Simborg Interviews
Interview with Backgammon Player Maya Peycheva
Interviewed by Phil Simborg, 2015
Maya Peycheva has distinguished herself as a true force in the backgammon world, and certainly a contender for becoming a Giant some day in the future.

I first met her in San Antonio this year (2015) and was greatly impressed by her determination, her sense of humor, and mostly, how much fun she seemed to be having between matches.

Maya Peycheva

Please give us a little background on yourself.

I am 42 years old and live in Sofia, Bulgaria. My mother was ecology director at Sofia municipality and is now retired. My father was a big producer of alcoholic drinks. I studied in sports school. After that I studied for three years as a volleyball coach and a sports teacher, but I didn't finish.

It is not a big secret that I am divorced.(smile) Now I play backgammon and teach players to 15 in a volleyball club, "Slavia," Sofia.

I have two children — a boy, Valentin (15 years old), and a girl, Alexandra (9 years old). Valentin is playing volleyball in CSKA, Sofia. Alexandra is playing volleyball in Slavia, Sofia. The blood can't become water.(smile) (There is a saying in Bulgarian that the blood never becomes water, which is used in the case when the kids follow their parents activities.)

What interests and hobbies do you have outside of backgammon?

I have many interests and hobbies. Because of backgammon, I started to study meditation, concentration, intuition, psychology, how to control my energy, dreams, numerology 1st level. Also I am interested of astronomy, energy, volleyball, football.

Maybe it will be interesting to you that I was in the Bulgarian National volleyball team to 21 when I was 19, and I was a volleyball champion of Bulgaria for women in 1994. I have a golden real cup for the best football manager on the Internet. I have first prizes from cooking competitions, and from dance competitions (for amateurs).(smile)

How have you become such a good player? Have you read books? Taken lessons? Do you have a mentor or teacher that has helped you? What do you do on a regular basis to improve your game?

I don't think that I am one of the best players in the game, but I am sure that I am the best prepared player mentally. When I started playing, I read a few books. I never took lessons and don't have a mentor.

Because you ask about playing, I play two or three matches per day, and after them I see my mistakes. That's all. I play no more than 10 hours a week, but one month before a tournament I play and study 20 to 28 hours a week.

Do you play online? If so, where and how often? Where do you play live?

I play only on GridGammon, not more than two hours per day. Unfortunately in Sofia tournaments have stopped. We have only one tournament per week. (There once were 14 per week, all with added money.) Sometimes I miss it. I like to play chouette, but now people have stopped with it.

What advice do you have for a relative beginner to learn the game well?

It is very important to have fun and play a lot. Experience is the best teacher.

What advice do you have for experienced players such as a strong intermediate player (8.0 PR) to take his game to a higher level?

To play a lot and to work with Extreme Gammon (XG). They have to separate the game into parts and work on those parts, because otherwise it will be a mess in their minds for a long time. At first, they have to localize their mistakes — in what parts of the game they make most of their mistakes. It is important to work in small areas of mistakes.

What are your greatest tournament results and backgammon accomplishments?

Cyprus Open, 2013. But in Bulgaria, when there were tournaments every day with 64 people, I won seven in a row and I lost in the final of the eighth.(smile)

What does your average day look like?

I wake up at 12 and I drink my coffee. I play games other than backgammon online that help me improve my mental skills and carry over to my backgammon play as well. (For example, one of them is a solitaire competition, for quick thinking and concentration ... and so on.)

After that I go in the park for a walk or go to a yoga course, Oriental dances, or Latino dances. Two days per week I am in a volleyball hall to teach the little volleyball players. When I get back, I take a bath and have some dinner. I start to play backgammon online for two hours. Then I have one or two hours to do what I want. Later I watch some documentary movie. And afterwards I work on my mental preparation until I fall asleep.

Who are your heroes in backgammon — people you really respect for their play or their contributions to the game?

Paul Magriel and Bill Robertie gave much for the game. These days, I believe that both you and Mochy do so much to advance the game and teach all. I must mention Eitan, who made the best reclaim for Cyprus tournaments.

