With Backgammon Players-Chiva Tafazzoli

Chiva Tafazzoli

Chiva Tafazzoli is one of the most respected and prominent figures in backgammon today. Less of a player and more of an organizer and Tournament Director, Chiva founded the World Backgammon Association (WBA) and made it the leading authority for international tournaments in less than a decade.

Well-traveled players will tell you that Chiva’s tournaments are the best organized, offer the most fun and have the highest equity and added money of the circuit. WBA is currently running the 4th Season of European Backgammon Tour (EBGT) and is the initiator of the World Backgammon Tour (WBGT) which unifies the biggest and most prestigious tournaments on 3 continents.

Chiva organizes more than six tournaments in Europe and four tournaments in the USA and is also on the Board of Governors of the recently established USBGF (US Backgammon Federation). He has helped to develop the game and to establish federations in various emerging countries and is aiming to make backgammon an Olympic discipline.

It was Chiva’s personal urging that got me and my partner Carter enthusiastic about pushing for the development of a player’s federation here in the U.S., and for that I offer him my personal gratitude. The USBGF, while very new, has already begun to make significant progress in the advancement of backgammon in the U.S. and in developing direct links to groups in other countries.

Chiva was kind enough to answer many questions from me.

How did you get introduced to backgammon?

I was living in France when I was 16 years old and I had a summer job on the golf course of Evian, in the French Alps. There were a bunch of guys in the club house, playing this funny game with checkers and dice and exchanging money bills after each game. I went back home and told my father about it. He said: “That’s backgammon, a Persian game. Would you like to learn it?” That’s how it all started.

We used to sit down every day for an hour or two and play. It was torture, since I had to explain every move I did. Why this and not that? What’s your goal in this position? What’s the strategy, etc. But that’s how I finally learned it, the basic way.

Then, in the early 80s, young and stupid as I was (meanwhile not that young anymore), I believed I was king of the backgammon world, having a pretty good checker play. I was shooting pool some day when a guy walked in, having heard that I played backgammon. We sat down and played, with the cube, which I had never tried before.

“It can’t be much different, after all,” I thought, and within the shortest time, I lost my trousers, but had the discipline to stop. That must have impressed my opponent who gave me valuable hints about how to study, books to read, tournaments to attend, etc. Throughout the years, we became friends and he became my “backgammon mentor.” Two years later, he was World Champion.

I have played backgammon ever since and until today. I stopped twice for two years and got back to the game when software such as JellyFish and Snowie came out, and online gaming started. Using the internet for training purposes and the bots to analyze and to learn have improved my game ever since.

Today, I qualify myself as an expert player, a bit too strong for Intermediate divisions and maybe a bit too weak for Champion divisions, more in the upper range of an Advanced division player (some tournaments do offer this division).

However, my expertise is more the organization and direction of tournaments. That’s something I have started almost 10 years ago and I recently directed my 200th tournament. In a recent poll, I was honored to be voted as Top Director, along with the guys of the Danish federation.

What is your favorite tournament or type of game?

I like all types and variations of backgammon. I like the basic “traditional” game, without doubling cube and backgammons (triples). I love basic “modern” backgammon. I enjoy Nackgammon. I am crazy about SpeedGammon (probably because I always play speedy anyway. (It takes me more time to press the button of a chess clock than to play.) And not to forget SassanGammon, which is great fun, especially with the new rule of using two dice when being on the bar.

What was your most fun, exciting win?

Difficult question. Every victory is sweet and every loss is bitter. I own more than 70 trophies from different competitions but not a single one for a straight win of an important tournament. Over the years, you better learn to become humble when you win and not frustrated when you lose. That’s backgammon.

How would you like to see the game changed?

I don’t think the game necessarily needs a change. It’s the oldest game on the planet and as long as there are still people populating the world, there will be backgammon. Backgammon is the perfect combination of skill and luck and the better player will always prevail in the long run. The spice of the game is the unknown factor of “long run”. In my opinion, backgammon should not be touched and turned into something more skillful like chess or something more luck-based like craps.

What advice would you give to a new player that wants to become a top player some day?

New player: That easy. study! Get yourself some books, play a lot, use the bots to analyze and to learn and have a disciplined bankroll management when you play for money.

Someone who already has some knowledge of the game, or coming from “traditional backgammon” countries: That’s more difficult. Erase everything and start to study from scratch. Same procedure but more difficult to apply.

How do you prepare for tournaments you are running?

Preparing for tournaments as an organizer is a tremendous piece of work. It involves sourcing the venues, finding the right dates which match with the international calendar and with the needs of the sponsors and the venues, negotiating hotels rates, designing brochures, advertising the tournaments, overseeing and having the equipment and the trophies ready, picking a staff and having everything ready before the tournament starts. Not to mention the enormous work during the tournament, working long hours, having to enforce rules, making rulings, respecting the schedules, taking care of reports and live-streams, etc. And some work after each tournament, calculating points, sending off reports, etc. The work never ends.

