Coolrey Fogerlund is No. 1 in U.S.A

Coolrey Fogerlund is No. 1 in U.S.A

Interviewed by Phil Simborg

Ray Fogerlund came in third at the ABT event in LA. No big accomplishment for Ray, since he has won many tournaments over the years, but it sealed his claim to the No. 1 Player of the year for 2009. It’s the second time Ray has claimed this honor, and that says something, as the only other player who has ever won more than once is Neil Kazaross. Nice company!

Ray is also the No. 2 player on the all-time point list (again behind Neil). The first time Ray won was 2007, and last year he had a bad year and only came in 5th. This year, Ray also won the highly-prestigious European Doubles Championships in Paris with his partner, Sasan Taherzadeh.

Two years ago when the Open players around the world voted to determine who they believed were among the top 32 players in the world, Ray was on that list, and with his current success, he is a strong favorite to repeat.

I’ve known Ray for many years, and I know he is both loved and hated for his outgoing personality, temper, and his propensity to speak his mind and, in his own words, “call a spade a spade,” regardless of what people might think. But whether you like him or not, you have to admit he is a great player; he is entertaining; and he has done much to help make tournament backgammon in the U.S. exciting and fun.

Along with yours truly, Ray is often the auctioneer at many tournaments. There is a reason people want Ray—he runs a great auction. It’s fun, he has a quick wit, and it’s actually a draw to have him there.

Ray lives in Bakersfield, CA and works for the Kern County Fire Department. He will be retiring soon, and his first trip as a retiree will be to the New Mexico State Championships in Santa Fe, January 28th.

But rather than just give you my thoughts on Ray, I interviewed him to get his own thoughts and insights on several subjects.

When did you start playing?

Well, Phil, I remember that well. It was the summer of 1979 or so, in West Los Angeles. My buddy lived two blocks down the street from a new club called Chippendales.

Believe it or not, they had a backgammon tournament run by Randy Kornfein there on, like, Tuesday nights or something. On Thursday nights they had some “other” attraction, I forget what that was! But they wouldn’t let the men into the club until later, and the ladies were all warmed up by that time, (or so it seemed).

What is your favorite backgammon book?

There are two: Paradoxes and Probablilites, by Barclay Cooke, and the one that trashes it, Classic Backgammon Revisited, by Jeremy Bagai.

What is your biggest backgammon victory?

Probably the double victory in Los Angeles in June of 2008, Open and Super 32 against an awesome field. I also am proud of the 2006 Nations Cup Challenge victory with Perry Gartner and Howard Markowitz in Cannes. And, more recently, the European Doubles Championship in Paris.

What is your favorite type of backgammon?

I play tournaments almost exclusively since I learned that I can’t handle Carter Mattig in a chouette. By the way, my most sought after prize in all of backgammon is one of your “I beat Carter” ball caps. My last attempt was in Vegas, but he thwarted me again!

What is your favorite side event at tournaments?

Kill Phil, without a doubt! [From Phil: I have yet to beat Ray in this event!]

Who are your heroes outside of backgammon?

My late father was a man I looked up to. He was an unassuming genius in the field of logic, and he could apply that logic to every day life.

Where do you play online?

I only play at It is run by Gabriella Barclay and it has the best backgammon software I have used. It has a membership fee of $150 a year but it is well worth it.

How much a week do you play backgammon?

Four or five times a week I will play a match or two with my morning coffee. Occasionally I have played online at work in the evenings between calls.

How do you prepare for tournaments?

I have a routine. I go to GridGammon and play matches. Whenever I want to double, or make a weird checker play, I do it. Then I let the bot, (Gnu Backgammon currently, though I hear there is a new kid on the block and he/she is faster and possibly better), slap the hell out of me.

That tends to sober me up and make me quit giving away the cube too early, a mistake that is all too common at tournaments. I am also able to identify current bad habits or tendencies in my checker play, and I make a mental note to be extra careful with that sort of position in the upcoming event. My focus doesn’t last for long, but a weekend is all that is required!

What is your best advice for intermediate players who hope to improve?

I would have to tell them now: Get eXtreme Gammon. I don’t have it yet but from what I hear it is the latest greatest bot, and it only costs $50. Gnu Backgammon is free, but not so user friendly. I have not yet changed because I am (finally) used to Gnu.

Intermediates should avail themselves of the latest technology and become conversant with it. Play and analyze, play and analyze. I would also tell them to ante up for the various newsletters to get up to speed on the game, and play on one of the many web sites where you can download your entire match into eXtreme Gammon. (GridGammon works, along with most other popular sites.)

What are your favorite hobbies and interests outside of backgammon?

I have always liked to fish, but have little time for it these days. Perhaps I will become reacquainted with fishing once I retire?