What is the weakest part of your game and what are you doing about it?

Well, my weakest part is takes. But I note that when I am concentrating well, I don't make mistakes in this part of the game.

What I am doing? I look carefully on XG at all my takes. In live play, when I am not sure if it is take, I pass — it helps me a lot.

What is your favourite tournament format (Swiss, single-elimination, dual-duel, etc.)?

I like triple elimination (FT system) because I start tournaments very slowly but by the last day I am unbeatable.(smile) With every match I play better than the previous one.

But every format has some pluses.

What is something most people don't know about you that would surprise them?

I am very good at psychology even though I didn't study it in University. I gave help to many people without money, because they helped me improve myself with their cases.

Tell us about what backgammon is like in Sofia, and in Bulgaria in general.

There is only one tournament per week in Sofia, with 16 to 32 people. The tournaments are single elimination format with re-buys. Backgammon in Bulgaria started to improve at 2001, when the first tournaments started in Sofia. Before that they were without cube.

I remember that in the backgammon tournament there were 64 players. Only six or seven of them knew something about the cube — that you can give it when you are in better position, and when you take it it means you think you can take the game. That was all that we knew.

Three people were in a few tournaments abroad, so they explained it to us. They told us about the rules also. After the first tournament, many others started. Every day had a backgammon tournament with added money and promotions in the casino and big chouettes after the tournament. Those were great times. But now backgammon here has started to die here.(smile)

How do you rank in Bulgaria? What other great Bulgarian players are there (Petko?)

We don't have ranking in Bulgaria but I have the most success abroad out of everyone. Petko has lived in the USA for many years, so I think that he is American already, but for sure he is better than all of us. Yancho Hristov is a great player. He has only 20 tournaments abroad, but already has 15 trophies.

What are your plans for future tournaments and travel in backgammon?

I have a plan to go to the Merit tournament on November and to win it. I started to prepare already, because the mental preparation takes about 5 to 6 months.

Do you have a goal to become one of the top Giants in the world some day? What do you think the odds are that you might achieve that goal, and how long do you think it would take?

Sure. I think that everybody who plays backgammon for years and goes to tournaments wants to become one of the top Giants. I am not an exception. Maybe I will be in the next Giants list there, but of course I can't be sure. Depends on how people vote. I don't know if they already accept me as a top Giant.

What players will you be putting near the top of the Giants list this year?

Akiko, Michy, Falafel, Mochy.

If you could change any of the rules of backgammon, what rules would you change (for example, do you prefer "legal moves" or dice landing on the checkers, or any other rules you like changed)?

I think it would be better if every player ccould take two breaks in a 9-point match, three breaks in a 13-point match, and four breaks in a 17-point match.

Now, in few big tournaments, you can take a break only once in match to 9 points and you can't take a break at all if the match is 5 to 7 points. Breaks are a part of the game. Usually they are used to change of the negative course of the game or for thinking about how to change your tactics according your opponent's play.

What do you think needs to be done to help grow the game and make it more popular around the world? If you were given a lot of money to run a backgammon tournament, what would you do to make it fun and interesting and attract a lot of players?

The tournament would be for one week at some interesting, romantic and not expensive place (maybe in France, in the Riviera). It is good to have only two rounds per day and mix it with some sports — table tennis, court tennis, swimming, running, jumping — and with other kinds of backgammon — Swiss tournament, chouette tournament, hyper-backgammon, Nackgammon.

It would be possible to take some city tour. Welcome cocktails and a gala ceremony must be present for sure. When you do something with your mind it is good to make some physical games.

When you get to a complicated cube decision in a complicated position at a complex score, do you do all the math to figure out exactly what your gammon-adjusted takepoint is and your recube vig, or do you rely more on your instincts, experience, and references to decide?

Depends. Usually I use my intuition, because it is really strong. Also experience helps me. Many times I know what will happen with some game at the end. It also depends of my opponent's playing style and level. Depends of many things.

When you are at a backgammon tournament, what do you do between matches? Do you study? Do you relax? Do you have any problems going to sleep at night when you are at a tournament?

