From Backgammon Times, Volume 3, Number 2, Summer 1983.|
The caller, who was phoning from out of state, explained that they had met once at a backgammon tournament in Chicago. He now had a problem: Why, he asked, was it correct for Motakhasses to double in a game against Pasko recorded in Backgammon with the Champions? And why was Pasko correct in accepting?
An hour later the man from out of state knew the answer to both questions, and Kent Gouldingauthor, lecturer, and expert playerwas razzed by his wife, Joanne, for spending too much time on the phone.
“I am always astonished by how some of backgammon’s better players treat the public,” Goulding explained recently in Louisville atnaturallya backgammon tournament. “Not long ago a friend of mine went to the Mayfair Club while visiting New York, approached one of the better players and said, ‘Hi, I’m so-and-so. We met once before at a tournament in Chicago.’ The Mayfair player said, ‘So what?’ and walked away. That kind of attitude and behavior has hurt backgammon, and I’m doing my best to be the opposite.”
That Goulding is a championship player of the highest caliber few would dispute. If he is not as good as Magriel (“I would have to admit that Paul is a better player.”), he is at least on anyone’s list of the top twenty active players in the world. “Right now the best player in the world is one of the New York crowdMagriel, Lester, Low, Senkiewicz,” he says. “It’s impossible to say who’s the best. But if I’m not in that group I’m certainly close.”
“I am and always have been a fanatic game player. Game playing for me was always an escape, my way of dealing with my problems coping,” he reflects. “While other people did drugs and liquor, my escape was games.”
Before backgammon came along, Goulding was most of all a chess playerobsessed, committed, relentlessand ranked in the top twenty postal chess players in the country. When his bridge-playing friends introduced him to backgammon, it immediately hit a nerve. “In chess you tell the pieces where to movein backgammon the dice tell you where to move. It’s both frustrating and exciting. I know I’m in control but I also know that a joker is in there that could strike yousomething bizarre can and will always happen.”
But the real turning point in KG’s backgammon came through his friendship with an aging backgammon star Goulding refuses to name. That episode in his life resembles the set piece in every heroic epic, from the legend of King Arthur to Star Wars: the mystical education of the hero by the wise and mysterious elder. “He was a New York financial wizard who was in hiding in Washington, D.C. for reasons that I can’t explain. He was light years ahead of his timeten years ago he played like a competent open player today, and that was unheard of. We would sit down and he’d say, ‘Kent, let’s talk backgammon,’ and we would spend hours discussing positions. Eventually he disappeared. I have no idea what part of the world he lives in today. He made me a real backgammon player.”
With the second volume of six issues completed (which brings the total to twelve) Backgammon with the Champions stands as one of the finest sources of information on the game. The project, as he conceived it several years ago, is now complete: “I will continue to annotate matches, but there will be no more issues of Backgammon with the Champions.”
“I love doing auctions,” he exclaims. “I’ve always wanted to do stand-up comedy but never had the courage. Backgammon auctions are the closest I come. I provide entertainment for the playersthat comes first in a tournamentand pick on people I don’t even know. It’s all totally spontaneousI just work from the list of names. As far as I can tell, I’ve offended nobody and I’ve given a lot of people pleasure.”
Tournament directors such as Louisville’s Larry Strasberg insist that Goulding’s dazzling comic routines generate more money in their auctions. “Kent managed to bully the players into putting up nearly twice as much money than what we raised before,” said Strasberg of his last Labor Day tournament. “The crowd just loves him.”
“Whatever my father is, I’m not. I guess I’ve always been rebelling against him,” Goulding admits. “And until I gained recognition and money, he saw me as a no-good gambling bum. Afterwards I became his pride and joy.”
They say Kent Goulding is one of a kind. Well, in the middle of May his wife, Joanne, had a baby girl. “Fran, Lee, watch out,” says Goulding with a snicker. “It’s about time for a good female backgammon player.”
More articles by Les B. Levi|
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