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WSOB 07/08 "Champagne moments" by Will Cockerell

Posted By: Andy Bell
Date: Friday, 22 August 2008, at 1:02 p.m.

WSOB Reporter Will Cockerell’s Top Ten Champagne Moments from WSOB 2007-2008

10 Koca-Hansen, WSOB Round Three, Riviera Cup Final.

This fantastic conclusion to the PartoucheGammon.com WSOB RIVIERA CUP saw Great Dane Gus sink deep into the mire against UBK as he is now known on the message boards (“Unflappable Bob Koca”).

8-2 to UBK in quick time before Gus showed all of his best grafting abilities and poker bluffing doubling skills to force the match into DMP. Gus briefly went favourite to threaten a fairytale comeback, but UBK flapped over the line.

9 Doing An Olsen.

This could just become everyday backgammon parlance, and is already used in my local chouette. It refers to voluntarily leaving yourself odd at the back with your opponent closed out on the roof, giving yourself a bad 55 or 66. To lose due to this error is said to be “internet dice” due to the freakish nature of the parlay; but it CAN happen and did in spectacular fashion to poor ACO (Andreas Christian Olsen) in his WSOB Championship match with world champion Trabbi. It cost ACO, Denmark’s number-3 ranked player, a cool 20,000 euros in equity.

8 Excitement of the WSOB Race.

The Riviera Cup crackled with intrigue all throughout the Main, the Consolation and the Last Chance. Top players everywhere behaving like kids in a candy store gazing with pleading eyes at the big jar of gobstoppers just out of their reach. My only quibble is that less than a handful spots were up for grabs… Next time around perhaps WSOB might open things up a little more, to say, 12 live qualifiers, and then get set for the fur to really fly! Also, perhaps the winning of a major event is triumph enough, and shouldn’t guarantee entry to the WSOB championship. This would mean that the tournament winners won’t have the option to sit the other events out, as John Hurst cannily did. (Agreed, ED)

7 Nicky Check-Kenny Nissen, Riviera Cup Quarter-final.

A real classic, between a juggernaut: chairman of the Danish Backgammon federation, and a nervy, edgy, at times hyper-ventilating British journeyman who tends to have his fans peeking out from behind the furniture – watching Nicky play is not for the squeamish. The match went to the formbook with Nissen grinding Check down for the 8-3 lead, before Check dug in deeper than he ever has before to find himself leading 11-10. Nissen wins the next and it’s Crawford. Checks blitzes for all he’s worth and with the help of a magical 22 closes out Nissen for the all but certain gammon and win. Unless he gets hit off the roof. He does! So close to a famous victory, but surely not to be. But Check wriggles, and wriggles some more. The crowd are spellbound. Check somehow gives himself a 66 shot from Nissen’s ace-point to spring himself to game, set and match. IT’S THERE!

6 Undisputed Success of the WSOB “Final Table”.

Backgammon’s longest day, it will live in memory for all who saw it. There were some magnificent matches, two of which are listed in their own right below, and moments of scintillating drama. One thing for sure, the short matches still gave ample opportunity for the players to show moments of incredible skill: Bob Koca’s Take against Falafel being the shining example. Being blitzed to kingdom come, Koca’s fabulous Take gave him the passport to go on and win the match. And why did he take? Because he’d studied the position in practice. Not luck therefore, just skill. There was a flip side too: the high pressure combat produced some incredible blunders. Rzymann’s 44 in the bear-off let in Andrieu for a 100,000 euro jackpot, Olsen (above), and of course Carlsson infamously neglecting to point-on Simonsen’s head. Amazing – errors you wouldn’t normally see in a 1000 games of live play.

5 Rzymann-Mathiesen, WSOB Round Two, Nordic Open Final.

This fantastic match captivated the huge crowd. The purist Mathiesen, well known for his coaching abilities, against the wild and wily Rzymann, who never knows when he’s beaten. Rzymann had two major problems in the match: being constantly behind, and screaming for a comfort break. However, he had used up both the breaks he’d been allocated so had to quite literally sweat it out. A remarkably inspiring comeback saw Rzymann go 16-14, but Mathiesen had him locked in a seemingly hopeless deuce point game in Crawford. Rzymann hit a last gasp shot, and the race was a nerve-shredder. It came down to Mathiesen needing a double off his last throw. Great theatre as he prowled the studio floor, taking run-ups and flinging his dice all over the stage – anywhere but the board. Finally, miraculously both dice found their target, but Mathiesen couldn’t find the double.

