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

Posted By: Timothy Chow
Date: Saturday, 26 December 2015, at 8:42 p.m.

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

I agree with what several others have said, that money is a serious limiting factor.

Let's suppose, however, that some benefactor is willing to sponsor a new type of event. (While this may be a pipe dream, it is not impossible; I'm thinking for example of Millionaire Chess.) Then my vote would be to revive the 'Giants Invitational' but with a few changes. To explain my reasoning, let me back up a bit.

For a game like backgammon or chess, non-players typically have just enough space in their brain to hold one name—the name of the "best player." That name might be Bobby Fischer if you're American or Viswanathan Anand if you're Indian or Magnus Carlsen if you're Norwegian. The point is that one should not estimate the power of having a "celebrity" at the very top to attract people's interest. The tremendous growth of chess in India cannot be singlehandedly attributed to Anand because people at all levels put in enormous amounts of effort to support chess, but at the same time, Anand's success clearly had a huge influence on the next generation, and I don't think chess in India would be what it is today without him.

In backgammon we don't have a Fischer or an Anand or a Carlsen or a Kasparov. There is a "World Championship" but no backgammon player thinks that winning that tournament by itself gives you a halfway (or even tenthway) credible claim to being the best player in the world. The #1 Giant has a better claim to that title but since the Giants vote is a popularity contest, it suffers from some credibility issues.

This brings me back to the idea of a revamped Giants Invitational. What I envisage is something like this.

1. Some fixed number (say 8–12) of Giants are invited to participate. Just go down the list until you get enough acceptances.

2. Every player should be guaranteed a slight profit just for showing up and playing all games. That is, the sponsor would cover travel and hotel and a moderately generous per diem.

3. The format should be round-robin. Each pair of players will play two matches. If each player wins one match then the overall PR of the two matches will serve as a tiebreak. Overall PR for all matches in the tournament can also serve as a tiebreak for the tournament as a whole. Your ranking in the tournament determines how much prize money you take home.

Some details of the format might need to be changed but the point is to try to maximize the skill element. It would be nice to make the outcome depend only on the results of matches, but there is no way to play enough matches in a reasonable amount of time to make the result a credible test of skill rather than of luck, so PR is introduced as a compromise.

The outside world would, I think, be better able to comprehend the notion of the winner of such a tournament as being "the best player in the world." It would at least be more comprehensible than "#1 Giant" or "lowest PR". Even internally in the backgammon world, we might come to accept the outcome of such a tournament as a good, if not perfect, indication of who the world's best player is.

One weakness of the system is that the invitation process is based on the Giants list, which has well-known problems. Over time, however, I can imagine the selection process becoming fairer.

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