Interview with Tak Morioka
Chicago’s Man of the Year

Bill Davis, 1983

From Backgammon Times, Volume 3, Number 1, Winter/Spring 1983.

Tak Morioka, a likeable 35-year-old commercial artist, is Gammon’s of Chicago’s 1982 Player of the Year. Morioka, with 43.40 master points, had an incredible backgammon year, winning five monthly awards. From July through September, Tak was nearly invincible, compiling win streaks of 11 and 15 matches in a row, while capturing an unprecedented 14 club tournaments.

Although his 1982 national tournament record didn’t compare with Chicago players Bernie Pygon or Chris Stanford, Tak’s results were still very impressive. He won the Doubles event at the May Chicago Open (with Carol Cole), cashed at the Las Vegas Plimpton Cup in June, was a semifinialist at Turnberry Isle in October, and won Indiana’s Novemberfest annual.

Gammon’s of Chicago salutes Tak Morioka in 1982, not only for his skillful play, but also for his friendly, sportsmanlike attitude toward the game and its players. The following interview was conducted by Bill Davis for Gammon’s.

Gammon’s:  1982 has been a very successful backgammon year for you. How long has it taken you to reach your current skill level?

Tak:  I was introduced to the game at the North Club bridge club around 1977—sort of as a side to bridge.

Gammon’s:  Did you start playing for money right away?

Tak:  Yeah. I got taken. (Laughs.) It gave me incentive to learn the game.

Gammon’s:  Were you a games player as a child?

Tak:  In Japan, I was a Shoji player, which is like Japanese chess. When I moved to the United States in the early 50’s, I switched to the standard kid games: football, baseball, basketball. Then toward the end of high school, I started playing pool. I used to spend about 40 hours a week at the pool hall. I got good at it, and then I gave it up.

Next, I picked up bridge. I’m a compulsive person when I start up on an interest, so I put in a lot of hours learning bridge—maybe 60 a week.

Gammon’s:  Were you a tournament player?

Tak:  I played duplicate tournaments for four years. When I got bored with it, I switched to rubber bridge for money. Then when I got tired of that, I turned to backgammon.

Gammon’s:  Which type of backgammon do you prefer: money games or tournament play?

Tak:  I enjoy both aspects. In money, you have more control over the situation. In tournaments, you meet a lot of interesting people. One is sociable and one is more business.

Gammon’s:  Do you study the game? Read books?

Tak:  Not really. I’ve learned backgammon from the school of hard knocks.

Gammon’s:  What is it about backgammon that intrigues you?

Tak:  The independence. It’s a combination of skill and luck. I’ve gambled all my life, so I know something about luck.

Gammon’s:  What have you gambled on?

Tak:  Name it! I’m a halfway decent gambler; I usually win. It’s an event where you play the person as much as the game itself.

Gammon’s:  Classify your game style and how you developed it.

Tak:  Most beginners start to play conservatively and develop the game from a pattern. I was just the opposite. I experimented with all different types of games. My early game was explosive. I took a lot of chances and found out which ones were worthwhile. Now I would say my game style is somewhat controlled.

Gammon’s:  Outside of Chicago, who are the finest players you’ve faced?

Tak:  In terms of money play, I would say Chuck Papazian (San Francisco). The toughest tournament player I’ve faced is Jersey Jim Pasko.

Gammon’s:  What is your greatest backgammon thrill?

Tak:  Basically, I try to take the thrill out of the game as much as possible. If you want to be effective, you have to treat the game like a boring occupation. Don’t get me wrong. I play for the thrill and I’ve had my thrills, but to succeed at a given craft, you can’t make the thrill the overriding factor. Like, you run into certain players that get their excitement out of big swings in the game. I got my thrills this way too, but found that backgammon is so volatile that in the long run, you can probably get hurt this way.

Gammon’s:  Do you believe in luck in backgammon?

Tak:  Yes. Dice rolls can make an average player good, but very rarely will luck have a significant effect on a poor player’s game.

Gammon’s:  Is there room for improvement in your game?

Tak:  There are certain aspects of the game that you never get any handle on. I know what it takes to play tough player; now I have to find out how to play the less-skilled, more unpredictable players.

Gammon’s:  Do you find you actually have an easier time against better players in that respect?

Tak:  I do better against a better player because you know essentially what they’re going to do.

Gammon’s:  After such a successful 1982, do you have any new goals or desires that you want to accomplish in the future?

Tak:  Yeah, probably to make a lot of money. (Laughs.)

Gammon’s:  And as far as tournament play?

Tak:  I would like to excel both at tournament and side play, but it depends on how long my interest holds up.

Gammon’s:  Are you leaning more toward money play at this point?

Tak:  I play a lot of money games, but not as heavy as I should. Sometimes, I enjoy the game for the competition more than the financial rewards.

Gammon’s:  That seems to go against your statement about making a lot of money.

Tak:  Well, I’d like to make a lot of money against the best.

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