As a player, I like to be on the spot at least a day earlier and be well-rested, and when the competition starts, trying to focus and to have fun.

Do you have any special tips or strategies that you think have really helped your game?

Study, but never forget to have fun. I personally don’t have the goal to become the best player in the world, even though I like to improve my game. If I can find the right balance between playing fast (which is something I love) and playing good, I am very happy.

What was the best lesson you ever had?

To be less aggressive with my play and to take time to think (both difficult tasks for me).

Do you play online? Where?

Yes I do and I play everywhere. During my backgammon career, I have consulted to many of online gaming operators in matters of backgammon (that’s includes some of the biggest names of the industry). It is important to know about the market, the different operators, their products, the networks, the strength and weaknesses. It’s part of my job to keep myself updated and I spend a good portion of my time as a user on many sites.

What are your plans for tournament play this year?

I wish I could make more time to play, but with 10 or 11 international tournaments on three continents to organize or direct (Denmark, Cyprus, California, Portugal, Georgia (the country), Florida, Spain, Maryland, France, Cyprus, and maybe one or two more), it’s simply an impossibility.

You have spent extra money to make clocks available at all of your tournaments. Is it worth it?

Clocks are a wonderful addition to the game. Not only do I believe they are necessary, from the standpoint of a Director in order to run a smooth tournament on schedule, but they add a new element to the game (time management). I am waiting for a manufacturer to supply boards with implemented clock. I am currently talking to a few and hopefully, we can come up with a design soon.

Do you have any philosophies of life you care to share?

Since I live and breathe backgammon, I put a backgammon spin on everything. The parallels between life and this game of backgammon are many: analysis and evaluation, combination and strategy, decision-making and risk-management, aggression and safety, luck and uncertainty ….

Have you read any recent books or seen any great movies lately that you would recommend?

I do read a lot: poetry, philosophy, politics, biographies, management and marketing. I have worked for the film industry for more than a decade so I have had my share of watching movies, so I stick to TV and DVD.

How many hours a week do you play backgammon?

A lot on average. I play backgammon and click on my computer mouse when I work, when I’m on the phone, when I’m bored, when I suffer from insomnia, or in between emails. I completed three matches while answering the questions of this interview.

What’s the best backgammon book or article you’ve ever read?

Il Grande Libro Del Backgammon, by Dario de Toffoli. Unfortunately, published so far only in Italian language. It’s the most complete book on backgammon, with 150 pages dedicated to the history of the game, but also covering, the rules, the strategy and techniques and the personalities of the game. Hopefully, a publisher will have it translated in other languages and distribute it worldwide.

Aside from backgammon, what are your other hobbies or interests?

Too many to mention. Here are a few: I like to travel, to cook, and fine food, I love my cigars, single malt whisky, all kinds of rum, good wine, good company and good laughs. Fine arts, fine automobiles, watches, music—everything that makes life more enjoyable, to sum it up.

Tell us something about your youth, where you grew up, where you went to school, your family, where you live now. What are your plans for the future?

I was born in 1965 in Tehran (Iran) as a diplomat’s son. I grew up everywhere due to my father’s job and learned different cultures and languages. I went to French schools wherever we lived and have a French diploma. We settled in Munich (Germany) in 1976. I studied in Germany and got my MBA in the USA. I am a management and marketing specialist and entrepreneur. Meanwhile, I am a proud father of a beautiful daughter of 6 years and I am German and Iranian citizen, a US alien resident (Oakland, CA) and a world traveler (or a backgammon nomad, as I call it).

My plans for the future, as far as it can be planned: Taking backgammon to the next level, establish it on a global level, making it Olympic discipline (like chess and Bridge soon) and retire one day with a cocktail, whisky and rum and cigar bar where friends meet for drinks, fun and backgammon.

What would you suggest to make backgammon more popular and exciting?

Legalize it, recognize it, advertize it, popularize it.

Today, backgammon is still in a grey zone and has to face legal obstacles, such as the Gambling Act in the USA. The game is also fragmented and not unified (various organizers, various bodies, various rules). Once we overcome those obstacles and we unify the current backgammon world, we can attract money which can be used to popularize the game and having more media presence.

Who are your heroes in backgammon, people you respect either for their play or for other reasons?

I like to call hero anyone who has contributed to the growth of the game. More than those who have worked hard on backgammon to make a personal profit, chasing money, fish, pigeons and equity, my heroes are those who have invested work, time and money to share their knowledge with others and/or have helped to make backgammon more popular.

Interviewed by Phil Simborg

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