Moving an event to a new venue is always a worry. No matter how carefully you check the place out beforehand, you don’t really know whether there are going to be any nasty surprises until the weekend of the tournament.
Over the six iterations of this event I have certainly had some bad moments. My worst was probably arriving at Coombe Abbey with a van full of boards and other equipment on the Friday morning of the 2017 UK Open weekend to discover that, in spite of meticulous instructions supplied to the venue months in advance, the trestle tables were set out as if for a wedding reception. This may not sound too serious – there were certainly enough chairs for the expected number of players; however, they were placed so close together that there was far too little space on the tables for boards….and there wasn’t a single spare trestle table left on the premises!
I briefly considered abandoning everything and ‘doing a runner’. It was past 11am and I was certainly not optimistic that Coombe Abbey would even be able source the several dozen extra trestle tables required at such short notice, let alone get them delivered and in place before the first dice were due to be cast less than two hours later.
Miraculously this story had a happy ending, but that didn’t stop me from having a recurring ‘trestle-table nightmare’ during the lead up to subsequent UK Open tournaments! For our first time at Woodland Grange I was therefore a little apprehensive.
As it turned out everything went (reasonably) smoothly, thanks in no small part to the extremely helpful Woodland Grange staff. The new venue was much better in almost every respect than both previous ones. If you attended this year’s UK Open you should shortly receive a request to complete a feedback form. Please do this straightaway so that we know what you think was good and what needs to be improved for next year: preparations for the 7th UK Open have already started!
Of course there is always room for improvement, but comments so far have been universally positive about the venue and the terrific TD team which Raj Jansari and I were fortunate to have in place: Mark Calderbank, Sean Jones, Shaun Goode and Rose Pfeffer-Ward. In addition, we had Mate Feher doing a great job on match-streaming, and Karen Jones expertly handling merchandise sales as well as looking after the Social players. I must also thank several players who performed a dual role: Julian Fetterlein who delivered his new seminar, ‘Backgammon Top 10’; Darren Woodcock who was in charge of hotel liaison; Ben Owen who drove the van and offered help wherever it was needed; plus several volunteer match commentators including Chris Bray, who was not playing in the tournament but delivered expert commentary remotely from his home.
Our guest of Honour this year was the Croatian Grandmaster, Mislav Kovačić, who hosted a private dinner on the Saturday evening. Mislav made his trip to the UK worthwhile by coming second in the Super Jackpot – Jason Pack triumphed in the final.
We are again very grateful to our sponsors, Geoffrey Parker Games, who generously donated board vouchers to be presented to the highest finishing UKBGF members in the main flights.
This was the best attended UK Open to date, with 88 Masters (of whom 23 entered the Super Jackpot), a full field of 64 Intermediates (that’s never happened before!), and a few Social players. The latter group was rather sparse, but a few of the Social players from previous years have now ‘upgraded’ to the Intermediates, which I count as a plus.
The UKBGF AGM at 5pm on the Friday was a lively affair this year, with some viewpoints forcefully expressed…but better an engaged membership which cares than an apathetic one which doesn’t! The AGM was followed by the free drinks reception, courtesy of Abbey Grange, during which the 2019 British Backgammon Awards were announced. I won’t go into detail here about the awards winners, or even the tournament winners, who are all listed in the Tour Results blog post – but I will just mention the Masters Champion, Tim Cross, who (for him) has been going through something of a lean period recently. Tim has just completed a magnificent four years as UK Team captain. Now he has the individual title of UK Open Masters Champion to add to his collection, as well as all the UK Team titles achieved under his leadership.
I’m not even going to say any more about the event itself. All the 2019 UK Open tournament brackets can be found on Mark Calderbank’s results site. You can get a good feel for the atmosphere this year from David Startin’s 2019 UK Open album in Flickr – the photos in this post are from David’s album except where indicated otherwise – and you can re-live the excitement of the streamed matches (with commentary) on YouTube. Even if you couldn’t make it to the UK Open yourself this year, I hope that you have heard good things from players who were there. In case you haven’t, here is an account from a relatively inexperienced Intermediate for whom the UK Open was their first big backgammon event. Maybe this will persuade you to come next year….?
“Fancy a weekend away in a nice hotel? Good food, good company, play some backgammon? End of August?” This was the text message that beguiled me into entering the UK Open, back in the early days of spring, when sunshine first kissed the daffodils and made me dream of long summer evenings, BBQs and backgammon al fresco.
I clicked on the link in the message and scrolled through the hotel website… “Very nice”, I thought, “£75 all-inclusive? Breakfast, dinner AND lunch?! Bargain!” What’s the catch? Hmm…maybe the catch was in the backgammon? I visited the UK Open website and read it very carefully… £35 for the whole weekend? Including refreshments and snacks?
“OK” I texted back. A few clicks and I was registered, and the whole thing forgotten for the next six months…
As the weekend got nearer, I confess a certain trepidation. What the hell had I signed up for? Everyone knows tournaments are full of sharks, weirdos, and backgammon buffs, plus I’m a really crap player and only win when I get lucky dice. I was going to get chewed up and spat out; and no mistake, this was a BIG mistake.
So it was that I stood at the desk on Friday afternoon and whispered my name to the TD. “Welcome!” he beamed. Cowed by room after room filled with end-to-end tables packed with backgammon boards and the hustle-and-bustle of 200 people, I felt like an ant standing under an elephant. He patiently explained the various pools, side events, and main event as if I were the only person in the room, before finishing with “Well, good luck, and anything you are unsure of, don’t hesitate to ask, that’s what we’re here for… oh, and here’s a lucky doubling cube to help you on your way.” A lucky doubling cube? Wow! But would it help me face the sharks and weirdos?
Later that evening I sat at table 42, nervously clutching my lucky cube, waiting for my first shark or weirdo. Neither showed up to play, just some bloke from London. Thirty minutes and 5 points later, nerves had won and I had lost. Maybe his lucky cube was luckier than mine? Maybe he thought I was a shark or a weirdo? But no time to ponder the caprices of the cruellest game, my next opponent was approaching. A flashed smile from the player next to me, a stage-whispered good luck, and I was shaking those dice, my fate sealed by Lady Luck and a complete lack of skill…
…Fast-forward to the end of the weekend. And what a weekend it was! That poor doubling cube never left my hand, and it didn’t bring me any luck; well, not the kind of luck I wanted, but exactly the kind of luck I needed. Everyone I played was like the guys I play on club night, friendly, normal, and not at all like the sharks and weirdos I was expecting. The serried ranks of boards, at first daunting, quickly became comforting from the shared camaraderie and war-stories told whilst waiting for the next match to begin. The huge projected timetable told me where I was supposed to be and when, so that I had plenty of time to catch up with friends, make new acquaintances, have coffee, lunch, or a gentle stroll in the grounds. And the TDs… God Bless the TDs, for their limitless patience, ready humour, and helpfulness. They were truly the stars of the show.
How did I do? I won as many games as I lost, but I gained masses of valuable experience from playing so many different people. I had a lot of fun, made new friends and reconnected with lost ones. I even learnt a few things to try out next club night 😉
Next year? Damn right! See you there…
Ray Ted 1476