Masters of Backgammon Biographies
Masters of Backgammon, 2009

Bill Robertie, U.S.A

Bill Robertie is a two-time Monte Carlo World Backgammon Champion, winning the world’s biggest event in 1983 and in 1987. He also won the Pro Am tournament when it was held in the Bahamas in 1993 as well as the World Cup in Istanbul in 1994. Robertie also won the International Cup at the 2001 Worldwide Twin Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada and was also one of the 25 Giants of Backgammon who played at the Atlantis Million event in The Bahamas in January of 2007.

An author of many backgammon books, several of which come highly recommended for players of all levels, Bill has been on every 32 Giants of Backgammon list since 1993 and has been ranked as high as #6. A graduate of Harvard University, Robertie has also been a chess master winning the 1970 U.S. Speed Chess Championship. He has written five books on Chess.

In recent years, Robertie has co-authored, with former backgammon player Dan Harrington (winner of the 1995 WSOP Main Event), a series of three Poker books on how to play Texas Hold’em tournaments called Harrington on Hold’em. Robertie lives in the State of Massachusetts and was organizing and directing a backgammon tournament there in the early 2000s called the Boston Open. From 1991 to 1999 he edited magazine called Inside Backgammon with Kent Goulding, another top player who wrote the Backgammon with the Champions series, and who was the creator of the KG Ranking List.

Bob Koca, U.S.A

Backgammon giant and math professor in Baltimore, Maryland Robert (Bob) Koca rise to fame began at the 2008 World Series of Backgammon tour, when he outplayed backgammon and poker master Gus Hansen at the Riviera Cup. This win guaranteed him a seat at the 16-players WSOB shootout, where he finished second, losing to a French fashion photographer named Frédéric Andrieu and earning €60,000 in cash.

2008 also saw Koca winning several ABT events including the Colorado States Backgammon Championships doubles event (together with backgammon giant #16 and ABT player of the year Ray Fogerlund), the satellite doubles at the Michigan Summer Championships (with Stick Rice), the 8th Carolina Invitational, and the second place at the California State Championships and the last chance of the Midwest Backgammon Championships. Koca continued to grab victories in 2009, when he won both the Memorial Day Masters and the Perry Gartner’s Quiz at the ABT Chicago Open. He also joined forces with the same Perry Gartner (#46 at the 2009 Giants of Backgammon list) to win the Doubles events.

Bob Wachtel, U.S.A

Born in New York and currently living in California, Bob Wachtel is a seasoned tournament backgammon player and the author of the backgammon book, In the Game until the End: Winning in Ace-Point End-Games (published in 1993), in which he analyzes a collection of positions of the type where one must decide to run off of the opponent’s ace point, and avoid losing the triple backgammon, or to hang in there waiting for a last chance shot to save the day.

Bob has travelled the world, from Japan to Monte Carlo, where in 2004 he was the Runner-Up of the World Championship, losing to Peter Hallberg of Denmark in a hard fought final that ended with a score of 25–22. He also played in a unique tournament in June of 2007 called the Crowns Cup. It was held at a secret location in Germany and featured 16 of the world’s top players that were to be presented as heavyweight champions, with a pretty girl on each arm. The players faced off one-on-one vying for a total guaranteed prize pool of $250,000 with $150,000 going to the winner, $50,000 to the Runner-Up and $25,000 to each of the semifinalists. The event was film for TV and broadcasted in Europe is sixteen 50-minute episodes. Leo Fernandez, current BG Giant #32, won the tournament.

In 2006, Bob Wachtel and his partner, Brigitte Dvorak of Austria, came close to capturing the WBA title of European Doubles Champions but they were defeated in the close and very exciting final match they fought against the remarkable French team of François Tardieu and Serge Rived.Amongst other victories over the years, Wachtel was the 2001 Nevada State Champion, won the 47th Gammon Associates Invitational, also in 2001, and the Pro Am Doubles in 1999 with his then partner, Joseph Russell, the 1989 World Champion.

Carol Joy Cole, U.S.A

Carol Joy Cole was formally renowned as the First Lady of American Backgammon after championing the 1st US Backgammon Open, held at the beginning of June 2009. Cole, who has been playing backgammon seriously for over 30 years while running the Flint Area Backgammon Club, represents an indifferent approach to being a woman in the seemingly masculine field of pro backgammon.

Carol Joy Cole can be hardly found playing ladies backgammon tournaments (which are anyway rarer in the US comparing to Europe) and she often gets to play heads-on against top backgammon masters. At the final match of the US Open Backgammon Championship she played against Joe Russell, who won the Monte Carlo Backgammon Championship of 1989. In an interview to the local news site Fenton Press following her national title winning, she admitted being the underdog in that crucial match, yet did not underestimate her strength and stated that “I didn’t win just on luck.”

Carol Joy Cole, an American with Japanese origins, was born in the 1940s in internment camp in Salt Lake City, raised and spent all of her life in Flint, Michigan, where her famous backgammon club makes its weekly meetings every Thursday for over three decades. She started playing backgammon in the 1970s, when backgammon craze was at its peak, thanks to her children, who were tutored by their then babysitter.

“The game itself is very dynamic, no two games are alike. There’s always a different challenge.” Cole said in the same interview, and described the backgammon game as a combination of chess and poker, borrowing the strategy element from one game and the gambling aspect from the other. In addition, she particularly enjoys the sociable part of the game. The Backgammon Club

Flint Area Backgammon Club was founded by her in 1978, and the club still operates in the same format of weekly tournaments and zero membership fees. The only drastic change is in the number of participants. If in the late 70s and early 80s the average tournament capacitate about 50–60 players, now the number dropped to 20, even though backgammon popularity was “resurged with the birth of the Internet in the 1990s.” Perhaps the inaugural achievement of the backgammon club director would increase the number of its members. Either way, Flint Area backgammon meetings take place every Thursday at 7 pm at the Days Inn on Bristol Road.

Dana Nazarian, U.S.A

Dana Nazarian was born in 1966 and raised in Lexington, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston and the historic town where the American Revolutionary War began. Nazarian is the Vice-President at Cypress Semiconductor; a silicon valley based semiconductor company and runs one of the largest business units for the company, Synchronous SRAM Business Unit.

Dana says, “I don’t remember exactly when I started playing backgammon, but it was probably when I was about six or seven years old. I am 100% Armenian and backgammon is an integral part of Armenian culture. My dad played with his dad and his uncles during the Depression and he in turn taught me at a very young age. He showed no mercy too! He never purposely let me win and he taught me many things as a young child that are still part of my backgammon arsenal. Backgammon was a huge part of my childhood. I would estimate that my dad and I played three hours per day, seven days a week for 10 years straight.”

Dana has also played backgammon online, on the GamesGrid server, “but that site just dissolved and so I will be looking for a new site to play on soon,” he said.Despite playing hundreds of thousands of games with his father, Dana had never entered a live backgammon tournament nor really knew about them, that is, until he moved to Minneapolis in the late 1990’s and found out about the Minneapolis Backgammon Club. He began playing there and learnt about the various big U.S. tourneys — his first live event was the 1999 Pittsburgh Championship where he played Intermediate and lost in the semifinals. He has since played only in the higher Championship Division.

As for his opinion of the Giants of Backgammon poll, Dana says, “I agree with the intent and I am truly honoured to be included on a short list of extremely talented players. I appreciate all who recognized my ability, so I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but the process is severely flawed for many reasons. I realize that there is no perfect solution but in my opinion, if the world’s best backgammon players are going to be recognized, there needs to be some sort of quantitative criterion (e.g. error rates, ratings a la Kent Goulding, tournament results, etc.) as a major input to the selection process”.

Dana believes that, “Backgammon is the greatest game invented. I am passionate about the game and wish I could play and promote it more but work and family keep me pretty busy“.It is the first time Nazarian appears on the top 32 Giants of Backgammon list. Amongst many victories and money wins, Dana won the Super 32 Jackpot at the California State Backgammon Championship in 2007, and in the same year, first place in the Championship flight at the 29th Pittsburgh Backgammon Championships. At the 10th Minnesota Open Backgammon Championships in 2005 he won both the main Championship flight and first place in the Mystic Masters Jackpot.

Dirk Schiemann, Germany

Dirk Schiemann is one of the younger Giants of Backgammon. He first appeared on the ranking list in 1999 and has been in the top 32 ever since. Dirk reached as high as #3 in the 2003 poll. Dirk’s ranking has dropped since because he has been playing in fewer tournaments in recent years but he still considered in the poll because he played in the Atlantis Million event in The Bahamas in 2007.

