Simborg Interviews
Jacob Garal
Interviewed by Phil Simborg, 2010
Jacob Garal Jacob Garal is author of 14 scientific publications, three inventions and one book, Fair Backgammon Tournament Rules, which he hopes will be the turn stone for his attempts for changing the tournament rules in the backgammon world.

He is the inventor of a special registration board for backgammon, BEZMA® and accompanying "Tournament BEZMA" software, which allow players to register all game parameters during play in tournaments and save them in digital form for later analysis. In addition, this full-scale game complex (board and software) gives a unique possibility to promote new forms and formats of tournaments (proposed in his book), including team competitions and comparative tournaments.

I know you will find Jacob's answers to my questions very interesting.

How did you get introduced to backgammon?

I came to know this game for the first time about 40 years ago, back in 1973 during one of my journeys in the Caucasus Mountains where I saw locals playing, and became fascinated with the game. When I returned home, out of the blue, I bumped into a game at a sporting goods shop in the downtown Kharkov. It was a set consisting of three games: Chess, Checkers and Nardy (a Russian name for Backgammon). The set was quite cheap (something like 1.20 or 1.50 rubles which was a trifle amount, even for a student) and it consisted of a board for playing chess or checkers on one side, and Backgammon on the other. The checker pieces, chessmen and backgammon dice were made of plastic. I could not resist the temptation and bought the set.

It was my last academic year at the Kharkov Polytechnic Institute and the next six months were to be spent on my graduate work and finally a diploma. Since it was our pre-graduate year, we still had lectures, but were already too lazy to study and, instead, preferred to sit at the back desks in the lecture rooms and gamble, playing Debertz, a two-player card game.

To be truthful, it was a rather risky deal in view of the fact that card games were strictly prohibited at the Institute. To be caught playing, especially during the lectures, meant to be expelled not only from the Institute, but also the Young Communist League, i.e., Komsomol, and naturally, practically all students were members of Komsomol. However, it's a general fact that students are reckless and risky young people and few can resist the temptation to gamble.

It was especially true with regard to the students that studied in Engineering and Physics, and thought themselves to be experts in mathematical calculations.

That was when I appeared with this new game and found somebody (as I remember Alex Dabagjan) who could play it. We played a couple of exhibition games with him and everyone was delighted with the game. The entire student group held their breath watching the dice roll and the checkers fly across the board.

After these initial matches it was decided that a backgammon tournament would be arranged for students in their final year. The tournament was organized and held and, surprisingly, I won first place.

The subsequent events to follow surpassed all imagination! There was a real backgammon boom! All the playing sets available at the sporting goods shop were bought immediately and backgammon began to be played daily for many hours in all convenient and even some unusual places.

One could hear the sound of dice rolling everywhere: on desks in vacant departments of the Institute, park benches on campus, during intervals between the lectures and even during lectures themselves on desks at the back of the class.

Debertz was forced out by backgammon and completely forgotten. Everybody played backgammon now, and it was safe (nobody was to be punished for playing) and it had the same effect (from the financial point of view). Special tactical and strategical tips of the game were developed. Whether it was more preferable to close a board, to hit a checker, or build up the "Mannerheim line", a name invented by Mark Chovnik for the 6-point prime.

The academic year was coming to an end and was to be followed by a special training period in the military camps in the Dnestr River area. Backgammon followed us, on both our trips to the training camp and back home, as well as during our travels by train and on a river boat. The noise of rolling dice could be heard everywhere, all the time!

It was a marvelous era. We had nothing to care or worry about and we just kept playing happily (and still for money). Around that time I hit upon an idea for a new scoring system of the game, which would take into account not only a victory, but also its other aspects in relation to the quality and fairness of the win such as taking into consideration the number of checkers the loser has remaining on the board at the end of a game.

What is your favourite tournament or type of game?

I haven't any favourite tournament or type of game. Double elimination for sure is better than knock-out system and triple-elimination is better than double, but all these are not good for modern backgammon tournaments.

What was your most fun, exciting win?

Supposedly, it was my first place in Last Chance in Master Division in Cannes 2008. In the second or third match against one player from Holland, I should have definitely lost, but some specific sequence of my last rolls gave me the victory, and after that I won against François Tardieu, Leonid Riskin, Falafel and Jonas Moehrdel in final (5-0).

Against Falafel in first game of semi-final, I have played a back game with six checkers on 1, 2, and 3 places in Falafel's home, but he rolled like God and gave me the possibility to hit only his last checker! I was much close to losing the 5-point match in the first game—a doubled backgammon—but I hit his checker and saved not only backgammon, but gammon as well.

What are some of your pet peeves about backgammon players or tournaments?

It is all the time the same: the most interesting and important matches are played very late or practically at night. TD's have no chance to change it because of the forms and formats of competitions we have today. That's why we need transform our backgammon tournaments and make them more dynamic and exciting for players and kibitzers as well.

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

Read Magriel, play online, save your matches, analyse them, try to understand your mistakes and learn.

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

Do not hurry when you should make important decision!

Do you play online? Where?

Play65, PartyGammon, GoldfishKanardy, TrueMoneyGames, SportingBet.

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

Besides the books of Magriel and Robertie the most interesting I find the book of Barclay Cooke and Jon Bradshaw, Backgammon the Cruelest Game, that includes some very interesting psychological descriptions of the game.

Do you have any philosophies of life you care to share?

Since I became heavily involved in backgammon one question occurred to me: "Why do so many people play this game?"

Obviously backgammon would lose much of its appeal if the money aspect was removed. However, there are a lot of people who are ready to play it for fun, not money, and participate in backgammon tournaments. Although money prizes are involved, tournament participants understand very well that these prizes will usually be won by a rather limited group of the best players. Therefore, what exactly attracts all these people to the game?

