Martin Barkwill writes:
The WBGF World Team & Individual Championships, Forges-Les-Eaux, France, January 2020
If ever there were a hard act to follow, it is surely following Tim Cross under whose captaincy the UK team won the Worldwide Team Tournament in Tbilisi in 2016, the Nordic Open team event in 2018 and were runners up in the European Team Championships in 2017.
The name of the town where the 2020 event was held translates as the city of iron and water, however it would be more accurate to describe it as a quiet former spa town in Normandy.
We were fortunate to have at our disposal a very strong UK team consisting of:
- Grand Master Sebastian Wilkinson, currently possessing the lowest error rate of UK players according to the Backgammon Masters Awarding Body and winner of the 2016 UK tour.
- Grand Master Tim Cross, winner of many tournaments including the UK Open 2019, and Winchester, Newcastle and Manchester Opens in 2018
- Raj Jansari, winner of the Nordic Wide Open in 2016 and runner up in 2002
- Chris Rogers, European Champion in 2016 and German Open champion in 2018
- Lawrence Powell, 3rd place in the World Championship, Monte-Carlo 2018 and Bristol Open champion 2009
- Chris Bray, The Times backgammon columnist and author of several books
Team UK got off to the best possible start by winning the warmup event. The warmup team of Raj and the two Chris’s saw off the Czech Republic, Greece and Austria.
For the main event, any competing nation could have a team of up to eight at its disposal, however only four would play in any round. The format of the main event was similar to the World Cup of football with groups of five or six nations with the top two automatically qualifying and two best placed third placed teams. 17 national teams competed.
The momentum was maintained into the 1st round of the main event when we beat Gibraltar 3-1. A 1-3 loss to Austria was but a minor setback as the team rallied to beat Italy 4-0. However a major reverse occurred when we lost 1-3 to Romania. The pressure was definitely on for the final round of the group stages when we faced the mighty Swedish team. In possibly our most impressive performance we won 3-1 and secured our place in the quarter finals against Germany.
It seems that backgammon resembles football except in a few important respects like sky high wages for the latter. Our team were leading in most matches and it looked like the dream was on. As with football where we have endured much pain in encounters with Germany, the tide went against us and we ended up losing 1-3. Had we drawn 2-2 the match would have gone to the backgammon equivalent of penalties in the form of a consultation match to decide who advanced to the semi-final.
We then played in a mini knock out to separate the 5th to 8th placed teams. This was by no means a pointless exercise as our final position would affect our ranking and seeding for future events. By beating Czech Republic and Belgium in consultation playoffs after both matches ended 2-2, we ended in 5th place and discredited the notion we are useless at penalty shootouts or their equivalent. Taking into account all matches played – Team UK won 8 matches and lost 3 which is surely highly creditable.
Raj, Lawrence, Sebastian and Chris Rogers stayed on for the individual event. Lawrence reached the semi-final, Raj the last 8 of the undefeated bracket and the duo of Sebastian and Chris Rogers won the doubles tournament.
Whilst we may have fallen short of the reasonable expectation of winning these team events, I believe the results clearly demonstrate that as a backgammon nation considerable progress has been made and we can challenge any other team for the top prizes.
I am very grateful to all the players who comprised Team UK, each of whom delivered good results and with their comportment confirmed they are excellent ambassadors for the UK game. I am informed that Chris Bray will include an article in the Times on 31st January 2020 with an instructive position from the event.
The next WBGF World Team and Individual Championships are scheduled to take place in Germany in March 2021. Let’s see if we can win this one!
If you would like to be considered for Team UK in future, please get in touch with Martin via firstname.lastname@example.org. As you can see, the required standard is exceptionally high.