by Jake Jacobs
31 March 2017

Jake Jacobs

It's hard to believe that the last World Cup of backgammon was a generation ago. Many of the players back then are no longer playing. Howard Ring, the winner in 1998, has been dead more than ten years. His opponent, Johannes Lieberman, vanished from the scene before that. Many of today's players came on after the fact. Falafel was there for the US Open, but was then just a talented up and coming player. Mochy was a kid just learning to play in Japan. Kenji was about the only Japanese player anyone had heard about. Stick Rice? Matt Cohn-Geier? No, and no. Victor, Dmitry, or Petko? Nyet, nyet, nyet.

The World Cup was a collaborative effort by Kent Goulding and Bill Robertie to build a better mousetrap. They had ideas for staging the best, most professional tournament, and set out to implement them. The tournament began in Boston in the late eighties, with the spillover tournament called the Eastern Open. It moved to a Dallas suburb, and the Eastern Open was renamed the US Open.

Here is how it worked. The World Cup was held every two years; entrants paid $3900, other than the $10,000 Pro-Am, the most expensive event in backgammon. The first $3500 went into the World Cup prize pool; the $400 registration fee went toward the US Open. The Round of 64 was held on a Monday. It, and all subsequent rounds, was Best of Five, 11-point matches. The matches were clocked, among the first in the world to be clocked, with flag fall meaning instant loss for the slow player. Speaking of flags: every competitor had his or her national flag, and individual name plate at their assigned seat. Each match had its own table. The Rounds of 32 and 16 followed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Concurrently the Consolation, with 25-point matches throughout, played its way to its final four. For those out of both, there were some serious jackpots, the Rifleman's Shootout, for instance, with a thousand dollar entry, or the Armadillo Chase, one-point matches at a hundred a pop, with a $12,800 winner take all final. On Thursday everyone took a break. There were lectures, and then the auction dinner.

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