Despite the fact that a player is provided with all the essential data for a decision to be made on each specific move of the game (allocations of his own and opponent's checkers are always known), it appears logical and reasonable to conclude that the element of luck or knowledge about the exact forthcoming roll is the unknown factor similar to one of the basic components of our life.

Indeed, we are also unaware of what is going to happen to us in the future. Although we can foresee or predict some forthcoming events, anyone may get involved in something that would exceed the limits of one's day-to-day life and, in such a case, we have to refer to a fortunate or unfortunate course of circumstances. In rare cases, a moment like that can be a key or turning point in one's life.

Aside from backgammon, what are your other hobbies or interests?

Internet, bridge, swimming, skiing, tennis, ping-pong, bicycle.

Tell us something about your youth, where you grew up, where you went to school, your family, where you live now, what are your plans for the future?

I was born in 1952 in a small Ukrainian town, Chuguev, native town of famous Russian painter Ilya Repin. My father was officer of technical service of flight and mother is a German teacher. My childhood was spent playing accordion, chess, handball, ping-pong and learning in the Ground School. It was really happy years.

After finishing the school I was educated in Kharkov Polytechnic Institute and graduated from engineering, Physics Faculty, in 1975 on the specialty "Dynamics and Strength of Machines". I worked 16 years at the scientific research institute of "Elektortiajmash" plant, in the laboratory of mechanical calculations of large electric machines.

In 1989 I have promoted my doctor dissertation, "Optimization of Some Elements of Great Turbogenerators," in Vniielectromash in St. Petersburg. At the same time I have made my first innovation of elastic damping of stator of turbogenerator.

In 1991 my family came to Germany, where I live and work till today.

I was prize-winner of various regional bridge tournaments.

From 1998, I became acquainted with backgammon and was a prize-winner of many international backgammon tournaments.

What are your major interests outside of backgammon?

During my work with development of Fair Backgammon Tournament Rules I have found very interesting forms and formats of competitions not only for backgammon, but for other intellectual games such as Scat, Preference and Poker as well. I'd like to introduce these innovations later too.

I am researcher and engineer and very hungry on all innovations in modern technologies and life.

What would you suggest to make backgammon more popular and exciting?

  1. Change forms and formats of backgammon tournaments. They should be more dynamic and exciting.

  2. Promoting children, youth and especially student competitions. I know you have started one project at Georgia Southern University in USA. Kharkov Federation of Nard and Backgammon has initiated shortly in Kharkov the first Kharkov Championship, where should take part practically all colleges, high schools, academies and universities of Kharkov (about 50). It'll be fantastic if we can promote first Youth and Student Backgammon World Championship.

  3. Implement electronic sensor board BEZMA, this revolutionary innovation which allows promoting all forms and formats of competitions including any new that you can imagine and give us the possibility to watch any big event around the world live.

  4. Implement fair backgammon tournament rules, which allow promoting backgammon tournaments where all participants play equal number of matches consisting of equal number of games.

  5. Implement new balanced scoring system for a game and a match that should allow estimating quality of the victory (in a game as well as in a match) and giving us the possibility to compare the matches with different number of games. Using of this balanced scoring system allow introducing common rating system for all backgammon tournaments in the world.

All the proposals suggested above give backgammon community the possibility to be the most modern sport federation in the world and allow looking in the future of this ancient game in new modern form.

What is your favourite side-event or alternative form of backgammon?

I haven't any favourite side-events. Alternative form of backgammon competition might be team competitions with duplicated rolls and comparative tournaments where all participants play the same sequence of rolls.

Do you have any other thoughts or views about any subject at all that you would like to share?

In September 2009, I together with other backgammon fans have registered Kharkov Federation of Nard and Backgammon in Ukraine. We started to promote the new kinds of backgammon competitions. They are: FPP-Tournament—Backgammon Fixed Play Parameters Tournament (backgammon tournament with fixed play parameters)—and Backgammon Tournament with Prize Fund Sharing (FPP-BSS-Tournament).

Backgammon FPP-BSS-Tournament is a special new format of backgammon tournament with fixed play parameters and balanced scoring cystem for a game and a match. FPP-BSS-Tournament is promoted with fixed time and playing intervals, with known quantity of matches and games in each of matches and with using balanced scoring system proposed in my book, "Fair Backgammon Tournament Rules," with one extra addition: Match results (received in victory points) should be recalculated in money.

Every Sunday we have 2 to 3 competitions of the FPP-Tournaments. Each tournament is about 2-3 hours and has 3-4 rounds consisting of 6 games in each round. We have developed special tournament programme that allow us to manage any kind of backgammon competitions including FPP-Tournaments in Swiss.

In September 2010 we want to promote First Xapkib Open/Kharkiv Open with this kind of backgammon tournament. We have spoken in Velden with representatives of Greece, Turkey and Austria federations as well as with some good players. They agree to take part on this event in September.

I have invented a special sensor registration board, "BEZMA" and am busy right now with the next improvement of design and production of some quantity of these boards. I'll be very happy, if the people who love this game and want to buy this board help me with their money making the orders right now.

If I have got enough money to finish my project "Fair Backgammon" yesterday, included all proposals above, we had have all these innovations yesterday. If I receive the necessary sum of money today we become all these innovations today. Should it happen tomorrow we'll become that tomorrow. But no matter when it should happen in future it will be happen. It is the direction of this game in 21th century!

You can find more information about my ideas and innovations on my web-site: You can buy my book, "Fair Backgammon Tournament Rules," in Chicago, USA, by Serge Bondar, president of Academy of Intellectual Games, or send me your order from other countries. You can also order special sensor board, BEZMA.

Thank you to Phil Simborg for sharing this article.
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