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Million Dollar Milestone

After thirty years of talk, thanks to the folks at Party Gaming backgammon can boast a million dollar tournament. The (minimum) goal was a million in total prize money; with a first prize of six-hundred grand there is no point in splitting semantic hairs.

In the Bahamas there is a famous casino and resort: The Atlantis. In an earlier incarnation it was the scene of some ritzy backgammon tournaments, so it was a reasonable choice for this one.

When this is what the neighbors are driving, you know you are in the high-priced district. Behind me when I took this photo was the deli, where a Rueben and a couple of beers cost thirty dollars. That was a bargain compared to some of the other restaurants.

The vast scale of the grounds also meant that getting to and from the playing room was quite a hike!

The original plan was for a bracket of 128 to be filled with an equal number of high rollers paying ten thousand apiece, and online qualifiers who would win their way in through satellite tournaments. Party Gammon is the sister operation of Party Poker, and the paradigm they were working from was developed from their experiences with poker tournaments. (The picture above was taken from the balcony of David Wells’ suite; he and Sakura had just come from Australia where they had played in a tournament on the poker tour.)

The passage of the Port Security bill with its stealth rider that cracked down on online gaming had a severe impact, making it hard for U.S. players to sign up and harder for them to play in the qualifiers. Still, the mix of full entrants and satellite qualifiers was nearly balanced. There were 120 players altogether, so early losers were offered the chance to forego playing in the Consolation if they wanted to buy back in for a discounted eight thousand dollars. Some of the satellite qualifiers were not very experienced with live play. One of them lost early, and was asked by Carol Joy Cole if he would care to reenter.

“I tell you what: Even, and I play Consolation; Odd, and I reenter.” So saying, he rolled the doubling cube. “Even! I’ll play Consolation.”

Still it didn’t pay to take any opponent for granted.

Japanese expert Abe Akiko (playing Frank Talbot) qualified online
As did author Jeremy Bagai (with Carol Joy Cole)

With so much talent present even the early rounds produced exciting pairings.

Ray Fogerlund plays Neil Kazaross while Ed O’Laughlin looks on.
Old and New: X-22 versus Denmark’s rising star Sander Lylloff

Speaking of old and new … There was a “European line” offered on the players. At the start of the tournament, or before any round it was possible to bet on the chances of a player winning the whole thing. The odds given were “n for 1” as opposed to “n to 1.” The difference is that if the payoff is 100-1 “to 1” odds would pay you your bet back plus one hundred times it, whereas at “for 1” you simply get back one hundred times your bet. (In other words, if you gave the bookie a bet of $100 in advance, at the former you’d get back $10,100, at the latter $10,000.) I went off at 78-1, but some of the European name players went for as little as 33-1.

“This is the European line; you can get some real bargains on the Old School players!” Morten Holms told me. Since he was probably the most influential contributor to the European line it was his book), I am sure he hoped I’d snap up some “bargains.”

Bill Phipps looking over Morten’s list for bargains

Which I did. I snapped up Frank Talbot and Mike Corbett at 100-1, and Perry Gartner at 125-1. When Mike made the round of 16 I was feeling pretty good. When he lost to Nack (who made it to the semis) I was wishing I had also bought Nack. Given time and a bit of work I can do a fair job (I think) of handicapping a tournament. (I used to work with a friend, Tom Meyer, who would use my input to plan his auction strategy, and he was a consistent money earner during our collaboration. Actually [shameless plug] Can A Fish Taste Twice As Good! spells out a scientific method of handicapping.) Without doing the work, I thought Nack at 54-1 was a good bet but not a bargain. On the other hand the two highest-rated players on Morten’s list I thought were bad bets. Both Francois Tardieu and Falafel were going for around 33-1. While I think Nack is the world’s greatest, I am biased by having seen more of his play. Francois and Falafel are excellent players and each may very well be even better than Nack. But 60% more likely to win a seven-round tournament than Nack? That’s a bet I’d be happy to make.

As it turned out a pair of New School, albeit not highly favored, players bumped off two Old School pros – Nack, and Germany’s Ironman Ralf Jonas. The two finalists were young, European, and both had qualified online. They were, however, excellent players. Lasse Hjorth Madsen is the 13th-ranked player in the Danish Federation. His opponent, Germany’s Andreas Märtens, is an old friend of mine. We played together many times in the late nineties in Pattaya, Thailand.

Kent (Old School) Goulding, along with England’s Julian Wilson, did the color commentary.

Not able to see the board very well, some of us opted to chouette while we listened.

Carter Mattig deciding on his play

The finals saw some violent swings, as Lasse took a 6-0 lead before Andreas zipped ahead 21-9, after which Lasse tied things up at 21-all. Single points were traded, and then it was DMP. With sixteen numbers clearing his 9pt, sixteen more stalling, and only 61 and 62 leaving a shot, Andreas was in a commanding position, but then – he rolled 61! How would you like to have half a million dollars riding on your opponent’s ability to roll an ace?

Lasse didn’t roll it, and Andreas sewed up the race to become the first Million Champion.

So it was party time.

Frank and Andreas Humke

And then … The party was over.

Svobo, Tino, Wachtel, Shino, Frank

Thanks to Stephen Pearson and his staff for making it happen. And a special thanks to the directing staff: Howard Markowitz, Carol Joy Cole, Pat Gibson, Sam Pottle, and Troy Longman.

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