When a player becomes inactive on the international circuit he should no longer be voted for on the Giants of Backgammon poll. By the way, Dirk did not go far in the Atlantis Million losing in Round 1 to Michel Serrero of France, the 2006 Champion of Europe.

Although originally from Germany, Dirk currently lives in Costa Rica where he got married and has a young child. He is doing well playing online poker and likes to play tennis every morning. Dirk continues to enjoy any backgammon action he can find in Costa Rica and will be playing in new backgammon events currently being organized in Costa Rica by the Costa Rica Backgammon Association. If you ever get down to Costa Rica and want some action, Dirk will be happy to play with you one-on-one if the stakes are not too low.

When Dirk sets his mind to something, he strives for perfection — and in backgammon, he studied the game profusely and trained with Snowie software to a point where it was said, in the early 2000s, that he was probably the player with the lowest error rate in the world.

An example of Dirk’s skill is that in 2003, at the 28th World Backgammon Championship in Monte Carlo, with 271 players participating the Main and Dirk made it the semifinals, which is considered third or fourth place.At the Paris Masters and Open in France in 2001, Dirk, and then partner and fellow countryman, Johannes Levermann, won first place in the Doubles competition. In 2003, Schiemann partnered with the current #1 Giant, Matvey “Falafel” Natanzon of Israel, to reach the semifinals of the 32-team Doubles event of the World Cup Challenge VII Backgammon Championship held in Bucharest, Romania.

In addition to many other places in major international championships, and quite a few Super Jackpot wins, Schiemann won the Consolation at the 12th Nordic “Wide” Open in Copenhagen, Denmark in the year 2000.

Ed O’Laughlin, U.S.A

Ed O’Laughlin of Florida in the USA has played live backgammon for many years. Now retired from his regular day job, O’Laughlin has been getting out to more and more events and says that playing professional backgammon has become his life.

Even before the age of the backgammon bots, Ed O’Laughlin has been a top player for many years. There is a match that was recorded against Paul Magriel at the 1991 Las Vegas Open, that was later taken and analyzed by Snowie when that bot was released in the late 1990s, and which shows that, back then, O’Laughlin played at an Advanced level, at 6.6 over all error rate and that Magriel played at an Expert level, with a 4.4 overall error rate. Back in 1995, O’Laughlin was rated #2 on Kent Goulding’s International Rating List. Today, Ed has often been recorded playing at less than a 3.0 overall error rate, or what is considered a World Class level.

At the 32nd World Backgammon Championship in Monte Carlo in 2007, Ed O’Laughlin faced Sven Rumcker of Germany in the final of the Super Jackpot. Ed would have surely won the match had it not been for a game in which he says he should have won at least a gammon. With one checker remaining to bearoff, Rumcker, waiting on his 1 point hits the checker and O’Laughlin rolls bad long enough for Rumcker to come around and bearoff all his checkers! Ed still won a lot of money in that event for coming in second.

In the last couple of years, O’Laughlin has been getting out to Europe to play in most of the PartoucheGammon Tour (PGT) and World Series of Backgammon (WSOB) events. He won the PGT Masters at the 7th International Paris Master and Open Backgammon Tournament in March of 2006 against Leonid Riskin of Russia/Germany. He also won the Open Championship Division of the PGT-Forges Partouche Backgammon Challenge in June of 2008.

Back home in the USA, O’Laughlin has won many events, such as the Championship flight at 26th Annual Chicago Open Backgammon Tournament in 2005 and the Masters at the same event in 2004. He also won Bill Robertie’s 3rd Boston Open in 2004 where he also snatched the Masters Jackpot. In 2002, he won the Open at the Georgia Championships and the 24th Pittsburgh Championships.

François Tardieu, France

Born in Saint Maur, France on November 4, 1964 François Tardieu comes from a background of mathematics and finances. Tardieu is a three-time Backgammon Champion of Europe and has won a myriad of other titles and big money prizes on the international backgammon circuit. A few recent ones that come to mind are the 3rd Aix-Les-Bains Backgammon Open in 2007, the Masters of 6th Paris Master and Open in 2005 and the Masters at the 11th Mitteleuropa Tournament in Nova Gorica, Slovenia in 2001.

François also won the Consultation Doubles at the Riviera Backgammon Challenge and Open with partner Jean-Philippe Rohr In 2003, and the 2nd European Backgammon Doubles Championships with teammate Serge Rived at the Barrière Open in 2006. Tardieu has dedicated thousands of hours studying backgammon and has developed several theories and formulas on the strategy of the game, often sharing them with other players in online articles. He intends to someday publish a backgammon book about these and other topics of the game’s strategy that he has studied.

Very often, Tardieu has his live matches recorded and allows them to be published online. He has an amazingly low error checker play rate of 2.246 in 50 analyzed matches on the Ranking List of World Class Players where he is ranked #1. In recent times, François has turned some of his attention to Poker and has been playing in live events. He has made it to at least one final table that was televised in Europe and won the Lyon event of the new Partouche Poker Tour in March of 2008.

Gus Hansen, Denmark

Gustav Hansen was born near Copenhagen, Denmark on February 13, 1974 and played a lot of sports in his youth, particularly enjoying tennis. Gus says he was always interested in numbers and mathematics, which was one of the reasons he became fascinated with backgammon when he was first introduced to the game. Hansen currently lives in Monaco where the annual World Backgammon Championships are held every July in the Fairmont Monte Carlo Hotel.

He became absorbed with backgammon, and after studying and practicing the game for a time set out to play in live events in different parts of the world. While living in New York City and playing backgammon in clubs there, Gus hung out with Phil Laak, another Backgammon player who turned Poker pro. At some point in the 1990s, Gus was introduced to poker games and in 1997 began to play in major poker tournaments.

Gus has since earned more than $5,000,000 in Poker so far and has established a record by winning first place in four World Poker Tour (WPT) events. Gus has also triumphed in many other poker tournaments, such as and the Main event of the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament, Season 1 and the Main of the 2007 Aussie Millions Poker event, which is where he was when the Atlantis Million Backgammon Tournament took place in The Bahamas, otherwise he would have played in The Bahamas backgammon event.

Hansen has been ranked in the top 32 Giants of Backgammon since 1997 and is one of the most feared money game players. He is often seen at live tournaments playing high stakes money games with Mike Svobodny, who Gus says taught him a lot about backgammon, the hard way.

In the last 16 players of the Super Jackpot at the Monte Carlo World Backgammon Championship in 2001, Gus (then #22 Giant) went up against Nack Ballard of the United States (then #1) and although Gus lost the match, the subsequent analysis of the match showed that Gus (and Nack) both played at with a very low error rate — World Class according to Snowie. World Series of Backgammon Commentator

Hansen remains active in backgammon and has joined Season 2 of World Series of Backgammon Enterprises (WSOB) to be a co-commentator John Clark and hostess Jessie Cantrell. At a recent WSOB event, the 20th PartoucheGammon Nordic Open Backgammon Championship held in Helsingør, Denmark in March of 2008, Hansen played a $10,000 Exhibition Speed-Gammon Match against Sander Lylloff of Denmark, the current #4 Giant. Hansen won the match, which was filmed as part of the WSOB forthcoming series to be televised throughout Europe and other countries.

In a WSOB press release just before the Nordic Open, Gus said: “Backgammon’s in my blood. Though I’ve had great success on the poker table and remain committed to the game, I often feel that the challenge that exists in backgammon is greater. It’s a more intense ‘thinking’ game than poker and the head-to-head nature of competition is very gladiatorial. That’s why I’m coming home to Denmark to compete in the Nordic Open, part of the WSOB.”

Jacob “Stick” Rice, U.S.A.

Stick Rice, who was born 33 years ago in Ohio as Jacob Rice, has made the biggest jump in the Giants of Backgammon list, from #63 straight into the top ten. Yet, his promotion did not catch any of his colleagues by surprise, backgammon giant #14, Steve Sax, has already described Stick as the next great backgammon player.

Jacob “Stick” Rice is known both for outward backgammon tournaments appearance and his online presence as the owner and operator of the website bgonline, where Stick showcases his collection of backgammon opening moves and the backgammon masters gather for virtual multi participant brainstorming.

Stick Rice has encountered backgammon by mistake. Before a woman he met at a Parisian bar invited him for a money game on a low stake of $2, he was a pool shark (where the nickname “Stick” stuck to him) a sort of poker hustler and a graduate of the Ohio University (major in French).