Relax. Backgammon tournaments are like a test. Those who learn, learn. Those who didn't learn ... can't do it between matches.

For me it is very wrong to check the positions during the tournament, because this position probably will not appear again in this tournament. And if you see that you were wrong in some move, your confidence will disappear.

When you have a particularly unlucky streak and the dice seem to clearly be going bad for you, what are your thoughts? How do you handle it?

Try to keep myself calm, because it is very important, and change my play with an idea to making the game harder for my opponent, and to make him to lose his confidence in his victory.

Most top backgammon players are very strong at math. Are you? Have you studied math. Are you able to easily divide by 1296 over the board and do you do that kind of math over the board?

I think that I am strong in math, which is unusual for women. I never try to divide by 1296, because it is not needed for me. But I can count the pip count very fast and calculate some positions very fast.

Do you know the take points for all scores from 7-away/7-away and down? Do you know the match equities or can you quickly calculate them for all scores?

No. I think that I don't need to do that. It is enough to know when you have to be more aggressive with a cube and when not to be. If I count everything, I will be very tired after the third hour and will not enjoy of the game.

In some Cyprus tournaments, I played for 12 to 13 hours on Saturday, and for 9 hours on Sunday. It is impossible to win if you don't have enough energy for playing.

If you had to pick out one trait about your personality or mind that has helped make you a great player, what would it be? Matt Cohn-Geier (MCG) said it was his ability to home in on the most important factor very quickly and accurately and ignore the noise, for example.

It is hard for me to reach full concentration, but when I do, I can stay there for a long time. I can take a break and talk with people, but I don't lose it. I have the same quality as MCG. I don't even see the people.

When I won the final in Cyprus, in 2013, I saw the people who watched only in the pictures afterward.(smile)

Also I have a very good intuition. When I make some blunder, it usually wins the game.

Do you have a favourite story, quote, or joke?

In Monaco, in 2007, I was playing a match against Peer Rower. I was leading; I gave a cube in no double/take position. He took it and I rolled double 5's.

He was furious and asked me, "Do you want to play this as a proposition?"

I said, "No, because next time the cube might not be in the same position."

You can't imagine his expression at that moment. After a minute of silence he finally said, "So, how's that?"

And I explained, "Next time I might not know what I will roll."

What are your plans for the future relative to backgammon? What do you hope to be doing five years from now?

I don't have any plans. "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans!"

What is your favourite backgammon book and what book or books do you recommend for beginners?

Without doubt, "Backgammon" by Paul Magriel.

Why are Mochy and Falafel and a few other of the best players in the world better than the rest? What major traits or qualities do they have that make them so good?

Mochy has toughness and Japanese discipline. Falafel has intelligence and understanding of the game. They are totally different. The thing they have in common: work. They both worked long and hard to become great.

Do you have a particular philosophy of life?

Everything has a simple decision. And everything has a funny part. We have to learn to see it. Then it will be easy for us to live.(smile)

Who is your favourite tournament director?

Fuat Erdag (Turkey). In every tournament, the system is FT (triple elimination), with clocks. When you finish your match, you can go to your room and watch on the Internet how many matches are finished. Five minutes before the next round, his staff sends you an SMS to your cell phone with information on what time the next round will start, what number table you sit at, and who your next opponent will be. In this way, you can take your time fully.

What would bring more people to local backgammon clubs? To more tournaments?

I imagine that a backgammon club would have to have backgammon shop, coffee bar, and a different kind of tournament every day. Thirty minutes per day, have some video lesson (for $10, for example). Or some player could give lessons instead.

Themes could be written on the wall in the beginning of the week and when they will started. Maybe every club member gets one free lesson per month from a live teacher (because the players are different, and everyone make mistakes in different parts of the game).

Do you think you could make a living as a backgammon player?

If my area had three tournaments per week, or three chouettes per week, I think yes. It would be good if I had few students also.

Anything you care to add?

I want to tell you that backgammon for me is not only cubes and moves. It is much more. It is all philosophy and silence. As in every sport, psychology plays a big part in backgammon.

Thank you to Phil Simborg for sharing this article.
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