Prince Joli Kansil Profile
Las Vegas Backgammon Magazine, September 1981
Prince Joli Kansil
Prince Joli Kansil
His Honolulu Backgammon Club had over 200 members and is one of the most successful local clubs in the country. He wrote The Backgammon Quiz Book. And now he has invented a board game called Marrakesh, which Games Magazine has praised as a "fast two-player game that could well become a classic." We interviewed the noted game inventor recently and Prince Joli Kansil had a number of candid comments on backgammon, it's players, and his new game.

Q   Let's talk about Marrakesh first. Do you think the game will catch on?

"I do indeed, although it is going to be a while before the hard-core backgammon player takes up Marrakesh because of his natural reluctance to put aside a game he is expert in for one in which he has to start from scratch. But the game is catching on among all other groups of players, and the feedback from customers has been very gratifying."

Q   Why?

"In addition to luck and skill, Marrakesh has a third element — ESP: the ability to "outwit and outguess your opponent," as Martin Gardner has commented. To further compare, in backgammon you have to contend with the dice, which can be treacherous, as we all know; in Marrakesh, however, special cards are used, and the player always has control over what card he wishes to play, so there is none of the frustration of throwing bad dice. But like backgammon, Marrakesh has big swings and the excitement of being able to come from behind to win. The last two factors should appeal to players who are accustomed to playing for stakes."

Q   What gave you the idea for Marrakesh?

"In 1974, I thoroughly analyzed bearing off techniques with two, three, and four men left on the board. I became fascinated with this phase of backgammon and thought it would make a wonderful game in and of itself. I decided to use cards instead of dice. but the key rules governing the card play did not strike me until four years later when my wife and I were visiting Marrakesh, Morocco. As with the other games I have marketed Marrakesh took a bit of inspiration, but much of the game's creation was through rigorous testing and sheer trial and error."

Q   All right, before getting on to other questions, we'll let you tell the readers where they can obtain Marrakesh.

"As yet, only a few stores stock it but you can order Marrakesh by mail from: Zanadu Leisure, Ltd., Box 10-Q, Honolulu, Hawaii 96816. The price of $45 includes airmail delivery."

Q   On to backgammon. Your Backgammon Quiz Book has been both praised and damned by the critics. Do you maintain that the answers in your book are accurate?

"Backgammon theory has changed markedly even in the short time since I wrote my book in 1977. There is no question that some of the suggested answers to the quizzes are now need revision, and if a second edition is published by Playboy, these revisions will be made. Overall, though, this paperback at $2.50 is the cheapest backgammon lesson around, and readers have also found the quizzes to be a downright fun and relaxing way to sharpen their game and learn to think as an expert does."

Q   Your book employs your own Kansil Backgammon Notation which Oswald Jacoby has complimented highly. Yet, the notation system has not caught on. Why?

"Lettering the board A to Z instead of using numbers 1 to 24 makes a backgammon diagram easy to read and it can be employed to record a backgammon game as it is played — even if the players move quickly. The only flaw is that the points on an actual backgammon board must be lettered prior to the start of the play, and players have been unwilling to physically paste on letters so that the "KBN" system can be implemented."

Q   Among your other innovations in backgammon is a handicap system which a few other local clubs have adopted. How does this work?

"The players are given a rating from 5 (Beginner) down to 0 ("Scratch" or Expert). All matches are played to 15 and if a "4" player is pitted against a "1" player, the score is 4–1 at the start of the match. A tournament committee decides the handicaps and meets periodically to make adjustments. Besides rating a player, this system of handicaps makes it possible for all player to play in the same bracket. So, for example, instead of having a Championship bracket of eighteen players and an Open bracket of fourteen players, you have just one field of thirty-two and any one of the thirty-two participants has a shot at winning the grand prize."

Q   As a veteran of many years of running a successful club, what advice do you have for club directors?

"Have a strong set of by-laws which give the director almost dictatorial powers. If you have a weak, nonprofit setup and one or two members cause serious problems, the club is virtually helpless to oust such troublemakers. In contrast, if you have a strong director and an advisory board to back him up, the club can be much more effectively governed. Let's face it. Backgammon brings out the best and the worst in people. All it takes is for one petty or obnoxious player to ruin everybody's fun and, before you know it, club attendance has declined. A director must have the authority to do whatever has to be done to make the club a congenial place to play and enjoy oneself."

Q   Any advice to help directors in running tournaments?

"Be alert! It is the director's responsibility to see that one match does not drag out and slow the whole tournament to a standstill. Shorten a match, if necessary, or award penalty points to the opponent of a very slow player. Another thing: Always have the pairings done out in the open. No draw sheets should ever be rendered in the back room by only the director and one or two of his cronies."

Q   What are your general comments about the major tournaments of today?

"I do not mean to sound snobbish, but the tournaments of the mid '70s were posh affairs where players dressed well and behaved well. Nowadays, the tourneys are not nearly as well organized as were the great events of before. For example, in the $100,000 tournament of December 1979, Leslie Stone and I breezed through our first two doubles matches, but then we had a 4½-hour wait for our third rounds. And these were supposed to be speedy seven-point matches!"

Q   Who is the best player you have ever come up against?

"I would have to say Kumar Motakhasses, a Persian expert who lives in Europe. He beat me in the finals of the Consolation in Divonne in 1976, and I have never seen such mastery of the game. I had better dice, but he won handily, and he made it look so easy!"

Thank you. Best of luck with Marrakesh and your other game inventions, and we hope you continue to be active in backgammon.

More biographies

Backgammon Galore