4 Hurst-Plenz, WSOB Round One, the UK Masters Final.

A magnificent match full of some spectacular moments, even better than the brilliant Hurst-Westerman semi. Both matches often involved Hurst rolling jokers sent straight from the angels, or almost maniacal cube action by said party. The final DMP game remains with all who saw it. Breathless punch and counter-punching, with Hurst squeaking home when all seemed lost. Hurst’s cube action all throughout the UK Masters was the key to his success, and he is deserves the plaudits for his fearless approach.

3 Falafel-Bredahl WSOB Quarter-Final.

Backgammon’s equivalent of Federer-Nadal. The world’s number one versus Bredahl who sailed to both the Nordic and Riviera Consolation Finals – a remarkable achievement, which makes Bredahl arguably the world’s hottest tournament player right now. The two gladiators cancelled each other out, and arrived deep into the DMP game with the identical positions of both trying to bearing in against the 4-point off the ten point. Incredible tension as Falafel it was who left the shot, Bredahl uncharacteristically missed and we were into a nip and tuck race after Bredahl’s 44. Falafel won by a whisker. Scintillating drama, with 40,000 euros at stake. And mind you, Bredahl’s match with Tardieu in the previous round wasn’t bad either!

2 Hurst 8-cube to Krancheva, Quarter-final, UK Masters.

For me, the most exciting single moment of the whole year. To remind you, Krancheva had already cubed Hurst to 4 earlier, correct by just 0.003, and now here, with the match score 4-2 to Hurst, he cubes to 8 with two on his 6 point, and then one, one, one, one. Krancheva has three on her six-point and then gap, one, one, one. And Hurst IS ALSO correct by 0.003 to cube!! But what guts to lay the match on the line like that – pure instinct, he thought for less than five seconds. The cube is doubly brilliant, not just for its wafer-thin correctness, but for Hurst reading his opponent expertly. He felt there just a small chance Krancheva would incorrectly pass. Which…after some considerable anguish…and much reflection… SHE DID!! It’s a triple blunder and gave up around 10% in match-winning chances. Backgammon is not a game for the faint-hearted, and here we saw huge courage – and a very faint heart.

1 Falafel vs Korper, WSOB Championship round of 16 (R1)

A true David and Goliath contest. If ever a match captured the spirit and thrilling nature of backgammon this was it. The number one Giant versus, quite literally, the million-to-one outsider. This is what Dutchman Aron Korper would have had to do to win the WSOB, by winning TWENTY matches in a row. Korper was just what you’d expect someone who had never played a live event and paid just 4 euros to win a 10,000 euro seat to be like: nervous, perspiring, wide-eyed, star-struck, slightly over-awed, but with a polished, tight, no-frills game that the harsh world of internet backgammon will often produce. Falafel dominated the first two games, but slipped-up badly in game two by being too afraid to cube when up in the race. Finally, he cashed, and Korper grimly claimed Crawford. The DMP game will live long in the memory: the crowd in the players ‘Green Room’ baying for Korper’s blood, whilst at the same time cheering vociferously for the underdog to put out arguably the biggest threat. The atmosphere was electric as Korper ran into real time trouble… and was desperately trying to time a complicated 2,4 back game. But he was staying afloat; Falafel was going to leave shots here! THERE’S the DOUBLE SHOT! But Korper couldn’t find the hit. Another shot! Missed again, and Falafel was home, but only just. What a battle.

-----------------------------

So it’s all over. Three great tournaments, and one sweet cherry on top in the form of the WSOB Championship. It won’t be easy to wait a few months to do it all over again. I, for one, will be there, determined to improve on my record of 11 wins, 9 losses, this time around. Falafel will be there too, he writes to me:

“A fantastic end to a great competition. I’m looking forward to next season’s events.”

And the last word goes to Carter Mattig: “How many French photographers are needed to beat four Danes?”

“Just the one.”

And such is the mystery – and magic – of backgammon. Although three big name players made it to the semis of the WSOB final table, that element of luck allowed the unknown amateur to sneak in and win the jackpot.

Bye for now!

Copyright World Series of Backgammon Enterprises Limited/ Will Cockerell 2008

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