[ View Thread ] [ Post Response ] [ Return to Index ] [ Read Prev Msg ] [ Read Next Msg ]

BGonline.org Forums

My Friend Herb Gurland

Posted By: Albert Steg
Date: Tuesday, 13 January 2015, at 3:57 p.m.

Hi. This is my first post here. I just got back from a very enjoyable tournament experience in New York, and while recording my results I needed to figure out how to spell ‘Senkiewicz’ and happened upon this lively forum. Poking around, I also happened upon the extended thread about the important ‘Legal Moves’ controversy, and was very pained to discover that my friend Herb Gurland has been ‘shamed’ and held up as a kind of poster child for unsportsmanlike play. The thread also gave me a chill because I suddenly realized that I could very well have done a similar thing this weekend and become a pariah in a community that I very much would like to be a part of for the next 40 or so years. Let me explain.

I’ve been a ‘money player’ since high school near Chicago in ’79, enjoying a small circle of players in Edinburgh in grad school and then a lively chouette at Dad’s in San Antonio. I came to Boston around ’93 and discovered a thriving scene in Harvard Square, enjoying a motley crowd of 20 or so players who would show up at various times. And I of course discovered the New England backgammon Club (NEBC) and for the first time, tournament play.

I like to think that I actually exerted a positive ethical influence in the Harvard Square $ scene, which had some mildly shady practices including condoning obvious misplays like putting your own checker on the bar, which I thought was horribly petty. But at the NEBC tournaments, the tradition was that illegal misplays would stand, however inadvertent, illegal, or manifestly boneheaded they were. It wasn’t a tradition that I would have established, but it was the tradition, and it made a certain sense to me: unlike $ play, which should be dynamic, briskly-paced, social (lots of jokes, talking smack, etc.), tournament play is BG at its most formal level, and intense presence of mind, focus, deliberateness are virtues that complement tactical and strategic acuity and might rightly be rewarded. As a player who is more liable than most to make these kind of errors because I bring a playful, loose attitude to the game, I accepted that if I wasn’t going to bear down and be serious, I might occasionally pay a cost for it. Phil made a comparison to strict golf rules that I thought was apt. And it did happen to me a few times, and NOT just with Herb. But the rules were clear and I didn’t dream of blaming my opponents for playing by them. I’m sure I must’ve been a stickler the other way as well (though I had fewer opportunities!).

So, it didn’t surprise me to hear that Herb had imposed this kind of strictness, because this was not inconsistent with what I had experienced as the norm here in Boston when I played tournaments frequently in the 90’s. I’ve only recently re-entered the tournament scene, and the recent Connecticut and New York events have been the first out-of town events I’ve attended. I SHUDDER TO THINK to think that, had I followed the “strict” rules I assumed were typical of high-level play, I might very well have been immediately ostracized among a group of people whom I hope to call friends (all the attendees at these two tournaments). In a couple of the New York matches, we forgot to discuss the ‘Legal Moves’ issue, and I expect that, given Phil’s laying out of the issue, I might very well have behaved as Herb did and ruined my reputation as a result.

Having read about the issue on this forum, particularly having heard the inspiring example of Mochy and others who have forgone such opportunities to capitalize on a mere error, I can affirm that I will always play Legal Moves for my opponent in future tournaments, whatever the rules and however my opponent might treat me, because I want to be that kind of guy and I want backgammon to be that kind of a scene, and I’ll happily give up that “edge” to my pettier opponents to make it so.

Now, about the “My Friend” part — Herb Gurland has been my most regular opponent for the past 6 years. We typically play a heads-up or chouette session twice a week. He has been consistently kind, fair, considerate, good-humored. He and Alex Zamanian run a very welcoming and fairly administered monthly NEBC tournament in Malden and Herb enjoys the high opinion and even affection of the attendees. He sorely misses his friend Walter Trice, and he’s not one of those people who value backgammon friendships by how much he can win off them. I know this because despite having a substantial edge on me in $ play, he has actively schooled me in the game, sharing his reasoning and reference positions, and helpfully critiquing my faulty play when it would have been in his best financial interests for me to repeat them. I saw him pet a dog once.

I don’t know the particulars of his offending action and I don’t mean to invalidate the feelings or perspectives of those who feel that he deserved to be “called out” on this. He may have behaved badly in this instance. (I behaved very badly once and Herb forgave me.) I just want to provide a counter-balancing perspective for those who might search for his name. I hope this won't hatch a back-and-forth argument over Herb's character or this particular incident -- this isn't really "about" him after all.

But what I hope we can see this is an illustration of how damaging to the social fabric of the backgammon community this rules controversy can be, and how productive it would be to establish a clear and common understanding of the rules and expectations, whatever they are.

See ya’ll in San Antonio.

Albert Steg Cambridge, MA

Messages In This Thread


Post Response

Your Name:
Your E-Mail Address:

If necessary, enter your password below:




[ View Thread ] [ Post Response ] [ Return to Index ] [ Read Prev Msg ] [ Read Next Msg ]

BGonline.org Forums is maintained by Stick with WebBBS 5.12.