Simborg Interviews
Philip Vischjager, 2006 World Champ
Interviewed by Phil Simborg, September 2010
Philip Vischjager Philip Vischjager is probably best known as the winner of the 2006 World Championships in Monte Carlo, but backgammon players all over the world know he is always a formidable opponent.

Can you give us some basic biographical information about yourself?

I was born on 27 October 1958 in Rotterdam (50 miles from Amsterdam). When I was two years old we moved to Amsterdam where I live now. After finishing primary school I went to college in Amstelveen.

When I finished college I studied Economics (marketing) in Amsterdam and then I became a business partner with my brother, Raymond, and we opened several casual clothing retail stores in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague and Utrecht.

We sold the stores in 1995 and we went into a leather garment production company. In 2002 we scaled back and I began having much more time for backgammon.

How did you get introduced to backgammon?

In the mid 70's backgammon was extremely popular in The Netherlands. In coffee shops, discos, and beaches, backgammon was everywhere. At least once a month there was a tournament with over 64 players. We had a club that met twice a week and there were plenty of money games as well.

As a young player, I got to watch and play with top international players. I remember Gino Scalamandre and Richard Olsen coming to play Lewis Labrosse and Japie Vischchraper—I watched them for many hours and learned much from them.

I was also doing a lot of playing and studying at the time and read Magriel, DeYong, and Oswald Jacoby's books and articles.

The bonus came at the summer season as some 15 to 20 Dutch Players went to Monte Carlo to play the World Backgammon Championship. There were no computer programs back then, so watching the greats was the best way to learn. In Monte Carlo I could watch players like Magriel, Motakhasses, Robertie, Lester, Horan, Seidel to name a few. I had no special mentors or teachers at that time but watching the strongest players helped a lot.

Nowadays you have a lot of possiblities to study backgammon including books, articles, excellent teachers, the bots of course, and excellent web sites like this one that offer positions and detailed discussions of them.

What are your favorite tournaments?

My favorite tournaments are the Nordic Open (Denmark), Portugese Open, European Championship (Velden), World Championship (Monte Carlo) and The French Open (Paris). Also I did enjoy to play (and visit) in Venice (Italy).

What was your most fun or most exciting win?

My most exciting win was, of course, The World Championship in 2006; it was like seeing a movie where you play yourself in the leading role.

How would you like to see the game of backgammon change?

I do not think backgammon has to change a lot. I feel that the tournaments matches should be—as you have advocated for some time—shorter sets of matches, say 3 two-out-of-three 7-point matches. I think the interaction between the players and organizers needs to be improved so that they work together to promote tournaments and make them more interesting and profitable for all.

What advice would you give to a new player that wants to become a top player one day?

New players can become very strong through studying the game (books, magazines and the bots). They should analyze a couple of hours a week the top players' matches and learn from mistakes by analyzing the matches they play themselves. A mentor or teacher can be very important as well.

Also a lot of problem-solving (like on your backgammon site) helps a lot to recognize the future problems.

How do you prepare for a tournament?

My preparations for the tournaments are:

  1. Opening moves, 2nd and 3rd*.
  2. Analyze matches from GammonVillage.
  3. Analyze my own matches.
  4. Training with Rogier (5-point matches).
  5. Training with the bots
  6. Problem solving with the bots.

* 3rd move, for example 5-1 slot, then 3-3 (opponent's 4 point and own 5 point) and then 5-4? Not many players can find the solution. (In the computer I do have most 3rd move solutions.)

Do you have any special tips or strategies that you think have really helped your game?

Tips/strategies that help me when playing tournaments are:

  1. Better concentration (restrain noise by putting hard plastic stuff in my ear).
  2. Relaxing before the game.
  3. Good night rest.
  4. When opponent wins a couple of games take a time out.
  5. Eat and drink enough.

The best lesson I have had is that it is impossible to do two things good at the same time. I had a tournament in South of France (Aix en Provence) and I agreed to drive to Saint Tropez (100 miles, mountains) after every playing day. It did not work at all. I was tired, not focused and lost a lot of matches. (Lesson: Backgammon or something else but not both.)

Do you play online?

I almost never play online. (I prefer to socialize, meet people, drink coffee.) I am already a couple of hours a day on internet, or busy with emails or with the bots. I feel it is enough.

What are your plans for tournament play this year?

Tournaments this year to play are: Nordic Open (April), Portugal Open (May), World Championship (July), Swedish Open (Sept), London Open (Sept), and French Open (Oct).

How many hours a week do you play backgammon?

I think all together that I play about 15 hours a week (including tournaments). Roughly 10 hours a week studying backgammon.

What's the best backgammon book or article you've ever read?

For understanding backgammon I have read Paul Magriel book (1970's), also Kent Goulding was fun to read. I do remember I read six issues of Backgammon with the Champions where a match was analyzed between Al Hodis and Eric Seidel (for example).

Nowadays I do like the books from Robertie, Trice (Boot Camp) and Woolsey (New Ideas in Backgammon).

What are your other hobbies or interests?

Aside from Backgammon I like to play golf, do some fitness (twice a week), playing cards (gin), learning Spanish (we do learn English and German at school in Holland and for my work I did speak already Italian and French).

Any other interesting facts about you?

You also asked for more about my personal life. I met my wife in 1986 and married her in December 1989. She is 7 years younger than I am.

We have two kids. My 19 year old daughter studies at the Vogue Academie (design, fashion, styling, interiors) and my son who is 18 years old plans to study Business in the USA when he finishes college. Also we have one dog (terrier from Tibet).

My mother is still living (73 years old), unfortunately my father passed away in 2005 and I have one brother Raymond (50 years old).

What are you good at besides backgammon?

I am a reasonable chess player and card player.

What do you think is needed to see the game grow?

To attract young players I think tournament organizers should create new divisions for girls and boys (for example under 21) and all players can add some money to sponsor.

The biggest problem today is that poker is much more popular than backgammon and nobody has implemented good ideas to promote backgammon in a similar fashion.

I have some really interesting ideas but the organizers are looking tired after all these years and don't seem to be willing to try new things. Maybe we need some new blood?

What do you think about clocks in tournaments?

I am very happy to see them and think they are a great addition to the game.

Who are your heroes in backgammon—people you respect either for their play or for other reasons?

Mochy, Michi, and Falafel, as they are doing so much work and putting in so much time to master the game and you can see the results of their study.

Thank you to Phil Simborg for sharing this article.
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