It is with great sadness that we report the death last Thursday of Erhan Doğrusöz, who many of you will know from his career as a manufacturer of backgammon boards.
Erhan was educated at Marmara University Sport Academy, and from there became a professional volleyball player. He then went on to work for his family’s business making and fitting industrial kitchens; while there he creatively branched out into something even more niche, building stainless steel tables for veterinary surgeons. During all this time, though, he was a fanatical backgammon player, and began making his own boards in 2002, initially supplying them for the early days of WBF Turkey.
Finally in 2007 he left the family business and turned his hobby into a full-time career. With determination, resolve and the support of his wife Özlem (who worked as a part-time English teacher) the business grew alongside Erhan’s reputation for making very individual boards. That reputation grew more rapidly once he’d established relationships with Tim Line (Europe) and Phil Simborg (US) and his boards began to be seen more widely. Tim met Erhan through a Canadian friend who had bought an Erhan board and raved about it so much that Tim just had to order one for himself – which in turn impressed many other players.
The business provided Erhan and Özlem with a basic income but it never made them wealthy; at least in part due to Erhan’s generosity in supplying boards at or even below cost price for good causes – players at Blackpool will have seen a number of Erhan’s creations supporting various charities over the years. Sadly this precluded him from taking part in some of the largest tournaments, although he did play regularly at smaller events. Erhan’s aim was always to make players feel special while they played on his boards.
Trust and goodwill is something that is felt through continents and is the result of meeting people’s wishes with our art (and a little magic) to make their dreams come true. We believe that everyone should have the privilege to be able to design their own unique boards according to their preferences and in turn our aim will be to create the board of their dreams.” – Erhan Doğrusöz – 2014
Arda Findikoglu remembers Erhan’s early career:
When I was studying university in Istanbul, I was living in a region where there was a kiosk open 24 hours and I was spending a lot of time there, working and helping the guys – and we were playing tavla sometimes, as all Turks do, of course.
One day when I learned about the cube, I told the guys in the kiosk about it, and someone just came closer to ask me how to play that game – that was Erhan. So we started playing – we played a lot – he was never a winner as he was not open to learning, but he was so stubborn so he was never giving up.
So time passed, I was graduated then started my MS. Then one day I started running backgammon events, in 2001. He [Erhan] started playing in my club in 2003. His first event, he finished 3rd. He was coming to every tournament, playing with us all the time.
Then one day he said “why don’t we create our own boards as we always have to buy them from outside?”. Knowing that he was a technical drawer, I asked him if he could manage it; he said of course he could. I remember the first board was full of mistakes but he was trying hard. People who got the idea from him tried the same stuff as well but he was the one who mentioned the idea to produce our own boards, so I stayed on Erhan’s side. People were even making fun of his products but he never gave up… and I kept on supporting… every product was a bit better than the one before, then when I was satisfied with the products one day, I put them as prizes in my Istanbul Open, and so his worldwide story started.
He never did became a top player; he won a couple of our regional tournaments though, and in 2012, he was miraculously winning the Grand Finals for which everybody was very happy for him.
He was a good man, with his own mistakes but a clean heart; he had his own ideas about the game and about organization, sometimes he was arguing with me, however he never left our cause. So it is my duty to give the needed care to his family now as he is gone.
Erhan sold over a hundred boards via Tim and several hundreds in the US via Phil – all were individuals and many designed specifically by their future owners. At one tournament Tim observed at least thirteen Erhan boards in play. In addition, Erhan made customised board surfaces to give the UKBGF’s ageing Hector Saxe boards a new lease of life, which are regularly seen at UK Tour events, as well as surfaces for BMAB and the World Championships. It may surprise readers to know that the playing surface makes up as much as a third of the total cost of a board, and is arguably the most important part as it determines the whole “feel” of the board; getting that right makes a lot of difference.
Erhan’s work guaranteed him nominations as Board Designer in the British Backgammon Awards every year from a very loyal following, coming within one vote of winning outright on occasion. And in 2018, although already seriously ill and unable to be with us in person, he received the Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Backgammon in recognition of his lifetime’s work and his support for a range of charities.
Özlem is still dependent on the income from the boards and will be continuing the business for the foreseeable future with the assistance of past employees, and the business will keep its ethos of making something very special and personal for each customer. You can find out more and see many examples of their work at the 869bg website.