Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages
Recent Posts
Backgammon Taught Me Everything, With Akiko Yazawa
Akiko Yazawa won the backgammon world championships for the second time in 2018—the culmination of a long road to recovery after being diagnosed with cancer in 2012. How did she gain the advantage?
The following are excerpts from our interview

In winter 2012, the doctors found that I had endometrial cancer. Without treatment, they said I had less than a year. With surgery, I had a 50/50 chance. No guarantees. And surgery meant removing my uterus. I’d be unable to get pregnant. I felt the doom and gloom descend over me. My life up until that point had been so fun. So part of me thought I should just not get the surgery and let it be the end of me. So I balked.

When you think about your next move, you picture all of the possible outcomes. So I pictured the best outcome of surgery and the worst. And then I pictured the best outcome of not getting the surgery and the worst. The decision to die is, ultimately, a decision that can be made at any point down the line. But the decision to undergo surgery was only available to me at that moment. So I decided not undergoing the surgery was not an option.

I was still undergoing chemotherapy, but it still wasn’t clear if I was going to make it or not. And I wanted to leave my mark on the world while I still could. In New York, there are a lot of people playing backgammon along the streets. I encountered moves I’d never seen before. At a tournament, the ability to bounce back from a disadvantageous position is a crucial one. So I intentionally placed myself in a situation where I was at a disadvantage and learned how to turn things around. One time when I was playing in Harlem, a gunfight broke out nearby, but I remained utterly invested in the game in front of me.

There were many battles I had to fight to get to that point. My disease. The final match. And all throughout part of me was scared. But I was able to overcome it. I was overwhelmed, and the tears started streaming. The decisive factor was that I didn’t give up. And that goes not just for backgammon. It applies to my life as a whole, too. There are many things that are out of our control. Those things are like the roll of the dice. But depending on the choices you make, you can make things better or worse. When I was facing this crossroads in life—this crisis—backgammon is what saved me. I owe it everything.



Leave a comment