Question from a reader:
I'd like to know a little more about the professional life of backgammons's top players.
How do top players earn money in backgammon?
Are there any special places where top players play high stakes? What stakes?
Which are the best online sites for money play?
What you can say about the backgammon skills of Falafel, Sander Lyloff and Gus Hansen?
Who is the best backgammon player at the moment?
Bill Robertie answers:
- Best advice I could give anyone is to diversify. Although I played both tournaments and cash games, I also gave lessons, wrote books and articles, and gave lectures. Players who only play are in trouble if they have a bad year, and income from other sources can keep you going as a pro. Dan Harrington did the same thing by playing both poker and backgammon. That way he could take advantage of a good situation wherever it arose.
- There aren't any clubs in the U.S. that I know about where there are regular high-stakes games ($100 a point and up.) It's possible there's action like that in Europe or Israel right now, but I just don't know.
- I only play poker for money online, not backgammon. The same is true of most of the other players I know who play both games. I suppose TrueMoneyGames would be the preferred site if there is one, but maybe GammonEmpire and Play65 also attract players. Backgammon is much better suited to live games than online games, so I don't pay much attention to the online world.
- In 1995 I was in New York for a few days giving lessons, and I went to check out a club that had just opened on 49th street. There were only two people there that night, the proprietor and another fellow snoozing on the couch. I played the owner for a few hours at dimes, and eventually the sleepy guy woke up and came over to kibitz. We eventually told him to scram, and he went back to sleep. The owner said, "He plays for dollars, but I let him sleep here if he helps out." That guy was Falafel, and now he jets around the world to all the big tournaments. He's come a long way.
I only played with Sander once. But it was poker, not backgammon, and I didn't even know he was at the table. It was the fifth day of this year's WSOP, my M was down to 10 or so at the start of the day, and I was looking to make a move. About the 7th or 8th hand, I reraised all-in with KJ and got knocked out by a big stack with QQ. Sander had been two seats to my right, but I didn't know that until Kent Goulding pointed it out later.
I knew Gus when he first showed up in Monte Carlo as a kid sometime in the mid-1990s. He was very good right from the beginning, and his specialty was side games for big money. We never played against each other in either tournament or cash games, and after while he drifted out of the scene. The next time I saw him was on the WPT in 2003, winning a couple of tournaments.
- I don't play enough tournaments right now to give my own informed opinion. I talked to Paul Magriel a year or two ago and he thought then that Sander was the best player around. From about 1995 to 2005, Nack Ballard had the best tournament record of anyone. Falafel's record in the last few years is outstanding.
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