A backgammon player who was exposed to the game when strong and reliable computers became available for homely use, Stick Rice has been exploring the varied possibilities of backgammon openings thoroughly and efficiently, and sharing his research with the members of the backgammon community.

Stick Rice can be seen in many of the ABT events, often with his long time partner and new Giants of Backgammon inductee Matt Cohn-Grier. In the past couple of years, Stick has been strengthening his presence in European tournaments as well. He has been the captain of the World team in the Denmark vs. World event at the 2010 Nordic Open tournament (where the World lost). In 2009, he champion the Consolation of the ABT California State Backgammon Championship, earned the Special Player Award at the EBGT French Open and won the Davis Doubles (with Matvey “Falafel” Natanzon) at the Georgian Backgammon Open.

Jake Jacobs, Singapore

Born in Chicago on June 25, 1953, Jake Jacobs is a world traveller and World Class backgammon player who was the 2001 American Backgammon Tour Player of the Year and has been ranked in the top 32 Giants of Backgammon since 1997. Jake met a lovely woman named Ta in Thailand, who he married in 2008 in a beautiful ceremony at Ban Nam Duk Neu, a small village in Thailand’s countryside.

Jake has played for some 30 years and has written many backgammon strategy articles for online and offline publications, often about his experiences playing all over the world — he has travelled extensively through the Far East, and has many backgammon friends in Tokyo, Singapore and Bangkok — Jacobs’ analysis is always dead-on and his style of writing is often witty and humorous, and therefore, always fun to read.

In 1996, Jake Jacobs and Walter Trice published a book called Can a Fish Taste Twice as Good?, which is about doubling in match play against an unequal opponent. Then in 1997, Jake published a second book called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Four-Point, which is a collection of articles he wrote between 1990 and 1996.

In a previous online interview, Jake said his favourite backgammon tournament venue is Costa Rica, that he loves pizza and that he also likes to play Scrabble and Bridge. Besides earning cash for placing in events, Jacobs has won first place in these events: 2003 Star Online Cup, 2001 Chicago Open, 2001 Pittsburgh Open, 1999 Land of Lincoln Masters, 1999 Peachtree Cup, 1999 Thailand Masters, 1996 U.S. Open, 1996 Midwest Open and the 1984 Nevada State Championship

Joe Russell, U.S.A.

Former World Backgammon Champion Joseph (Joe) Russell has jumped to the 32 Giants of Backgammon list after ten years of absence from the top of the list.(correspondingly with his absence from leading backgammon championships).

Russell, a software designer of Los Angeles California and a member of the US Backgammon Federation Board of Directors (together with backgammon masters Richard Munitz and Jacob “Stick” Rice) had won the 1989 Monte Carlo World Backgammon Championship and the American Backgammon Championship in 1995. He was included in the first Giants of Backgammon list in 1993 (at number 15) and in the forthcoming lists until 1999.

Russell’s comeback to backgammon giantism has naturally followed his return to the American backgammon circuit. First, as the 33rd Michigan Masters semifinalist, later as the 2008 Nevada State Backgammon Tournament finalist, the 1st US Backgammon Open 2009 finalist (losing the crown to Carol Joy Cole) and the 2009 California State Backgammon Champion.

John O’Hagan, U.S.A.

John O’Hagan was born in Springfield, Illinois in 1955 and currently lives in State of Indiana where he works as sales agent for a Valparaiso cable television company. He learned to play backgammon at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana and has been hooked on the game ever since. He is a superb backgammon player and an all-around super nice guy. At the Monte Carlo Backgammon World Championship

In 2005, at the Monte Carlo World Championship in Monaco, O’Hagan made it to the final of the 238-player Championship Main where he was defeated by fellow American Dennis Carlston. O’Hagan came as close as you can get to being a World Champion. In the 25-point match, Dennis Carlston was leading 24–22 but O’Hagan fought back like a wolverine winning two single games in a row to bring the score to DMP at 24–24, and in the final game, when it looked like O’Hagan had the upper hand, Carlston rolled a beautiful 6-6 to run home and win the race.

That final was filmed as part of High Stakes Backgammon, a made-for-TV series filmed by 8mm Productions and its Producer/Director Andy Bell, who is currently the Producer of the World Series of Backgammon (WSOB). Some of the episodes from High Stakes Backgammon can be view on

In Monte Carlo, the following year at the 31st World Championship, John won the TrueMoneyGames Tournament and earned good money as a semifinalist in the main Super Jackpot, in which 64 players paid $2,000 each to participate.In the 2008, O’Hagan showed his expertise again by making it to the final of the New York Metropolitan Open in Jersey City, but was defeated by Mike Senkiewicz, current BG Giant #18. John also reached the final of the Super Jackpot at the 32nd Michigan Summer Backgammon Championships in 2007, which he did won, beating Nack Ballard, the then #1 Backgammon Giant.

Jörgen Granstedt, Sweden

Jörgen Granstedt is one of only three players who have won the Monte Carlo World Backgammon Championship more than once. Granstedt performed this great feat in 1999 and 2001. The other two such winners are Bill Robertie of the USA (in 1983 and 1987) and Michael Meyburg of Germany (in 1991 and 1998).

Granstedt is also one of only two Swedish players to have won the title of World Champ, the other being Jerry Grandell who was the #1 Giant of Backgammon in 1999 — Grandell disappeared from the backgammon scene a couple of years later and is said to be playing poker in Brazil.

Granstedt was also the 1996 National Backgammon Champion of Sweden and is rated #17 on the Ranking list, having an overall checker play error rate of 3.209 in 19 matches submitted. He has also been ranked in the top #32 in the world on every Giants of Backgammon list since 2001, when he was ranked #5.

Although Jörgen loves the game, in recent years he has been dedicating more of his time to work and his family. Nevertheless, Jörgen could not resist the temptation to attend and compete in the biggest ever event in the world, the Atlantis Million tournament held in January of 2007 at the Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas, where he defeated James Vogl of the England in Round 1 but then lost to Torsten Haase of Germany in Round 2.

However, Jörgen has many other big money wins under his belt . . . he came in first in the Championship flight of the 2001 Paris Master and Open, second against Eric Sfez in the Super Jackpot at the 1st Lucien Barrière Backgammon Open at Enghien-les-Bains, France in 2003 and won a couple of team events with partner Pawel Bielewicz of Sweden and James Vogl of England.

Jürgen Orlowski, Germany

Juergen Orlowski is the top backgammon master of Germany, who climbed from #51 of the 2007 Giants of Backgammon list to #27 in the current list, taking the place of Ralf Jonas and Dirk Schiemann as the representatives of Germany.

Born in 1970 in Würzburg, Germany and currently resides in Ulm, Germany, Orlowski has made some notable achievements in between the two Giants of Backgammon poll ballots: in 2007, he won the Saint Amand Backgammon Trophy, outplaying French backgammon master François Tardieu in a suspenseful 21-points final and taking home €25,000 and a seat at the PGT Grande Fianle.

A year later, in 2008, he finished second at the Eden Partouche Backgammon Tournament in France and fourth at the second EBGT Georgian Open. In 2009, he finished fourth in two WSOB events in Cannes and in Prague and in the European Doubles Championship (together with countryman Christian Plenz). Juergen Orlowski was the runner at the 1st Cyprus Backgammon Open, part of the European Backgammon Tour (EBGT).

Kit Woolsey, U.S.A.

Kit Woolsey is a Backgammon guru and author of various excellent books on the strategy of the game. Kit has been on the Giants of Backgammon list since its inception in 1993, where he has since been ranked as high as #5 and never lower than #13.

Woolsey was also the editor of GammOnLine, an online backgammon magazine where he plays an online match against his readers, who vote daily on the moves they make against Kit and learn from his comments on both theirs and his own plays. Plus the magazine has a very active backgammon forum, which is frequented by several other top players, a few of which have written articles for GammOnLine.

One of Woolsey’s books, Backgammon: Master Versus Amateur, is an actual transcript of the first online match Kit played against the GammonOnLine readers back in 1999. The book includes the daily votes and all of Kit’s comments in that first 11-point match. To this date, some 30 other 11-point matches have been played between Kit and GOL readers.

Woolsey is also a world class Bridge player who contributed to the bidding theory of that game with such improvements as the two-way, check-back convention and a defense system against opposing no-trump openings. Kit has also written books on Bridge and in 1977 won the Best Article on a System or Convention Award of the International Bridge Press Association.Since 1996, Kit and his wife Sally have financially supported the First Internet Backgammon Server (FIBS), helping to maintain it free of charge by paying for its connection to the Internet.

