Forum Archive : Tournaments

Clocks and older players

From:   Stick
Date:   30 July 2010
Subject:   Article from June 2010 Chicago Point by Larry Leibster
Forum: Forums

This article is from June 2010 Chicago Point by Larry Leibster.

                                BG Peeves

                            By Larry Liebster

    I am an octogenarian.

    It has its benefits. In some cities the buses have special seats for
    us. The movies let us in for less money. There are senior discounts at
    certain stores. It's like they are saying, "We know you are slowing
    down and having difficulty moving around, so we will try to make it
    easier for you to be here. We appreciate and respect you."

    Not so in backgammon these days. The powers that be want to "improve"
    our game -- speed it up at any cost. They have introduced clocks and
    made them mandatory in a number of divisions including mine.

    Clocks change many aspects of backgammon including the handling of
    dice. I am used to picking them up to end my turn. I have my own dice
    in money games (which I play a lot of), but in clocked matches, one
    pair of dice is shared and you end your turn by pushing a button. So I
    am required to switch back and forth. You say this is easy to learn and
    do? For younger players, maybe. But I've been doing the same thing for
    decades, so it is much harder for me.

    I have had speedy players request a clock with me, probably to gain an
    advantage. Sometimes they complicate their movement of checkers to
    distract me and use up time. I do not mean complicated games. I mean
    picking both checkers up, holding them, and then positioning and
    repositioning them. So now I have to shift my concentration away from
    strategy, pip count, and clock use to remember where the checkers
    started and see if they were placed correctly.

    Clock use fosters abuse like this. I guess as we move up the skill
    ladder, we'll all have to accept this if we want to continue to play
    tournament backgammon.

    I have dined with tournament directors and they all express the same
    concern: where are the new players going to come from? In my opinion,
    they should be making it easier to play the game, not more complex.

    Sir, what's that you say? You don't know what an octogenarian is? Your
    mother tongue is different and this is not in your vocabulary? I
    commend you for trying to survive in this world, but the powers that be
    do not want you. English is the official language of backgammon. They
    have limited access to the game for foreigners, and now they're going
    after the slower-moving individuals.

    In my lifetime, I have seen purification tried before in Nazi Germany.
    Their goal was the creation of a blond, blue-eyed master race. To reach
    this end, they eliminated those considered to be the negative parts of
    their society. Now it's starting in backgammon.

    You say, "Why are you making such a fuss?"

    At three different tournaments, I have lost matches on time. I have
    traveled a long distance and paid substantial money only to be
    disqualified. I have had trouble handling the clocks (there are at
    least three different types in use, usually requiring a director to set
    up), picking up (sometimes dropping) both dice, not hitting the clock,
    and just thinking about my moves.

    I am doing my best to adjust; but I also wonder about new players
    entering the Championship. Will they stay with backgammon, or go to a
    game that is more accommodating?

    I only have about twenty years left to play, and I want tournaments to
    exist until I leave. With clock use expanding, I'm beginning to have my
    doubts that the game can draw enough new players to remain viable in
    the years to come.

    --Larry Liebster

Gregg Cattanach  writes:

If I play Larry or any other player with mobility issues, I automatically
will suggest we use a 18-second delay instead of 12, (director permitting,
of course).

George Morse  writes:

I have two perspectives. First I am old. Second, I have directed well over
100+ tournaments in Texas (20+ years ago).

Age is really not the issue here. Slow players for whatever the reason is
the single biggest problem any tournament has and they come in all ages and
skill levels. Most slow players are in denial. When the TD talks to them,
they will complain about how slow other players are. I have seen expert
players take 15 minutes and more to make cube decisions (and play head

I don't know of any sport that doesn't have a higher standard for their top
competition. Tournaments are for demonstrating skill, and time management
is one of those skills.

I think change is one of the problems. If the top competition had always
been on the clock, no one would complain. Instead they would be practicing,
practicing so they could play with the big dogs. Something as simple as a
pip count can take some people forever if they don't practice.

Back to my age. I am old enough to have played against Oswald Jacoby. I
drop his name because in his 80's he stopped playing in our local
tournaments because he couldn't tolerate sitting while playing slow

While I know players that are older, better, and faster than me, I know
more players that younger and slower than me. Clearly clocks need to be
available for the tournament director, but I also believe the TD should be
able to make exceptions on a case by case basis, but age alone shouldn't be
the reason.

