Last year I incautiously mentioned to a few players that my club (North East Backgammon Association, aka NEBA) were minded to host the 2019 UK Clubs Championship. Several of those I used as a sounding board expressed caution that holding the event in the Far North would be a deterrent and we would be challenged to match the attendance of previous years. I am therefore very grateful to my NEBA colleague, Keith Gill, for recommending York University as a possible venue and for making many site visits to check on its viability, suitability of the proposed playing room, facilities and likely costs.
The playing room was more than adequate for 120 players representing a record 24 club teams as well as tournament officials. Despite prior assurances, we did experience some problems with the availability of food on the campus. On the positive side there was ample parking, low cost overnight accommodation, and local shops and a pub in nearby Heslington village just over two miles from York city centre. The pub and kitchens in the student accommodation provided opportunities for chouettes and social play throughout the weekend. Many players took advantage of the limited spare time available to visit the historic and picturesque city of York or amble around the grounds of the campus which feature architecturally pleasing buildings, lakes and wildlife including ducks and rabbits ambling around.
York is less than two hours by train from London and has good links to services from the Midlands, North West & Scotland. Of course the rail services are only good when a freak power cut doesn’t bring services down the entire length of the country to a standstill…but that’s another story!
The event had not attracted Scottish clubs before although a Scottish & Newcastle team triumphed at the National Team Tournament organised by Phil Tutchings in Coventry in 2012. We were therefore delighted that not one, or even two, but three Scottish clubs entered the competition.
The World Cup format was preserved with the refinement that teams were placed into six groups of four, and only the first placed team in each group qualified for the Last 8 Knockout. The last two knockout spots were taken by the two highest placed runners up from all six groups. The first seven such qualifiers were easily identified but, as there was a tie for the eighth place, a one point playoff was necessary between Eric McAlpine (captain of St Albans A) and Danny de Meester (captain of Thame). Given what was at stake, a large crowd formed around the two players who treated us to a nail-biting game which appeared to be heading first one way and then the other, several times. Simon Barget has posted a video of the entire game on Facebook (shared to the UKBGF Facebook page) so anyone may relive the tension. Whoever alleged backgammon is not a spectator sport?
The Last 8 qualifiers were:
North West League
In the quarter-finals, Thame beat host club NEBA A, Ealing A put out the defending champions North West League, Glasgow defeated the second furthest travelled team of Sussex and Liverpool A defeated Ealing B.
The Thame team had suffered the misfortune of a player withdrawing at late notice due to a bereavement and were scrabbling for a replacement until two days before the event. Consequently, their expectations were not great; nevertheless the team proved good enough to defeat a very strong Ealing team 3-2 in the semi-final. There was plenty of drama in this encounter: four of the five matches were split two-apiece, leaving Peter Bennet vs Robin Oliver to decide the result. At 4-4 in their match to 5, having forgotten that he was low on time while trying to work out his backgame strategy, Peter timed out (although he had the worst of it anyway). In the other semi Glasgow defeated Liverpool Movers also by a 3-2 margin.
The two teams who sat down for the final which commenced at 6.10 pm were probably not the two most fancied teams and another close match ensued. Neil Webb drew first blood for Glasgow, but Danny DeMeester equalised for Thame. (Danny won all his seven matches on the day including the tense one-point playoff against Eric.) James Newman then edged it in Glasgow’s favour. The last two matches finished almost at the same time with Zigi Fibert winning for Thame and Ian Hesketh (who along with Alastair Woods was a member of the Scottish & Newcastle side in 2012) clinching the championship 3-2 for Glasgow.
Glasgow were worthy winners. It is a recently formed club run by Ian McFarlane and they meet at the Crystal Palace pub in Jamaica Street on most Monday evenings.
The Thame club was formed by Cheryl Oliver just 18 months ago. They run a Swiss tournament on the 2nd Thursday of each month, at the Mercure Thame Lambert Hotel, just off Junction 6 of the M40.
In the Consolation event, St Albans A compensated for their disappointment in the earlier playoff by defeating Worcester Royals in the Final.
As an enhancement to earlier years, prior to the main event an individual tournament was held on the Saturday. A full field of 64 players took part, evenly split between the Masters and Intermediate divisions. Although the Intermediate category was restricted to players with a UKBGF rating of below 1600, that did not discourage a couple of players with a much higher rating to unsuccessfully apply! Tim Parfitt beat Kev Jones in the Masters Final and Steve Allott beat David Wallbank in the Intermediate Final. Awards of two free Backgammon Workshop lessons were given to UKBGF members who were the winners and runners up of the Intermediate Main, Consolation & Last Chance. This special prize was funded by the UKBGF as part of an initiative to motivate intermediate players to reach the next level and this support is much appreciated.
I am grateful to the following for their hard work in making the event work. Keith Gill, who is also the TD for the Newcastle Open, acted as the liaison with the university and also as TD on both days. He was ably supported by Roger & Kate Porter. The event benefitted considerably from the help we received from Laura, the university events coordinator. A very big thanks is due to all the clubs who supported the event and their organisers, especially Aberdeen and Sussex; by my reckoning the two furthest travelled clubs.
Last, but certainly not least; a special mention is due to Phil Tutchings who instigated team events in his home city of Coventry. The trophy is rightly named after him. The event has proved very popular, attracted players with no prior experience of tournament play, and it is clear that many players try even harder for their team than they would in an individual match. Phil intended to play in this year’s event but work commitments prevented his appearance. Perhaps in a future event we will be treated to the spectacle of Phil (no mean player as he is the current BIBA British Open Champion) holding aloft the Tutchings Trophy!
UK CLUBS CHAMPIONSHIP
Runners up: Thame
Consolation Winners: St Albans A
Consolation Runners up: Worcester Warriors
Main winner: Tim Parfitt
Runner up: Kev Jones
Semi finalist: Ian Gwynne
Semi finalist: John Wright
Consolation Winner: Peter Bennet
Runner up: Neil Webb
Semi finalist: Jamie McPherson
Semi finalist: Rachel Rhodes
Last Chance Winner: Emad Salib
Runner up: Crispin Duke
Champion: Steve Allott
Runner up: David Wallbank
Semifinalist: Andy Maisey
Semifinalist: Brenda Rafferty
Consolation Winner: CJ Uttley
Runner up John Horton
Semi finalist: Mike Snowdon
Semi finalist: Dorothy Lee
Last Chance Winner: Michelle de Havilland
Runner up: Pete Hodson