Amongst countless other victories, Woolsey won first place in the popular Nevada State Backgammon Championship in 2003 and again in 2005, the American Doubles Championship with Nack Ballard in 2007 and the Pro Am Doubles $10,000 entry event in 2005 with teammate Tami Jones of Indiana. He has also won Bill Davis’ annual Backgammon On Board cruise event on several occasions.

In 1993, Kit wrote a book called How to Play Tournament Backgammon in which he first introduced a Match Equity Table he invented. The chart displays one’s chance of winning a match from various scores. In 1996, Woolsey published New Ideas In Backgammon, a book he co-authored with Hal Heinrich of Canada, the 1990 World Champion, in which the two experts give valuable insights on a large collection of analyzed positions collected from live backgammon tournaments.

Lars Bønding, Denmark

Lars Bønding is another very strong Danish backgammon player who began to appear in tournament results at the start of the 21st century and who is listed as the #5 on with an average World Class by Snowie of 2.774 (checkerplay error rating) in 18 analyzed matches submitted.

At the 1st Lucien Barrière Backgammon Open held at Enghien-les-Bains, France in 2003, Bønding rolled his way to the final of the 90-player Championship flight to confront and defeat the current #3 Giant of Backgammon, François Tardieu of France. Lars Bønding was also declared 2003 Danish Player of the Year at the 16th Nordic “Wide” Open in Copenhagen by the Danish Backgammon Federation.

Also in 2003, Lars Bønding teamed up with two other Danes, Morten Holm and Michael Olsen, to try and win the 18-team, $10,000-entry Pro Am in Las Vegas. The Danish team came close making it the semifinals where they were eliminated by current #1 Backgammon Giant, Matvey ‘Falafel’ Natanzon (Israel) and his then partner, Ken Arnold of the USA, who at the time was the owner of the GamesGrid backgammon server. Natanzon and Arnold were then defeated by Californians Nack Ballard and Wayne McClintock in the final.

More determined than ever, Bønding returns to the next Pro Am in 2004, this time teaming up with Katja Sophie Spillum of Norway, the 2002 Champion of Europe . . . they reach the final where, again, one must beat Nack Ballard and Wayne McClintock of the USA to take the title . . . but the Scandinavian team failed to win and Ballard (then Giant #1) and McClintock take the Pro Am for the second year in a row.

Another victory under Bønding’s belt was the Super Jackpot of the 15th European Backgammon Championships, which at the time were held in Nova Gorica, Slovenia in September of 2003 — that event is now played annually in May in Velden, Austria. In September of 2004, Bønding returns to Nova Gorica and wins first place in the Masters of the 14th Mitteleuropa Backgammon Championship.

At this point, Lars begins to play poker professionally goes to the 36th World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas in 2005 where he wins $317,625 for second place in the $2,500 No Limit Hold’em event on June 24th. Later the same year, Bønding wins another $199,870 for first place in the $1,500 No Limit Hold’em at the Fourth Annual Five Diamond World Poker Classic in Las Vegas. He has since cashed at many other Poker tournaments but could not resist coming to Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas in January of 2007 for the Atlantis Million event — and although he did not win the main event, Bønding did win the $5000 Doubles there with partner Mark Teltscher of England.

Lars Trabolt, Denmark

Lars Trabolt is another of backgammon master that have emerged from Denmark, the country which holds the record of having the biggest membership of a national backgammon federation. Trabolt has made it to the money at many international events and won $120,080 for taking first place in the Consolation flight of the Atlantis Million event held at the Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas in January of 2007.

In 2001, Lars went all the way at 13th Nordic “Wide” Open in Helsingør, Denmark to best the 106-player field and claim the title of his nation’s, and one of Europe’s, biggest annual international events.In April of 2008, Trabolt cashed in the Consolation of the Paris Master and Partouche Backgammon Open 9 in Paris, France where he also won the €500 Super Jackpot, and in July the same year he won the World Backgammon Championship in Monte Carlo.

At the table, Lars is one of the most serious players you will come across — totally immersed in concentrating to find the best play on every one of his rolls. He is rated #9 on ranking list and comes in with an average checker play error rate of 2.724.

Trabolt likes to travel to different and interesting venues; he went to the WBF’s 3rd Caribbean Open on the tiny island of St. Martin in 2006, and the same year to the Bristol International Festival of Backgammon in England. He was also in Bristol the year before for an unusual event, a marriage plus backgammon tournament, to celebrate the wedding of his friends Roland Herrera and Simonetta Barone — both being backgammon players as well as musicians.

Leo Fernandez, Argentina

Leo Fernandez is the most travelled and most popular of Argentine backgammon players and has an impressive history of money wins at international tournaments all around the world.

Fernandez won the Crowns Cup in June of 2007, a unique tournament that was filmed for television in a secret location in Germany. Fifteen other top backgammon players attended, and each was presented as a tough-guy champion accompanied by beautiful women. The tournament had a prize pool of $250,000 of which $150,000 went to the winner (Fernandez), $50,000 to the Finalist and $25,000 to each semifinalist. There was never any online report about neither this event nor even the results posted anywhere — so who were the others winners? If you wanted to know, you had to see the TV show which was broadcasted in Europe in sixteen 50-minute episodes.

Lately, Fernandez has been delving into Poker; he was seen at the Pokerstars Latin American Poker Tour event in May of 2008 held at the Cariari Club in Costa Rica. Partial results from the 39th World Series of Poker happening in Las Vegas, also in 2008, show Leo Fernandez came in 13th in the June 16th $2,500 No Limit Hold’em and in which he won $19,086 that day. His Poker record shows that he also won money in two other events since 2005.

At the Atlantis Million event in 2007, Leo Fernandez and partner Christian Toth of Brazil came in second in the $5,000 Doubles event, losing to Lars Bønding of Denmark and Mark Teltscher of England.Other recent backgammon records show that in 2006, Leo won first place in Super Jackpot #2 at the 31st World Backgammon Championship in Monte Carlo, Monaco and that in 2004 he was a semifinalist in the 64-player Super Jackpot at the Las Vegas Backgammon Open.

At the Riviera Challenge 2 Backgammon Tournament in 2004, Fernandez, representing Argentina with partner Veronica Dabul, came in second in the Nations Cup Challenge which was won by Malcolm Davis and Jose Farca representing Mexico.Fernandez has also made it to the money in other events such as 6th Tournament of the Americas in Cancun, Mexico in 1999, the Pro-Am Invitational on Turnberry Isle, Florida in 1998 and at the World Cup VI in Dallas, Texas in 1998.

Malcolm Davis, U.S.A.

Malcolm Davis is the friendly Giant of Backgammon. Cool, calm and collective, you can always have a very interesting conversation about the game with this veteran player and gentleman. Davis is a tall Texan who was the 2003 American Backgammon Tour Player of the Year and has been voted as a top player in the Giants list for all but one of the polls since 1993. His highest ranking was #12 in 1999.

Davis takes care of vineyards in Texas but has travelled to world events everywhere. He usually brings along his video camera which he learnt to expertly set up on a small tripod next to the board to tape his matches — he later reviews the video and transcribes the dice rolls and moves to a bot on his computer so he can analyze how he played live.

Davis can be seen in a series of videos on and on designed for newcomers to backgammon. In a few basic lessons, Davis explains the rules of the game and demonstrates how to set up the board. He also provides some tips on the basic strategy of backgammon.

In 2007, Malcolm won the 1st Southeast Backgammon Championships organized by Gregg Cattanach in Atlanta, Georgia. At the Eric Guedj’s Riviera Challenge Backgammon Festival, held in Cannes, France in 2004, Davis partnered with Jose Farca to represent Mexico and beat the other 23 participating countries to capture the Nations Challenge title (now called Nations Cup).

Davis won the 26th Annual Pittsburgh Backgammon Championships in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2004, and in 2003, the year he won the ABT, Davis took first place in the Championship flights at both the Florida State Backgammon Championship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and the 20th Midwest Backgammon Championships in Lisle, Illinois. He also won the International Cup at the International Twin Championships in Las Vegas in 1999, as well as many other side events in his long career.

In Monte Carlo, Monaco in 2006, being the gentleman that he is, Malcolm was awarded the prestigious Courtesy Trophy by the organizing committee of the World Backgammon Championship.

Mary Hickey, U.S.A.

Before becoming the second woman to win the second US Backgammon Open, Mary Hickey did not like to emphasize her being a woman backgammon player. “I used to get annoyed when people would make a big deal about my being a woman player,” she said in an interview to the backgammon site Play65 after her winning, “but now I recognize this is a legitimate question and agree people should ask it.”

Mary Hickey, who started out as a chess player, also did not like to play in Ladies Tournaments, and always attended the main competition. “I learned the game in 1977 or 1978, on a business trip to Texas. I then slowly became more involved with the game, but attended only one big tournament “back in the day” (in Las Vegas in 1980). I gave the game up entirely for many years, and then restarted playing once or twice a month at the end of 1995. I gradually added more tournaments to my schedule, and plan to play five or six a year from now on.”

Since her return to backgammon, Mary Hickey had won the Ohio Masters 2002, 2003 and 2006, the last Indy 300 Masters event held in Indianapolis, the Ohio State Backgammon Championship in 2009, finished second in Wisconsin State Backgammon Championship the same year and won the Las Vegas Open backgammon blitz in 2006. Hickey is also an active backgammon author and teacher, who has recently collected her GammonVillage columns on chouette to a book on CD called Chouette and More: The World’s First and Only Backgammon Sci-fi Soap Opera.

“I think it is good for the game that women are winning titles. I think Carol Joy Cole and me winning the US Backgammon Open may encourage more women players to make a bit more effort to improve, and discard cultural issues that says that playing backgammon is difficult for women than for men. There are still many pockets of prejudice against women everywhere, even in the supposedly liberal democracies of what we call “the West,” that perhaps a few more wins and achievements by women in backgammon and elsewhere will help eradicate. And who knows, as the bias against women fades in backgammon and also the wider world, maybe other forms of hatred, fear, and prejudice will also be recognized as the maladaptive qualities that they are.”

Masayuki Mochizuki, Japan

Masayuki Mochizuki, born January 9, 1979 in Tokyo, Japan goes by the nickname of “Mochy” and is a member of the Japanese Backgammon League who has played professionally on the international circuit for more than decade. In 2009, Mochy has won the Monte Carlo Backgammon World Championship.

Several years ago, Mochy decided to get out to as many live events as possible and is actually the most-travelled of Japanese players. He says his favourite venue is the annual Barriere event at Enghein-les-Bains near Paris, France. He is currently attending many of the PartoucheGammon Tour and World Series of Backgammon events, and also competed in the Atlantis Million event in January of 2007.

Amongst many other money wins along the way, the young bachelor was the Champion at the 2003 Las Vegas Open, the 2005 Bristol “Wide” Open and the 2006 Belgian Open. He also won the Second Consolation of the 2006 World Backgammon Championship in Monte Carlo, three years before he was awarded world champion.

Masayuki trains himself by dedicating a lot of time to studying positions from his matches played live at tournaments as well as on backgammon servers such as Play65, where he also serves as an advisor in detecting backgammon bots. Mochy has also read practically all of the most important books on the strategy of the game.

About two years ago, Mochizuki said that one of his goals in life was to have the lowest Snowie error rate amongst human players in the world. In one of the past Easters, at the huge 20th PartoucheGammon Nordic Open Backgammon Championship in Denmark, he won first prize for in a side competition actually called “Lowest Error Rate” performing at 1.9 according to the Snowie program. It can now be said that Mochy has achieved his goal since so many Danes play backgammon and are notorious for having very low error rates, as well as because many other top international players attended the Nordic Open.

Mochy says he would like to someday see an international team tournament in which, not just a few, but all of the world’s backgammon-playing countries participate.

Matt Cohn-Geier, U.S.A.

Matt Cohn-Geier is probably the youngest backgammon players to enter the giants list in 2009, and definitely the player with the shortest career. Matt had started playing backgammon only in 2006; after only two years he finished second at one of the biggest challenges in American backgammon — the Las Vegas Open.

Like his biggest rival, Jacob “Stick” Rice, Matt Cohn-Geier fast road to the top came with the help of backgammon bots. At the same time, he has been participating in live backgammon tournaments, usually those ran by the ABT. His first major win was at the advanced division (1st consolation at the 2007 Midwest Backgammon Championships).

In 2008, Cohn-Geier had won 19 matches at his local San Francisco club and was named the player of the year and finished third at the ABT Wisconsin State Backgammon Championship. A year later, he finished second at California State Backgammon Champion consolation (losing the first place to Stick), championed the Land of Lincoln Masters at the Illinois Championship, the Hypergammon contest at the Minnesota Open, and the New York Doubles at the New York Metropolitan Backgammon Open, together with Carol Joy Cole.

In 2010, Matt Cohn-Geier was invited to represent the US in the Denmark vs. the World team competition at the Nordic Open. Matt also writes a backgammon column in the online magazine GammonVillage.

Matvey “Falafel” Natanzon, Israel

Born in Russia in 1969, Matvey Natanzon is a popular Israeli backgammon player who was voted as the #1 Backgammon Giant in 2007. Matvey, which translates to Michael in English, moved from Israel to the USA to study, and in his spare time enjoyed playing chess. He later began to play backgammon for money on the streets of New York.

It was tough for Matvey at the beginning — he says that to endure through hard times he ate cheaply surviving on falafel, a spicy Middle Eastern sandwich made out of fava beans and/or chickpeas, fried in small balls or patties and served on pita, thus the nickname “Falafel”. Matvey began playing on the international circuit back around the late 1990s and encountered success almost immediately.

Amongst other victories and money places, Falafel was the finalist in the $1,000 Super Jackpot at the Monte Carlo Backgammon World Championship in 2000.In 2003, he won the 20th Annual Fleet Underwood Memorial and Benefit Tournament; came second with Ken Arnold at the $10,000 entry 2003 Pro Am; split the Super Jackpot with Pawel Bielewicz at the 2003 Paris Master and Open International; and won money in three other international events that same year.

Natanzon’s success continued through 2004 to the present time (2008) cashing at two or three events each year, most notably were second place in the Super Jackpot of the 2006 Las Vegas Open, and then in 2007, he won first place in the Championship flight of the same event — so far in 2008 Falafel has won the Masters event of the 3rd Portuguese Open and the Masters event of the Paris Master and Partouche Backgammon Open 9. In 2009, he finished second at the WSOB Cannes, the opening event of the World Series of Backgammon third season.

When Falafel’s matches are analyzed by backgammon programs, he comes up with an amazing low error rate and he is considered for this reason, and of course his track record, to be the top player in the world.Another reason for Falafel’s popularity is his jovial character and appearance. Even when wearing a suit, he will pop on his baseball cap backwards. Falafel is also very funny, especially when talking about backgammon, and comes out with lines that always crack up the crowd.When once asked, “How do you feel about hitting the big time?” — Falafel replied, “I am thinking I should change my nickname from ‘Falafel’ to ‘Lobster’.”

Michihito Kageyama, Japan

Michihito Kageyama “Michy” is one of the most notable Japanese players in the international backgammon scene, along with #1 backgammon giant and 2009 world champion Masayuki Mochizuki “Mochy,” backgammon puzzle maker Othello Itikawa who closes the expanded Giants of Backgammon list on #64, Kenji Shimodaira and others.

Michy has started playing backgammon professionally in 1997, and since then he authored at least five backgammon books, won the 2006 Riviera Backgammon Championship Last Chance, 2007 Cannes Doubles Consultation (together with Toyotaka Nakamura), captained the winning Japan team on the 2007 Nordic Open Nation Cup. In 2009, he finalized the 2009 8th Velden Backgammon Open and the French Open Masters, semifinalized Nice Casino Ruhl Backgammon Open, won the Sperti trophy in Nice and the long distance award in the 1st Cyprus Backgammon Open.

On the 2010 Nordic Open, held beside the publication of the 2009 Giants of Backgammon list, Michihito finished fourth the Championship event. He also played the World Team that was led by Stick Rice and featured backgammon masters such as Masayuki “Mochy” Mochizuki, Matvey “Falafel” Natanzon and Katja Spillum at the celebrated Denmark vs. the World match. Michy was paired against backgammon giant #12 Mortem Holm Lassen at the opening speed gammon 3 match, and lost in all three matches.

Mike Corbett, U.S.A.

Mike Corbett is a veteran backgammon player who lives in Florida and has been ranked in the top 32 Giants of Backgammon in six of the eight polls conducted since 1993. He lives with his long-time companion and backgammon doubles partner Danielle Bastarache.

Corbett plays internationally and was one of the 25 Giants that competed in the Atlantis Million event in 2007. Mike made it to the fourth round of the Atlantis event by defeating Frank Frigo of the U.S. (the 1994 World Champion) in Round 1, Thomas Kazemieh of Iran/Germany in Round 2, the lovely Victoria Smirnoff in Round 3 but then in Round 4, he hit a brick wall, losing to Nack Ballard of the USA, the all-time #1 Player in the World.

In 2007, Mike published his first book called Backgammon Problems which has been highly recommended by such other great players as Paul Magriel, Mike Senkiewicz, Perry Gartner and Kent Goulding.

The ever-witty Jake Jacobs had this to say about Corbett’s new book: “When you think of backgammon problems, really tough ones, think of Mike. . . . This book, good as it is, is not the best backgammon book ever written. But it might be the most interesting one!”

Mike has seen many Championship, Super Jackpot and Masters victories over the years and has won numerous Doubles events with Danielle Bastarache.Corbett won the Southern Masters event at the 1st Southeast Backgammon Championships in Atlanta, Georgia held in 2007.

In 2005, he took first place in the Championship at the annual Florida State Backgammon Championship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and the same year was Runner-Up at the 30th Michigan Summer Backgammon Championships in Novi, Michigan and won the Last Chance at the 2005 Las Vegas Open Backgammon Tournament.

He also won the Championship at the 2nd Southern Open held on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia in 2004 where Danielle won the Intermediate flight. And in 2002, Corbett won the International Cup at the Worldwide Twin Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he also won the Seniors event, and to boot, he and Danielle also took first place in the Doubles competition!

Mike Senkiewicz, U.S.A.

Michael Senkiewicz is another veteran U.S. backgammon player and has been voted as one of the top #32 Giants of Backgammon since its inception in 1993. Mike was the #1 Giant of Backgammon in 1995 and was voted #2 in two of the other Giants polls over the years.

Senkiewicz won the Championship flight of the first New York Metropolitan Open and World Doubles Championship in 2008, a new event being organized in Jersey City by Director Howard Markowitz of Las Vegas fame. In the final of that tournament, he defeated John O’Hagan, the current #19 Giant and Runner-Up of the 2005 Monte Carlo World Backgammon Championship.

At the same tournament, Senkiewicz, partnered with the then #26 Backgammon Giant, Kent Goulding, and won the World Doubles competition in an exciting final against Ed O’Laughlin (current Giant #22) and Howard Markowitz. In 2006, Senkiewicz, with partner Tim Lawless, were the finalists of World Doubles Backgammon Championship that was held in Las Vegas.

In addition to countless other money places and Super Jackpot wins over the years, “Senk” as he sometimes referred to, was the Champion at the Michigan Summer Championships at Novi, Michigan in 2000 and came second in the Consolation of the 129-player Championship flight at the 1998 World Cup Challenge IV in Istanbul, Turkey.

Morten Holm Lassen, Denmark

Morten Holm is one of a small group of great Danish players that first started travelling to backgammon tournaments around the world after the game became very popular in Denmark in the early 1990s and while that group has grown a lot larger since, Morten has been consistent, and has truly made his mark as an exceptional player while gaining a lot of respect in the international backgammon community.

In addition to winning the Super Jackpot at the 20th PartoucheGammon Nordic Open Backgammon Championship in 2008, part of Season 2 of the World Series of Backgammon, Morten also won the prestigious 2007 Nations Cup with partner Sander Lylloff in Cannes and won the 1st consolation flight in the 2009 Backgammon World Championship in Monte Carlo.

Holm also qualified for the Grand Finale of the 2007 PartoucheGammon Tour held at Grand Casino Divonne-les-Bains. The event had added prize money of €100,000 and while Morten did make it to the final table, he could not outroll Germany’s Götz Hildberg, who emerged victorious to take home the lion’s share of the prize money . . . a cool €60,000!

Morten was also featured on television in Season 1 of World Series of Backgammon playing a match at the Riviera Cup against Maria Krancheva, considered by some to be the best female backgammon players in the world. He is also one of the twenty-five 2005 Giants of Backgammon that attend the Atlantis Million event in January of 2007, where he cashed in the $2,000 Super Jackpot coming in second behind Rick Barabino of USA.

Holm has been a finalist in other major events such as 18th Nordic Wide Open in 2006 and the huge Super Jackpot of the 2002 World Championship in Monte Carlo, Monaco. He was also a semifinalist in the Main Championship flight at the 2001 World Championship.

Nack Ballard, U.S.A.

Born in Evanston, Illinois in 1958, Nicholas Lee Ballard, more commonly known as Nack Ballard, reigned as the #1 Giant of Backgammon for six years between 1999 and 2005. Ballard has played and excelled in many other games as well, such as Chess, Scrabble and Go, just to name a few. He won the World Championship of the American Backgammon Championship (ABC) in June of 1982 — the ABC was an organization that existed in the USA and held several events billed as World Championships for a number of years.

With countless victories in many international events the world over, Nack is particularly remembered for winning the Pro Am on three occasions — in 2001, 2003 and 2004 — once with teammate Harvey Huie and twice with Wayne McClintock. The Pro Am was a high stakes Doubles event with an entry of $10,000 formerly held in Las Vegas and was attended by many of the world’s best. (This event was later called the World Doubles Backgammon Championship is now called the American Doubles Championship.)

In January of 2007, some 25 of the 32 Giants of Backgammon played in the 128-player, first-ever million-dollar backgammon tournament organized by Stephen Pearson of Player International and renowned backgammon consultant Michael Strato. The event took place in the surreal settings of the Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas, and of the 25 then Giants competing, Nack Ballard went the furthest, making it to the semifinals, just one step away from the final in which he could have won over $600,000 in first place prize money.

Ballard has played in fewer tournaments in recent years as he is writing a series of books, co-authored with backgammon master Paul Weaver, about how to play the first three rolls in backgammon — the first book in the series has been released and is called Backgammon Openings — Book A.

Neil Kazaross, U.S.A.

Neil Kazaross is a U.S. player of Armenian origin who lives in the State of Illinois and works as a stocks trader in Chicago. Neil has been the All-time #1 Player on the American Backgammon Tour (ABT) according to ABT statistics from 1993–2007. Neil has won the annual ABT on three occasions, in 1994, 1999 and 2005.

In backgammon, Neil also invented “Neil’s Numbers” which is a simple method to calculate most of the figures in a match equity table rather than the strenuous task of having to memorize the entire table. He is also a radio hobbyist and renowned medium wave DXer. His nicknames are NeilKaz or sometimes just Kaz, the latter which may have been given to him by John Bryant, who named a radio antenna developed by Kazaross — the “Kaz antenna.”

Kazaross has an astonishing number of victories at live tournaments and not only in the USA — on a whim, he once journeyed to play in the 1999 British Open of the British Isles Backgammon Association and ploughed through a field of 114 players to take home this prestigious UK title. Neil has also cashed in Consolations at the Monte Carlo World Championships in 2000 and the City Of Venice Tournament in 1999.

With an extensive record of conquests in Super Jackpots and Doubles events in the USA, Kazaross has won . . . first place in the Championship Division of the 2005 Wisconsin State Backgammon Championships; the Midwest Backgammon Championships twice — in 1999 and 2005; the 27th Annual Pittsburgh Backgammon Championships, also twice, in 1999 and 2005; the 2004 Georgia Backgammon Championships; the 10th Annual Ohio State Backgammon Championships in 2004; and the 49TH Indiana Open in 2001.

In 1998, Kazaross made it to the final of the U.S. Open in Dallas, Texas where he was defeated by Jerry Grandell of Sweden — Grandell is an amazing backgammon player who was voted the #1 Giant of Backgammon in 1999, but has since moved to Brazil where he is apparently playing a lot of poker.

A few of Kazaross’s most important matches are annotated in the book Backgammon with the Giants: Neil Kazaross, written by Antonio Ortega and Danny Kleinman. The three matches in the book were recorded at different live events in which he played against such experts as François Tardieu, Malcolm Davis and Charlie Russell.

Paul “X-22” Magriel, U.S.A.

Paul Magriel is the most famous of modern-day backgammon players. In addition to winning the 1978 World Championship, when they were held in The Bahamas prior to Monte Carlo, Magriel wrote the book called Backgammon back in 1976. Ever since, this book has been referred to as “The Bible of Backgammon” and even now, more than 30 years later, is still considered a must-read for any serious backgammon player. One of the most frequently cited chapters of Magriel’s book, is an excellent criteria he wrote about “Safe Play vs. Bold Play”.

Magriel is known to have given lessons to the rich and famous, and although he has always kept the names of those private and confidential, it is presumed that some of these have been members of royalty and well-known celebrities. Such a player would probably charge $1,000 a day for lessons, and his student would have to also pay for any additional expenses, such as airline tickets, hotel, etc.

Magriel, whose nickname is “X-22,” is originally from New York and began playing Chess before Backgammon — he was the 1965 New York State Junior Chess Champion. Paul was a mathematics professor at the Newark College of Engineering between 1969 and 1973 and wrote a weekly backgammon column for the New York Times from 1977 and 1980.

As one of the most respected theorists on the game, Magriel has done the live commentary for the World Championship final on many occasions as well as the same for final matches of several other major international events.As for other major wins, Magriel has won more Championship tournaments, Super Jackpots and Doubles events than any other player in the world. He once said he ran out of space in a room in his house where he had all his trophies on display.

Paul now lives in Las Vegas and has had good success playing in major poker tournaments but still likes gets out to compete at important backgammon events such as he did for the Atlantis Million tournament in 2007.

Paul Weaver, U.S.A.

Paul Weaver, who goes by the nickname of Wally Peever, lives in Hoover, Alabama. Paul studied math earning a Bachelor’s degree at Vanderbilt University and a Master’s at Purdue University. He has been playing backgammon since 1978 and has been on the Giants of Backgammon top 32 list since its inception in 1993. Paul has an average Snowie checker play error rate of 2.600, according to 50 matches submitted to, where he is ranked #10.

A world traveler, Paul has provided backgammon lessons to many students of the game and has given some 19 seminars on backgammon, and not only in the U.S.A. but in several other countries such as Brazil, Japan and Denmark. Furthermore, he has visited some 40 countries in the world and has played backgammon in 28 of those — he has also, at one time or another, been to all 50 of the United States. When Paul gets to a city he has never visited before, the first thing he looks for is where the backgammon action is.

In 2008, Weaver went to Australia to check out the backgammon scene in a number of cities there and won both the 2008 South Australia Open Backgammon Championship and the Queensland Backgammon Championship.

For many years now, Paul Weaver and Nack Ballard (current Giant #2) have been working together in collecting rollouts to publish a series of books about the best way to play the opening rolls of the game for the first three moves for every first possible roll. In 2007, the first of the books was published and is called Backgammon Openings Book A: 3-1. It has received much acclaim from many of the world’s top players, especially other Giants of Backgammon.

Besides several Super Jackpot and Masters wins, Weaver also won 7th Carolina Invitational in 2007, the Consolation of the 12th Japan Open Backgammon Festival in 2006, the Georgia Backgammon Championships in 1999 and 2003 and 48th Indiana Open in 2000.

Peter Jes Thomsen, Denmark

Peter Jes Thomsen is another of the early group of Danes backgammon masters that went international in the early 1990s and in 1993 became the first Danish player to win the Monte Carlo World Championship. It seems that Thomsen was playing less backgammon for a while just before the turn of the century, at least internationally, but then appeared on the scene again, winning the Nordic “Wide” Open in 2000. Therefore, Thomsen has won the Championship Division of the two most-attended tournaments in the world.

In recent years, Thomsen was a semifinalist in the Masters flight of the WBF’s 1st Nice Casino Ruhl Backgammon Open in Nice, France in 2007. He also teamed up with other Danish Backgammon Giants Morten Holm (currently #10) and Sander Lylloff (currently #4) for the Nations Cup at Riviera Backgammon Festival in 2006, where they placed second, defeated by the U.S. teams of Perry Gartner, Ray Fogerlund and Howard Markowitz.

Thomsen was also a semifinalist at the 7th EBN Backgammon and Gin Rummy Tournament held in San Roque, Spain in 2001 and again a semifinalist in the Consolation at the 3rd Riviera Backgammon Challenge 3 in Cannes, France in 2005. Peter Jes Thomsen is also listed as #14 on the ranking list with an average checker play error rate of 3.227 (World Class level) by Snowie in 20 recorded matches.

Petko Kostadinov, Bulgaria

Petko Kostadinov was born in Bourgas, Bulgaria on March 6, 1961 and currently lives in the USA where he worked as a Statistical Analysis Supervisor at TriCenturion in Columbia, South Carolina. It is the first time that Kostadinov appears in the top #32 Giants of Backgammon list.

In Bulgaria, backgammon is a very popular game, and similar to Greece, children are taught the game at a very young age. Petko started playing in Bulgaria at the age of 11, but as in many countries around the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Petko says that most Bulgarians know nothing about the doubling cube.

Petko played online for a couple of years and at one point decided to get out and play live — the first big tournament he attended was the 50th Indiana Open in Indianapolis, Indiana in 2002. In March of 2003, he won the Intermediate flight at the Southern Backgammon Open and later that year, returned to Indianapolis for the 51st Indiana Open, where he won first place in the Advanced Division.

Then in 2004, he switches to high gear and goes for broke at the Championship level at the 52nd Indiana Open Backgammon Tournament, where he makes it to the final but is defeated by Walter Trice (current Giant #26). Petko says, “My favourite backgammon book is “Backgammon Boot Camp” by Walter Trice. I was very happy to play him in the finals of the Indiana Open Championship in 2004.”

Undaunted, Kostadinov has continued to play at the Championship level since and has faced and defeated some of the top experts, and other Giants of BG, along the way. He has won many Masters and Super Jackpot tournaments, including the Michigan Masters Jackpot at the huge 32nd Michigan Summer Backgammon Championships in 2007 where he was also a semifinalist in the Championship.

In April of 2008 Petko was the Runner-Up in the Last Chance at the 24th Nevada State Backgammon Tournament and U.S. Team Championship.“I like Yamin Yamin’s idea of having a ranking list with the top 32 backgammon players but I would like to see more European voters in the future though,” Petko remarks.

Ralf Jonas, Germany

Ralf Jonas is a German businessman who gets out to few backgammon tournaments these days. However, he usually attends the annual World Championship in Monte Carlo and did participate in the Atlantis Million event in 2007, where he and Nack Ballard were the only two Giants that made it to the semifinals, where they both lost — Jonas was defeated by fellow German Andreas Märtens and Ballard by Lasse Hjorth Madsen of Denmark. Märtens then won the Final over Madsen to take home $600,400 while Madsen won $144,096 — Jonas and Ballard won $60,040 each as semifinalists.

One of Jonas favourite events must be the annual Paris Masters and Open tournament previously organized by François Tardieu in the early 2000s but which has now become a part of the PartoucheGammon Tour. Here’s why . . . Jonas comes to the 1st Paris Masters and Open in 2000 and goes home with a stack of money by winning the Super Jackpot event.

Then, in 2001, he does not expect to go to the 2nd Paris Masters and Open because he has too much work on his hands, but at the last minute drops everything and jumps on a plane to Paris. He rushes to the tournament room in the Holiday Inn Hotel in Place Republique, arriving just minutes before the close of registration for the Masters competition. He signs up and plays in the event and makes it to the final of the Masters where he defeats Morten Holm of Denmark (current Giant #10) to take home more than $40,000.

Then in 2002, Jonas comes to the 3rd Paris Masters and Open at the same venue, and again rolls all the way to the final where he defeats his friend, Leonid Riskin, a Russian living in Germany, and goes home with another plus $40,000.The format of the Masters event of Paris Masters and Open tournament is one that many pro players enjoy and would like to see at other tournaments. It consists of up to three 11-point matches played with clocks — the first player to win two matches in the set of the three advances to the next level.Another of Jonas’ big money wins was the Super Jackpot of the World Backgammon Championship in Monte Carlo in 1998.

Raymond Fogerlund, U.S.A.

Ray Fogerlund, nickname “Coolrey,” was born in Los Angeles, California on February 22, 1956 and currently works as a firefighter in Bakersfield, California. In 2007, Ray won the title of American Backgammon Tour Player of the Year and is at this moment the leader on the 2008 ABT Standings. Although he has played in the USA and at international events for more than 25 years, this is the only first time that Ray has made it to the top #32 of the Giants of Backgammon.

So far in 2008, Fogerlund has won the main Championship flight of the 2008 Los Angeles Open Backgammon Tournament where he also won the event’s Super Jackpot tournament. He came in second at 30th Annual Pittsburgh Backgammon Championships in Pennsylvania at the end of March, while at the beginning of March won the Grand Crystal Beaver Masters event of the 2008 Midwest Backgammon Championships where he also won the Taki Six-Shooter Tourney . . . quite an impressive record this year alone so far! Wonder how he ever has time to fight fires? Well, since most of these events are held on weekends it is probably easy for him to arrange for weekends off.

In 2007, Ray made it to the top of the ABT Standings by making it to the money in about six or seven ABT-ranked events. He also won the Seniors event at the 2007 Las Vegas Open and one or two other Super Jackpots that year.Besides many other second and third place finishes in his career, Fogerlund has won first place at these events: 1998 Las Vegas Masters, 2002 Los Angeles Open, 2003 Indiana Open, 2006 Las Vegas Super Jackpot and the 2006 Nations Cup Challenge in Cannes with teammates Perry Gartner and Howard Markowitz.

On his personal profile on Ray says he would like to see “online cheaters fried” and hopes that the image of Backgammon be improved worldwide because “there are too many freeloaders and penny ante hustlers ruining this game”.

Richard Munitz, U.S.A.

Richard Munitz of New York won the title of 2006 American Backgammon Tour (ABT) Player of the Year, and although he has played in many U.S. events over the years, this is the first time that Munitz appears in the top #32 Giants of Backgammon ranking list.

His three first-place victories at U.S. tournament in 2006 are what put him atop of the ABT standings — those were won at the 13th Annual Georgia Backgammon Championships in Atlanta, Georgia, the Thousand Islands Backgammon Tournament at Alexandria Bay, New York and the 31st Michigan Summer Backgammon Championships Novi, Michigan.

Another factor of his ABT title was that he was a semifinalist in the Championship flights at both the 28th Annual Pittsburgh Backgammon Championships in Moon Township, Pennsylvania and the California State Backgammon Championship in Los Angeles, California.

Due to other commitments, Munitz could not come to play in the Atlantis Million event in The Bahamas in 2007 but he did venture later that year to 32nd World Backgammon Championship in Monte Carlo, Monaco, where he played some of the longest matches in his life and reached the semifinals to face Alvaro Savio of Brazil. But it was not to be Munitz’s day, the long hours of plays, over several days must have taken their toll.

The 23-point semifinal match against Savio went on for more than four hours with Savio eventually winning it by a score of 23–18.Subsequent analysis of the recorded match by the Snowie program showed that Savio played at an Expert level with an overall 5.5 error rate while Munitz played Advanced at a 6.1 overall error rate. By the way, in the very exciting World Championship final on the following day, Savio was defeated at DMP by Jorge Alberto Pan of Argentina, who became the 2007 World Champion.

Sander Lylloff, Denmark

Born in 1982, Sander Lylloff is one of the youngest of the current Giants of Backgammon and took a huge leap from his 44th place ranking in the 2005 poll to this #4 spot in the 2007 poll.

Sander says he started out young in Denmark, playing lots of money games and chouettes in the clubs and cafes of Denmark. He began making his mark internationally by defeating Matvey “Falafel” Natanzon (currently Giant #1) in the Super Jackpot of the 2005 Las Vegas Open Backgammon Tournament. In fact, Natanzon himself says that he believes Lylloff should be #1.

Also in 2005, Lylloff and partner Mark Teltscher of England, finished second in the Pro Am backgammon event in Las Vegas. Little did they know then, that they would both meet in the final table of the Barcelona Open / EPT Poker tournament on September 1, 2007 and end up facing off for first place with Sander emerging victorious to take home an awesome €1,170,700 in prize money.

His amazing Poker triumph, came just a few weeks after Sander won the Main Championship flight of the PartoucheGammon Tour’s Riviera Challenge on July 22, as well as first place in the Nations Cup international team event at the same venue with partner Morten Holm, current BG Giant #10, who is also from Denmark.

Steen Grønbech, Denmark

Steen Grønbech is a Dane backgammon player who also serves as vice chairman of board of the Danish Backgammon Federation, the strongest, most organized backgammon association in the world. Steen plays regularly at the elite division of the DBgF, as part of the Team Play65.

Steen Grønbech, who plays backgammon at the Danish Backgammon Federation since 2000, had recently begun gaining recognition outside of Denmark. He played the 2006 World Backgammon Championship in Monte Carlo (after winning a qualifier event at the Nordic Open) and the Million Backgammon Tournament organized by PartyGammon in 2007 at the Bahamas, where he won the $200 jackpot).

Grønbech was the number 1 player at the 2009 WSOB Race, after getting between the four winners in almost every World Series of Backgammon event that year: third and first consolation at the WSOB Cannes and 2nd at the WSOB Prague Doubles. He overcame backgammon giants like Matvey “Falafel” Natanzon and won a seat at the WSOB Shootout, held on February 2010 in London.

In 2009 Cyprus Open, Steen won the WBA Member of Honor prize for his work on the World Backgammon Tour (WBGT), a global tour planned to unify backgammon, and to cross three continents on its six stops. The tour was launched in 2010 with the Nordic Open, and the next stop is expected to take place in San Francisco with the 2nd US Open.

Steve Sax, U.S.A.

Steve Sax of the USA started out young in backgammon following the footsteps of his mom, Ricky, an American tournament player that won the U.S. Open Women’s Backgammon Championship held in Reno, Nevada in 1980. In fact, Ricky and Steve won the Doubles event together at the Gammon Associates 43rd Invitational Tournament back in 1998.

Sax, who resides in the state of California, has studied backgammon zealously since he got involved with the game and has often shares his knowledge in articles written for online websites or print newsletters.Steve never played much at Beginner or Intermediate levels skipping these early in his career to compete at the higher Championship level, where he has seen much success — he is rated as the #5 player in the All-Time American Backgammon Tour (ABT) Standings from 1993–2007 — and he won the title of ABT Player of the Year in 2002.

Back around that same year, Steve Sax gave backgammon lessons to actress Nicole Kidman! Interesting little story here . . . while she was making a movie in Montreal, Canada a personal assistant of the famous actress contacted Michael Strato, an international backgammon consultant who lives in Montreal, asking him if he could give Nicole some private lessons. Although Strato agreed, he never hooked up with Nicole for those lessons because of her busy schedule. However, upon her return to California, Nicole’s staffer contacted Strato again asking him to refer her to a top player near Los Angeles for lessons, and Strato recommended Steve Sax. A short time later, US magazine said Nicole Kidman was crazy about backgammon showing her in a photo carrying a roll-up backgammon board.

Sax has won many Doubles events over the years, often partnering with other well-known players — he won the Doubles with Bob Glass at the 54th Indiana Open Backgammon Tournament in 2006, with Patrick Gibson at the California State Backgammon Championship in 2005 and with Ray Fogerlund at the Gammon Associates 43rd Invitational in 2000.

Probably Sax’s most significant Doubles victory was with another partner, Brian Zembic, at the American Doubles Championship in Las Vegas in 2007 where 14 teams each paid an entry fee of $8,000 to participate. (Zembic himself is infamous for being ready and willing to bet on anything — Zembic once bet another backgammon player $100,000 that he would get breast implants and keep them for one year, which he did, winning the bet.) In addition to other victories and money wins in Championship flights, Sax has been especially efficient at winning many Super Jackpots and Masters competitions over the years.

Walter Trice, U.S.A.

Walter Trice lived in Massachusetts, USA until his death in 2009, and has played in live backgammon tournaments for more than 30 years. Trice rarely, if ever, plays in international events outside the USA but is a highly respected backgammon analyst and theorist the world over. He is the co-author, with Jake Jacobs (currently Giant #14) of a book released in 1996 called “Can a Fish Taste Twice as Good? Doubling in an Unequal Backgammon Match” and has written the Bearoff Quizmaster as well as other backgammon programs.

Most importantly, Walter Trice is the author of Backgammon Boot Camp, a book released in 2004 which in these modern times is recommended as the “must-read” book for any beginner, and for that matter, advanced player, looking to improve fast. The book consists of a series of highly acclaimed backgammon articles first published online. The articles were then taken, updated and re-written to some extent, and published in a book by Fortuitous Press.

The original idea for the series came from Michael Strato, the well-known international backgammon consultant and online magazine editor, who asked Trice to write a weekly beginner series starting with the most basic of strategies — Strato kept asking for more, Trice kept writing, and a year later it had reached a level where even advanced players said they were learning something new. Trice has appeared in the top #32 Giants of Backgammon ranking list on four occasions with his highest ranking at #23 in the 2005 poll. In recent years alone, Walter has won first place in the Championship flight of the Las Vegas Backgammon Open in 2004, an event in which there were 101 participants with 27 rebuys. He also won the 64-player Championship of the 2004 Indiana Open Backgammon Tournament.

In June of 2004, Walter married his long-time sweetheart, Donna McDermott, and went on a beautiful honeymoon with her to a lovely island off the coast of Maine.

More articles by Masters of Backgammon

More articles on Biographies

Backgammon Galore : Articles