Jason Lee  writes:

I have a peeve about Larry Liebster. Nice guy, but he plays way too slowly.
This doesn't have to do with physical limitations. He is a SLOW player.

Marv Porten  writes:

Let me start out by saying that I've played a few matches against Larry and
he's a wonderful person. If tournament directors and/or his opponents are
unable or unwilling to make accommodations for him, perhaps the following
suggestion is a workable compromise solution:  Larry, play in the
intermediate division where, so far, clocks aren't used.

We all slow down when we age, and there comes a time when we must recognize
that we can't play our sport or game anymore at the higher level. If the
choice is between not playing in any tournament or playing as an
intermediate, then play as an intermediate and win a few tournaments!

Paul Weaver  writes:

Larry (Lobster on GridGammon) is well liked by everyone. He is always
friendly and pleasant. I hope we will continue to see him on the backgammon
scene for a long time to come.

In Sante Fe in January 2010, a first-round 11 pm match between Larry and Ed
O'Laughlin (played without a clock) lasted three hours. As a result of this
one long match, the tournament became a nightmare for Neil Kazaross, myself
and possibly others. Neil and I finished playing our match at 12:45 am. I
had to play John O'Hagan at 10 am and it was a frustrating experience for
me not be able to play my best game because of lack of rest.

At another tournament this year, my Saturday schedule did not end until
2:15 am Sunday when my match with Linda Rockwell was completed. Linda was
not the problem. The problem was other slow matches earlier in the day
played without a clock. I had a three-hour wait from 8:15 to 11:15 pm.

The nightmare problems created by directors who falsely believe they can
run a decent tournament without using clocks on every match are much
greater than the problems described by Lobster of using clocks in his

I hope Larry can understand that we have a very good reason for using
clocks. Many directors have tried it without clocks and it just does not

The directors on other continents figured out years ago that clocks are
necessary. Some American directors have also learned this lesson.
Unfortunately, some American directors who have been running tournament for
decades have not.

We want to accommodate Lobster, but not at the expense of forcing people to
play until 1 am or 2 am or later Sunday morning.

Matt Cohn-Geier  writes:

I have a BG Pet Peeve: unclocked tournament matches.

Have you ever played a 5-hour match in a 90 degree room with no air
conditioning and no clock? No? I have! When my opponent won the opening
roll (62) at DMP he felt it was appropriate to think about how to play it
for 40 seconds. Unfortunately, I had left my knife in my hotel room. In
retrospect, it would have been faster to get the knife.

These long matches turn into a huge bracketing nightmare when the
tournament has more matches to play. The only tournament I've seen with a
relaxed enough schedule where it didn't make a huge difference is Monte

Several times I have played in finals matches (against both 'slow' players
and 'fast' players) where my opponent has asked not to use a clock because
it's the finals. We don't hold up any more matches, but this invariably
means that we are going to play a 3+-hour match. Fun times for all.

Another thing that's great fun: unclocked doubles matches! I know it's DMP,
but excuse me for the next minute while I take a pip count and then figure
out how I will play all of the upcoming 36 rolls, which, of course, we
won't actually play that way without first arguing about it for 2 minutes
and finally flipping a coin to make the decision.

Also, recorders provide a great service, and I want to express my
appreciation for recording others' (or even your own) matches. No offense
is intended, but if you can't record a match on a clock, please don't

I hope I never have to play an unclocked tournament match again. Also, I'll
never leave my knife in my hotel room again.

Bill Riles  writes:

I recorded an important match of mine about a year ago in which my opponent
ultimately got into time trouble. I won the match; however, he had to play
the last 2-3 games effectively on the delay and, doubtlessly, this might
have affected his play.

He complained later that he is a fast player, etc., the settings are too
fast, etc.

Well, he does play relatively quickly. But I reviewed the videotape fairly
closely while entering into Snowie, at the time. He had a very precise
sequence of quirks with each roll. When I hit the clock he picked up the
dice, fondled them in one hand while checking his scorecard (every time),
finally put them in the cup, shook them 23 times (every time), and rolled.
God forbid when he cocked them.

Almost without exception, he exhausted the delay before rolling, then made
his play comparatively quickly.

The match was something like 22 games and 720 moves. I pointed out to him
if he wastes 2 seconds in each of his approx. 360 moves then 12 minutes
have elapsed. And, surprise, at the end of the match I had about 12 minutes
and he had about 5 seconds.
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