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It's a New Year; Let's do Something New

Posted By: Albert Steg
Date: Sunday, 20 December 2015, at 3:29 p.m.

In Response To: It's a New Year; Let's do Something New (Phil Simborg)

I think the key is fostering the popularity of 'local' backgammon scenes -- clusters of 2+ people who enjoy getting together fairly regularly (weekly/monthly) to play in chouettes and eventually set up tournaments for 'sensible' stakes -- whatever that level is for them.

While it can be a shark's come-on, there is a lot of truth to the point that you "have to play for money to learn." What the shark leaves out is that the beginner should be finding other relative beginners to play with, and play for a small but meaningful stake. Toothpicks, no. Pennies, no. But maybe just $.25 per point, so if you lose 40 pts you win a real $10 bill. If a person doesn't enjoy that level of competitiveness, sort of 'get' the thrill of simple cube-centered money play, I think it's very unlikely that he or she is going to be a person who enjoys going to backgammon tournaments that have entry fees and prize pools.

If we're hoping to increase attendance at major live tournaments, which I think is what Phil was talking about, z natural place to find people is via the online BG sites. What would it take to get more of those people to travel to tournaments? I'd think the main thing is to get smaller events going closer to those players, that feed the appetite for live play -- because as has been pointed out, the travel/lodging expenses attendant on going to major tournaments tend to be be prohibitive.

So, might there be a means of using the online BG sites to promote the formation of smaller local photo-'clubs' that gather amongst themselves and play 1-day or one-evening events (chouettes, tournaments, round-robins....)?

We have about 30 fairly 'regular' players at our NEBC monthly tournaments. How many have taken a plane flight to play a tournament in the past year? I'm not sure, but I think it might be 3. I can right away think of 3 others who are Open-level players who might occasionally do so. And I can think of about 20 others who are quite enthusiastic about the game, and are somewhere on the Intermediate/Advanced spectrum but don't play much apart from our monthlies. It might be interesting to ask these players "What would it take to get you to attend a tournament outside of our local club?" Maybe some just need to be asked -- given a sense that they are 'those sort of people' -- but maybe they just feel that backgammon has a large enough place in their lives as it is.

But, because of the travel expense issue, I think *by far* the most realistic route to substantially increasing attendance at major tournaments is to increase local turnout. Here's a genuine question: what is the ratio of local (people who can sleep at home) to traveling players at ABT tournaments? I'm guessing it's very low. What would it have been back in the 70's in cities like Boston, Chicago, LA (Leaving out the highest profile 'international' events)?

I think that deliberate and creative efforts to engage/inspire/foster local players is likely to be a lot more effective than trying to figure out how to get more Boston players to fly to Chicago -- I doubt very much that for instance, finding family activities for people's spouses/kids is going to get us anywhere (though that might be nice). I'd see it as a huge waste of money to bring a family along on a BG trip where it wasn't enormously obvious how they could have fun without me.


We play a weekly chouette on Saturdays at the same cafe in Davis Sq. Occasionally some onlookers will ask if they can watch, and we try to be good ambassadors of the game.

What if, once a month, we held our chouette at a *different* location, *targeting* a particular population of potentially interested players, and what if, ahead of time, we 'advertised' the game on local bulletin boards / social media. Let's say . . . MIT. We find an MIT-local coffee shop or tavern that won't mind our being there, and we put up fliers "DISCOVER BACKGAMMON" saying "drop by and learn a little about one of the most fascinating games of all time" or idea to that effect. You don't promise too much, but you have some calling cards printed up or maybe some sheets about the local club -- and then you just play your usual chouette like you would have done anyway, and see whether any curious souls turn up. You might bring an extra board, and one player could be checked out of the game to engage the curious people. Next month, you target the local library.

What would be useful for this sort of approach would be a few nicely-designed documents:

-- a customizable .pdf file 'advertising' this sort of gathering, maybe with this tear-off stubs -- a short, perhaps half-page flyer pointing interested people to resources for learning the game

It would also be a good idea to have another sheet offering to hold a free personalized BG 'getting started' presentation at a venue or private home -- so that a motivated onlooker might gather together a few friends potentially interested in a new pastime.

I think that when BG has been most popular, it's been a social / popular culture phenomenon. It needs to look like something people would want to get involved in. Playing on a nice-quality board in a pleasant setting with fun people in clothing appropriate to the setting is also important.

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