Simborg Interviews
The Best Novice Player in the World
Interviewed by Phil Simborg, March 2010
The Ohio State ABT Backgammon Championships at the end of March, 2010 started off in a most exciting fashion for the Rubin family of Skokie Illinois. David was entered in the Open, his wife, Jolie, was in the Advanced, and son, Lyle, was in the Novice. I predicted that at least one Rubin would win their event, because I thought all three of them were among the best in their respective divisions.

Rubin Family
The Rubin Family. Left to right: Mason, Jolie, David, and Lyle.

My predictions turned out to be very good, as David won the Open, defeating Ray Fogerlund twice in a row in the finals to capture the trophy. But just as impressive was Lyle's win in the Novice. Lyle, a 6th grader from Skokie Illinois, is a true gamer. Backgammon, chess, sudoku, cards, you name it and Lyle plays it. Fortunately for Lyle his parents, David and Jolie, are also gamers. Like they say, "the family that plays together, stays together."

Lyle Rubin won the Midwest Children's Backgammon Tournament in 2006 and 2007. No wonder I picked him to win the Novice! He might just be "The Best Novice Player in the World"!  Lyle was kind enough to grant me an interview.

How old were you when you first started playing?

I was 7.

How old are you now?


I know you learned a lot from your parents, but have you learned anything from any other source (books, articles, other people)?

I've only learned from my parents. My parents have given me a few books to look at, but I don't find them helpful. It really helps me when my parents show me a position, then explain the right play in their own words.

How many tournaments have you played in?

I play in 4 or 5 tournaments a year.

Tell us about your brother, Mason. How old is he? Does he play backgammon? What does he play?

My brother Mason is 13. (He'll be 14 on April 30th.) He does not like playing backgammon. He used to be in a lot of plays. But now he's doing a lot of stuff with Judeisum (going to services every weekend, and helping teach a first grade class).

Who is better, your mother or father?

My father is better but my mother is pretty good too. My father studies and plays a lot more than my mother.

When you play with your mother or father, is it serious or do you just joke around?

When I play against my parents we usually play serious. They really want me to learn, so they don't joke around when we are practicing.

Do you know what the take point is when you are winning 2-away/4-away?

I haven't learned how to calculate take point yet.

What other games do you enjoy? How good are you?

I enjoy playing chess. I am pretty good at chess, I've played in a few tournaments, and I normally win 3 out of 4. I also enjoy solving brain teasers, like the Rubik's Cube. I can solve the Rubik's Cube in about a minute and a half.

What kind of grades do you get in school?

In school I get straight A's. But sometimes I get a B.

Who is your favorite school teacher ever, and why?

My favorite school teachers are my math teachers. They are my favorite because math is my favorite subject.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I grow up I want like to be a math teacher. (In middle school, high school, or in college.)

Do you read books for pleasure? What kind of books?

I do read books for pleasure. I enjoy reading mystery books.

What was the most fun backgammon tournament you’ve ever entered?

My favorite tournament was the Midwest Backgammon Tournament. But now I enjoy all the tournaments.

When do you plan to move up to the Advanced Division?

I hope to move up to the Advanced Division sometime within one or two years.

When you are playing, do you count pips?

In a game when it's close to a complete race I count pips to see if I should double or not. (Or take a double.) But besides that I norrmaly don't count pips.

Do you think you will be playing backgammon seriously when you are 40 years old?

I think I will be playing backgammon when I am 40. I really enjoy playing backgammon, so I hope I will be playing it my whole life.

Has backgammon helped your math and probability skills? How do you do in math is school?

I don't know if backgammon has helped me with my math skills, but I do use math a lot in backgammon, like when I am counting pips. At school I do very well at math.

If you had to move (with your family) to another country for a year, where would you like to live?

If I had to move somewhere for a year, I would like to move to Mexico. I would like to move there because I really like Mexican food, and in 7th grade I get to learn Spanish.

What do you think we can do to get more kids your age playing backgammon?

I think having kids tournaments would help get more kids interested in backgammon. Kids really like to win, and playing against all adults makes it hard to win, but if you just have to play against other kids it gives you a bigger chance of winning.

Are you a good sport when you lose? When you roll poorly, are you a good sport?

When I lose I am normally a good sport. If I only roll poorly for one or two games, I am a good sport. But if I roll really bad for the whole match, I am not a good sport.

Do you know what a "free drop" is? What is it?

I do know what a free drop is. If you're winning 6 to 5 post-crawford, you have a free drop. This means, since your opponent is going to double you and then only going to have to win one game, you could drop the cube he gives you instead of taking it.

If you drop, it would be 6 to 6, and your opponent will still have to win one game. So you can drop that cube for free. Either way your opponent has to win one game.

If backgammon ever becomes really popular like poker, and it would be possible to make a good living playing backgammon, is that something you might like to do?

If backgammon got really popular, I would really like playing it for a living. As I said before, I really enjoy playing backgammon. So playing backgammon for a living would be something I would like to do.

When you are playing in a tournament, would you prefer your parents not watch you?

When I am playing in a tournament I would like my parents to not watch my matches. If my parents are watching it makes me feel nervous that if I make even just a tiny mistake they will get mad at me.

The following comments are from Lyle's father and coach, David.

I do not think Lyle is ready to play intermediate yet. My standards are very high, I know, but I think he needs to work on his game. He is very reluctant to take chances, such as hitting loose and slotting, and his cube play is still weak. The problem is, he has had so much success in Children's and Novice tournaments, he does not realize that much hard work is required to improve.

Games come very easy to Lyle; his success is 100% due to natural, god-given talent. This may surprise you, but we do not play at home! Our schedules are just too busy. And, as I noted, Lyle does not like to study on his own.

This year the family plans to play in seven tournaments. I think that is the most we have ever played in. Winning will do that!

Lyle has several friends that can play backgammon, and I'm sure they would play if there were more children's tournaments. I think a local, short (one day) format would attract the most children.

Thank you to Phil Simborg for sharing this article.
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