Welcome to The Backgammon Chronicles––a lush, two-volume, full-color cornucopia of gambling stories, character sketches, historical essays and tournament drama that will take you on an insider’s odyssey through backgammon’s last whirlwind decade––with its author, one of the game’s elite competitors, as your guide.
Introducing you to the game’s stars even as he narrates his clashes with them in a score of exotic venues, Robert Wachtel frames the action against an nuanced overview of the events and crises that have defined contemporary backgammon: the triumphant emergence of mathematical analysis and proposition play from the superstitious, pre-scientific mindset of the 70s; the advent of the artificial-intelligence programs and their virtual extinction of the game’s traditional role as a gambling recreation; the ecstatic birth and untimely death of online play; the burst of investment and enthusiasm brought to the game by the poker boom; and current trends: the outreach of Western backgammon culture back towards the game’s birthplace, the Middle East; and the efforts of the federations of the major nations to establish a viable global community.
Here are previews of the treats you’ll find in each volume. First, Volume 1:
The action begins with Volume 1 of Chronicles, in late 2008, when the formulas that had fueled a worldwide poker boom were being tested in Europe and the Middle East on the internationally more popular game of backgammon. The scene was intoxicating: games for every stake, from pennies to thousands of dollars, were available 24/7 online, with live tournaments held year-round in lavish resorts, their prize pools fortified by great dollops of money added by casinos, hotels, and assorted gambling platforms. Entrepreneurs––their eyes starry with visions of the sort of high-stakes tours, galas, books, films and TV series that had reaped easy profits for media and gaming concerns in promoting poker––were taking meetings and arranging financing.
I, your guide to the era, would never claim to have been its very best player, nor (by far) its biggest earner, but I was nevertheless one of its elite: rated among the world’s top 10 or 15; a seasoned pro and an insider; both a peer and a friend of most of backgammon’s best and brightest. You’ll meet those brilliant, quirky characters up close in these pages as I both face off against or partner with them in tournament play, and engage them in a special entertainment of my own device, dubbed by ex-world #1 Mike Natanzon (trade name: Falafel) “The Chronicles.”
Chronicles are histories; and I’ve so named these two volumes, because that is indeed what they are: episodes of my backgammon adventures. But the title has a double meaning: the books are chronicles in Falafel’s sense as well, for the special entertainment mentioned above figures prominently in many of these tales. At a major tournament I’d gather together as many highly opinionated geniuses as I could find and present them with dilemmas I’d encountered over the board––and often gotten wrong. The format always aroused their competitive instincts, provoking these backgammon giants to argue, bluster, and challenge one another, backing their preferences with hefty side bets. A lover of the game could hardly hope for a more exciting experience than watching these sparks fly. (The photo at the top of this home page is one of a typical Chronicles session. It features both the Japanese superstar and world #1 Masayuki Mochihito (Mochy) and (next to him) Falafel with an assortment of world-class players and gamblers looking on).
The Backgammon Chronicles is a travelog as well, for the tournament trail we followed was well worth photographing: from Stockholm to Prague to Copenhagen to Enghien Les Bains (a spa town just outside of Paris); to Velden (Austria), Montreux (Switzerland) and Oulu (Finland); to Oslo, Majorca (Spain) and North Cyprus; and finally, as this volume ends, into the heights of the French Alps, with a photo of me, “Frozen Warrior,” that speaks of the sacrifice required to play the game at the highest level: an altitude of almost 3000 meters amidst the peaks overlooking the French ski village of Meribel!
And Volume 2: