Falafel’s friend, Shay Beja, writes…
Dear friends and members of the international backgammon community family,
Recently we lost a giant. Not just a giant backgammon player and mentor, but a giant heart.
He had many names: Mike, Mikey, Matvey (his birthname), and Michel, but everybody knew him as Falafel.
Falafel was perhaps the best backgammon player in the world, crushing everybody and performing with inhuman error rates. Scoring amazing results in tough quizzes, betting on checker plays, cube actions and propositions. No one came close to him and, as he reached celebrity status and fame, few were willing to bet against him.
But all this took a lifetime. Falafel chose the long road, and had the weakest starting point possible. He was practically homeless in his twenties, scratching nickels and dimes, playing micro stakes chess and backgammon just to survive. He could only afford the cheapest sandwich – falafel – which stuck as his eternal nickname.
Falafel fell in love with backgammon although he wasn’t a steady winner, even at low levels. He devoted all his time and effort to the game in order to improve, getting advice and coaching from better players, and later using advanced computer programs such as Jellyfish, Snowie, and eXtremeGammon to raise his level of play. In the 1990s, and now in his thirties, he finally gained recognition as one of the best players in the world.
In 2007 Falafel was named the number one backgammon player in the world by a well-respected review known as Giants of Backgammon. Famous, critically acclaimed and a very popular competitor in a wide variety of tournaments, Falafel made friends anywhere and everywhere.
What made him so special? There are many great backgammon players, and most likely a few of them reached his level of play. But Falafel was one of a kind. He touched the hearts and souls of everyone around him. He was colourful, sweet, with a healthy sense of humour. He was kind, open, and innocent, as well as humble and modest. All these traits wrapped up together in one person are indeed very rare.
But there is more. In backgammon, poker, chess or any other sum zero game, what you win equals what the other loses. This causes friction in gaming communities. Falafel was a rare champion not just in backgammon but in his ability to bring people together, instead of separating the winners from the losers. With love, what you gain the other gains as well, sometimes even more. Only a real champ, a true giant, can live like that.
In 2009 Falafel even made the effort to use backgammon to bring Muslims and Jews closer together, visiting dangerous areas in East Jerusalem. Indeed, Falafel had no fear; not from the dice nor from any other human being or circumstances. “We are all the same” he said many times, “There are absolutely no differences.” Everybody respected his personality and simple approach to life.
Falafel experienced many ups and downs in his life, and not just with the dice. It turned out that life could be even more cruel than backgammon. In 2018, at the age of just forty-nine, he was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer. His giant heart stopped on February 14, 2020.
Falafel is no longer with us, but his legacy remains. A legacy of companionship, joy of life and love live on, eternally.
Rest in peace Falafel, a true master, a true hero, and a true friend to all.