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Asian Smorgasboard

“This next player is absolutely pathetic, as the 52 points I won from him last week conclusively proves. I am sure you all have the good sense not to waste your money on him, so I’ll be the sport! I’ll bid $2000.”




“I have $4500. You’re making a huge mistake. He’s an absolute mug, I tell you. Won’t change your mind? Going once. Going twice. Sold for $4500.” John Simon brought his shoe smartly down on the top of the antique armoire serving as his podium. The shoe was a substitute they had taught him medical school, for those occasions when he lost his little rubber hammer. The antique armoire was a legacy of the British colonial era. Other parts of that legacy had taken a worse beating in recent years than the one delivered by John and his shoe, though not within the confines of the LRC, the hundred and some year old Ladies’ Recreation Club, home to Hong Kong backgammon.

The auction dinner went very well, with a delicious buffet spread (including my favorite, murgh (chicken) makhawala – “murky mugwump” is the way we usually request it), and with John coaxing and threatening an average of over $4000 per player out of the bidders. Those were Hong Kong dollars, of course, but Hong Kong dollars are worth enough to be considered real money, and not a mere accessory to some exotic board game, so the auction generated its share of excitement.

Hong Kong is part of the fall circuit in Asia. First up are the Asian Championships in Hong Kong, then the Japan Open the following week in Tokyo. If I am to convince you all to come next year, I think I’d better start with the attractions of each venue. Then, I’ll finish up with a quiz, just to show you the sort of backgammon being played over there.

First up, the tournament. One of the lures of Hong Kong backgammon is that there is more wild and wooly, unrelenting chouette action than even that found in Indy, (and the accents are easier to understand). Second, during the week between tournaments, Hong Kong is one of the most amazing cities on earth. One of the luxuries of living in a cosmopolitan city like Chicago is the variety of restaurants: “Chinese tonight? Mandarin? Szechuan? Hunan?…” In Hong Kong it’s: “Chiu Chou? Manchu? Hakka? Fujian?” They have more choices than most cities have restaurants. Between meals, Hong Kong is a shopping mecca. Ryan Jones brought five new suits and 18 new shirts with him to Tokyo, and Gayana Meyberg reportedly had Michael schlepping 7 suitcases when they left Chek Lap Kok.

Tokyo more than holds up its end of the tour. Added to the tournament side of things this year was the Mogami Cup. Sponsored by Ms.Kazuko Numazawa, owner of the Mogami Restaurant, the Cup featured added money to boost first prize to ¥1,000,000, as well as a spectacular, well, cup. Director Kenji Shimodaira has seen attendance increase geometrically; in the last year it doubled to over 200. In an effort to encourage foreign attendance, he and the Japanese players and directors have been offering the most incredible hospitality I have seen or heard of. Six of us came over this year: myself, Ryan Jones of Australia, Hugh Sconyers, Gayana and Michael Meyberg, and Nack Ballard. We were wined and dined (sakied and sushied) until tiny little fish came swimming out our ears. (The sashimi was almost TOO fresh.) The days were backgammon, but the nights were karaoke.

I won’t sing any of the songs for you, (you’re welcome!) but will mention a few of the victors. The Japan Open saw local expert Mr. Nagai fall to Michael Meyberg. The Mogami Cup finals pitted Nack Ballard against Mr. Hasagawa of Nagoya, the Japan Backgammon League champion. Hasagawa-san came back from a 13-11 deficit, tipping the cup his way at DMP. The Othello Challenge, an impossibly difficult quiz, was answered perfectly by Hugh.

Speaking of impossibly difficult quizzes…If you want to take a look at Othello’s Challenge (you should!), go to Meanwhile, try these on for size.



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