I am also an avid video poker player and I am seriously considering a move to Las Vegas, Nevada. No State taxes and low cost real estate in combination with video-poker opportunities are my principal reasons for that move. There is also a good backgammon club in Vegas and I think it is run by Jason Lee, a young man that I have great respect for.

What are your thoughts and hopes about this new backgammon federation?

It is my sincere hope that it will be able to help backgammon growth in the USA and stimulate stagnant interest. I think the problem with US backgammon is too many bums play it, sorry to say, and they drive off new players by hustling them into oblivion. Sponsorships would be nice, but previous efforts in this vein have failed miserably or gone by the wayside even quicker than they appeared.

You are known to have a volatile temper. Are you working on that or are you happy with the way you are?

People simply don’t understand me. I am very competitive and I don’t like losing. But even more important, what I really hate is a bad winner, and I pride myself at being very gracious in that department.

Of course I am always working on keeping my cool and, yes, the game does get to me at times, but people exaggerate a lot and only see or hear about one side of the story. For example, when I had that bad-beat against Carter in Las Vegas, I would never had knocked over that chair if it hadn’t asked for it.

I have developed a philosophy about anger management, and the reason to control your anger is that, if you blow up too early, the game often embarrasses you by letting you win.

I hate losing, but I hate hoping I don’t hit and win after whining even more.

Now there is a paradox for you! Believe it or not I counsel other players on temper management and warn them that they can’t really enjoy stealing a match if they have blown up prematurely. Maintaining one’s composure allows one to root for oneself at the eleventh hour, and subsequently enjoy to the fullest any windfalls the dice have in store for them.

It probably sounds silly that I would counsel anyone on anger management, but isn’t the instructor usually supposed to be an expert? In counseling other players about losing their temper, I hope to teach them to avoid making the same mistakes that I have made. Experience is the best teacher.

How do you change your game when you play one of the best players in the world, and how do you change it when you are playing someone you know to be much worse than you?

Against experts I just try to play the best that I am capable of. I know all the angles and most of the nuances and I understand them, but I don’t always play with the lowest of error rates.

Up against the best, psychological gambits and bluff doubles are unlikely to work, and neither will deep takes that rely on bad post-double play by the opponent. What is very effective is accepting their almost universal “doubles at the first opportunity”. What that means is, while becoming an expert these people have learned when it is right to double and they hate to miss a double.

Doubling at the same time as a bot can produce a zero error rate, but yields negative results because no human will play as well after doubling as the computer does. The reason why is they have to deal with their emotions afterwards, and the bots don’t have any!

In poker terms I would probably be referred to as a “calling station”, except in backgammon I guess the term would be “taking station.” I turn a lot of games around on my expert opponents who generally overrate their own ability to bring positions home.

More often I am playing someone who is worse. I don’t go overboard by making bad checker plays, (like slotting with 5-1 or 4-1), to try and provoke complexity and stimulate even worse errors in my opponents. Every new pro over emphasizes that aspect I think. What works for me is to know the best opening moves and then make them, allowing the bozo to then make his bad plays and reap the associated rewards.

The other way I finally learned how to exploit the weakness of my opponent is not to get impatient. I will beat them if I don’t get in a hurry and double arrogantly and early. Impatience is a form of looking past your current opponent and it is both bad strategy and disrespectful.

Lack of respect causes carelessness, and that is a dangerous practice in a dice game! Waiting a roll is important against weaker players. It reduces the volatility and it allows them to make more cube mistakes of their own, like timid passes for instance. Patience is the key, and tournament doubling is an innately conservative science in my opinion. Besides, we all tend to want to double before the position warrants it, don’t we?

What are your pet peeves at tournaments?

Slow play in doubles events is one. Directors who create match conflicts by allowing players active in a main event to enter side events is another.

Then they want to solve that problem by forcing me to play after midnight under threat of forfeiture! It is not my fault they have a log jam, and it is unfair to ask me to play an important match at the end of a 14 hour day so the last chance will go smoothly for them the next day.

Who are your heroes in backgammon, people you respect either for their play or for other reasons?
  • Malcolm Davis for his work ethic, which is second to none.
  • Norm Wiggins for his honesty and squared away priorities.
  • Patrick Gibson for his boundless enthusiasm.
  • Nack Ballard for his professionalism and lack of ego.
  • Neil Kazaross for his technical expertise.
  • Petko Kostadinov and Dana Nazarian both for their good sportsmanship and low error rates.
  • Matt Cohn Geier for his composure and countenance over the board.
  • And you, Phil, for your tireless promotion of the game.
What are your plans for the future?

I want to visit Pittsburgh in February, I think. I hear the weather is nice there around Valentine’s day. I wonder if they play any backgammon in that town? Do you know?

Phil: I’ve been to Pittsburgh, and no, what they play there is not really backgammon!


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