Grand Old Time

by Jake Jacobs
10 February 2013

Jake Jacobs

In late 1997 the third Giants of Backgammon list was published. Leaping from 56th place on the 1995 list to 9th place, at that time perhaps the most impressive jump in the list's young history, was Jerry Grandell. Not impressive enough for the other Swedish players, who pestered me ceaselessly. "You must admit that Jerry is the best player in the history of the world!" I would admit no such thing. I hadn't seen him play enough to know if he was even the current best, let alone the best in the history of the world. I had seen enough to think that at 9th place he was probably underrated. I heard all the usual complaints that the list suffered from American bias (undoubtedly true, though the bias was greatly overrated), and that we didn't get enough European voters. This was also true, but as I pointed out, I had journeyed all the way to the Swedish Open the previous fall, and begged the Swedes, including Jerry and all the ones pestering me now, and not one could be bothered to vote. (I had also gone out of my way to tell the world that Jerry was definitely one of the world's best, and that there was another fellow they had never heard of, who I thought ranked with the Giants, a fellow named Jörgen "Jökern" Grandstedt.) So when the World Cup and 1998 US Open rolled around (I was the defending champion after taking the title two years before) my dream was to meet Jerry in the finals of one of the events, and beat him so badly the other Swedes would claim Jerry was really Norwegian. I nearly got my wish.

Jerry had actually been in another Clash of Titans his first round of the World Cup. There was a kid named Johannes Levermann that many claimed was already the world's best player, and he drew Jerry the first round. The World Cup was formatted best-of-five eleven-point matches. Theirs went to the rubber match, and was the last match in the room, starting at nearly one in the morning. A crowd surrounded them as, tied at 2-2, Jerry redoubled to 16. There was much discussion. Was it a redouble? Was it a take? What were the double and take points in this situation, and what were the winning chances?

Jerry Grandell (Black) redoubles at 2-2 to 11

The window is very narrow, but both players found their way through it. Johannes needed 5.6% to take, and he had … drum roll please! … 6%. The parlay is for Jerry to miss while Johannes rolls two sets, and that is what happened. Johannes went on to take second place in the World Cup, losing to Howard Ring. Jerry went on to meet me in the semifinals of the US Open.
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