Backgammon Hall of Fame

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Although Backgammon has a history dating back to Roman legions playing “Duodecim Scriptorum” and even earlier, it is only recently that the game has become globally organised. The very first annual World Backgammon Championship was conducted in Las Vegas in 1967 before moving to the Bahamas in 1975 and then its current home in Monte Carlo in 1979. It was not until 2001 that the World Backgammon Association made its debut.

Since then, talk of establishing a formal “Hall of Fame” has flooded backgammon forums on the Internet, and players have enjoyed speculating about who deserves to be recognised among the true greats of the game. Chief among the proponents for some form of permanent enshrinement are those who track player statistics and the outcomes of major tournaments.

For example, on its “Hall of Fame” page, Backgammon Galore keeps a record of all World Championship winners and runners-up. The listings also include World Amateur Championships from 1978 to 1985, World Cup winners from 1988 to 1998, Nordic Open Winners since 1989, Worldwide Backgammon Federation European Champions since 1990, and the top three finishers of the American Backgammon Tour since 1993.

Also beginning in 1993, Yamin Yamin of Illinois set about conducting a biannual survey of championship-level players and tournament directors around the world. He asked them to rank the best currently active players, based upon both their tournament skills and side action. The result is the “Giants of Backgammon” list, which many refer to as the most accurate indicator of the world’s best players.

The very first two Giants to be named were Americans, Wilcox Snellings (1993 & 1997) and Mike Senkiewicz (1995). They were followed by Sweden’s Jerry Grandell in 1999. The new millennium opened with a hat-trick of top honours claimed by Nack Ballard of the USA (2001, 2003 & 2005). Then came Falafel Natanzon of Israel (2007 & 2011) and Masayuki Mochizuki (2009), proving that backgammon has become a truly international sport.

Backgammon London lists among its “Hall of Fame” members the winners of previous London Open events: Germany’s Uli Koch in 2009, Norway’s Arild Idsoe in 2010, and the United Kingdom’s own Simon Barget in 2011. Meanwhile, the U.S. Backgammon Federation maintains a “Winner’s Hall of Fame” that includes only the winners of USBGF sponsored events. Similarly, the World Series of Backgammon has featured only WSOB winners on its “Hall of Fame” list since 2006.

If the various backgammon authorities of the world seem to have trouble agreeing on who the top players are, the debate is even hotter when it comes to identifying the most important “contributors” to the game. Writing for Gammon Village Magazine in 2007, Steve Sax suggested a shortlist of potential Backgammon Hall of Fame candidates, resulting in considerable blowback.

“Blimey,” wrote Michael Crane. “I spend 34 years of my life (so far) connected with backgammon, 19 of which (again, so far) have been as the Director of the British Isles Backgammon Association (BIBA), and I don’t get a mention?”

Meanwhile, Phil Simborg quipped, “I believe you’ve left out an entire category that is most important to the game of backgammon: humor! Without those folks that brought joy and fun to the game, I know that many of us would not have been so interested in going to tournaments at all. In this category, there is one, clear champion who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame: Peter Kalba.”

Others recommended tournament directors like Pat and Carla Gibson, who for more than a quarter century hosted tournaments twice a week semi-annual regional tournaments in the Los Angeles area. One responder said, “A gold medal should be awarded to anyone who is contributing to the growth and popularity of the game in his country.”

So there is no shortage of nominees for a Backgammon Hall of Fame, nor is there a lack of interest in the world’s backgammon community. All that’s missing is an official location and system for vetting inductees.

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