazine, so great minds think alike!
Andy and I met through our love of cycling, although on our first cycle ride together in the South Downs, I wasn’t quite expecting the full ‘MAMIL’ (middle-aged man in Lycra). Andy loved cycling Lycra. It had to be ‘Rapha’ and the tighter the better leaving little to the imagination! Andy and I have cycled many miles together, but his favourite bike ride was doing laps of Richmond Park. However, what this actually meant to Andy, was cycling to Richmond Park and turning immediately left to the Roehampton Gate Café, so he could stand and pose in his Rapha gear with his beloved carbon, disk-brake bicycle, which he truly believed would impress his fellow cyclists. This used to repeatedly annoy me, as no one ever paid any attention and it just interrupted a good bike ride!
One of Andy’s greatest passions was backgammon and he played all the major tournaments. He had several major wins, the most recent being the London Open Masters Championship in May 2019. Just prior to the event, he had tried to enhance his blond highlights with a home-dye kit, but accidentally turned his hair peroxide blonde making him look like his namesake Andy Bell from Erasure, for which I refused to be seen with him in public for about a week, much to his frustration! Looking back at the winning Championship photo of Andy, I can’t help but smile poignantly, as I think by the sheepish look on his face, he also realised that the peroxide blond was not a good look for the trophy-winning photo! Watching Andy play Backgammon, I was always fascinated by the lightning speed at which he could calculate the probability of winning with each move and throw of the dice. I enjoyed watching him play Backgammon in Battersea, but even more so when he attended the World Championships in Monaco each year, where he always secured a room in the Fairmont Hotel, Monte Carlo on the promise he would write an article about the tournament. Truthfully though, I’m not sure I ever saw him write such an article, but his backgammon friends here today may be able to correct me on this!?
In July 2014, less than a year after we met, our lives were changed dramatically when we were both hit by a car on our bicycles, after a driver fell asleep at the wheel. It was the second day of our first holiday together in Majorca. We both ended up in intensive care and Andy incurred a severe brain injury, a subdural haematoma, requiring emergency brain surgery. As he slept through his brush with death, I remember the dramas of being bed-bound in intensive care and dealing not only with my physical pain, but the emotional pain of knowing Andy was in a coma. I felt euphoric when I heard a couple of weeks later he had regained consciousness, but it was two years before Andy was discharged from neuro-rehabilitation, but with the following cognitive issues:
- Lack of executive function
- Lack of awareness and insight
Brain injury is a horrendous invisible injury which leaves victims terribly vulnerable as the majority of people don’t understand the behavioural effects it causes. Whilst the effects of Andy’s brain injury did affect his friendships and relationships, which sadly saw his social circle diminish, he never lost his positivity, determination and zest for life. What’s more Andy refused to acknowledge his forced emigration from good health or to be defined by his brain injury or epilepsy and wanted to keep living his life to the full. Despite the shocking catastrophe of our accident that could have strained the strongest of relationships, Andy never stopped displaying the qualities that I had first fallen in love with, his optimism, honesty, humour, irreverence and capacity to love. He was a free-spirit and a maverick, which I know could frustrate the rest of us from time-to-time, but it’s what made him Andy. Above all, he was the most kind-hearted and fun-loving person I have ever met.
Andy cared deeply for all his friends and would love meeting up with them but usually on the condition they meet in Soho House, as frankly nowhere else would do in Andy’s eyes or failing that, somewhere that sold a good Chardonnay, as Andy bizarrely refused to drink anything else and would delight in educating bar staff on the merits of Chardonnay if it did not appear on their wine list! We’ll all have our favourite memories of Andy and why he has a place in our hearts, but for me it was how he turned the everyday stresses of life into something to be laughed at, his affectionate nature with cuddles on tap and for his unfailing support. I simply could not have coped with my stressful job, dealt with my ailing parents, or completed the first two years of my PhD without Andy always being in my corner and cheering me on.
Being repurposed by the accident, meant I was personally never able to witness Andy’s professional successes as a TV producer prior to his brain injury. I was always entertained with the unassuming way he would drop out stories of his past productions. Like the first time we passed St. Paul’s Cathedral together and he told me that he produced ITV’s ‘Christmas Glory’ there with Jose Carreras, Andrea Bocelli and Kirri te Kanawa. Or the time we were enjoying a meal in the Phene pub in Chelsea and Andy points out the corner stools where he used to enjoy a lunchtime drink or few with James Best! Or the time he casually revealed to me his great friendship and working relationship with the Bee Gees spending weeks with them at their homes and recording studios in Miami and England, which resulted in ITV’s South Bank show on the Bee Gees and later on in their friendship, in-depth interviews about their private lives resulting in intriguing transcripts from all three brothers. Andy’s career highlights were being BAFTA nominated for Children’s drama ‘Little Pig Robinson’ with Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French and Timothy Spall and bringing his beloved Backgammon to the big screen on ESPN.
Since our accident, I’ve been on a rollercoaster with the ups and downs of supporting Andy with his latest TV projects, wishing he could resurrect his career and so he felt less lost professionally – his words not mine. Recently Andy was surrounded by some wonderful, loyal people supporting him in his work endeavours: Cassiah, Andy Morahan, Lene, not to mention his mother Sally, who as an accomplished TV producer, helped him try to turn his projects into reality. Recently, Andy had managed to put the noughties BBC children’s programme ‘Cavegirl’ back on TV channels all over the world and was working really hard to turn it into a movie as well as a Games App and the night before Andy died, he was working till 11 pm on his latest project of which to his great excitement he had just attached an eminent agent. It’s lamentable that he wasn’t able to realise his career aspirations post-accident, but this isn’t what makes his death so tragic.
Andy’s proudest achievement were his two daughters, Ines and Lexi, and he loved them above all else. This last year, Andy was relishing the fact that Ines was now old enough to catch a train to London to visit and he was delighted with Lexi’s gymnastic and dancing achievements. As his daughters will know, Andy loved to talk about superfoods, blueberries and practicing yoga for a healthy life, as Andy’s main ambition was to live to 100 so he could watch Ines and Lexi grow up to be the successful and beautiful young women he knew they would become. Andy would be utterly devasted to know he isn’t around to watch you both grow up and this is what makes his loss the most heart-breaking. I know he will be watching over you in his own inimitable way, to guide you through life alongside your Mummy and Mat to achieve happiness and love.
So Andy, you didn’t give me the chance to say a proper goodbye, but I hope to do so now:
Since that tragic Monday morning when you left me,
Without a clue or warning of what was about to be,
You’ve left me alone, now living an unchosen life,
One that’s full of sadness, pain and strife.
I weep as you’re now gone, I cry for your life cut short,
And the silence at home is deafening to my ears.
I walk, I talk, I carry on, as that is what people expect of me,
But when darkness falls, I cannot sleep as this is when I miss you most.
I miss your mess, I miss all you did to make me mad,
I miss you singing loudly and out of tune to all your favourite songs,
I miss your compliments, kisses and loving nature,
I’ll miss you waving me off to work from the kitchen window every morning,
I’ll miss meeting you after work for a relaxing drink and I’ll really miss our weekend bike rides with the obligatory pitstop for a calorific lunch.
Most of all I miss “us” and our future together.
I really missed the lovely Christmas we had planned, and I’ll never know what the “risky” present was you said you were going to give me.
Andy, I’d do anything to bring you back, but I can’t.
So darling, thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my best friend and for all the fun we had,
May the wind always be at your back and the sun upon your face,
And know above all else that I love you. xx