Backgammon On a Roll

UWEC hosts inaugural tourney for ancient game

Emily Kuhn, photos by Andrea Paulseth

IT AIN’T CHECKERS. Clockwise from upper right, Hans Kishel and Paul Kaldjian (both of whom are tournament organizers) and UW-Eau Claire students Adam Gross and Jordan Niles practice backgammon in advance of the Backgammon City Championship at UWEC’s McIntyre Library.
IT AIN’T CHECKERS. Clockwise from upper right, Hans Kishel and Paul Kaldjian (both of whom are tournament organizers) and UW-Eau Claire students Adam Gross and Jordan Niles practice backgammon in advance of the Backgammon City Championship at UWEC’s McIntyre Library.

Despite the ease with which you can play games like Solitaire, Mah Jong, and even Candy Crush on computers and mobile devices, there continues to be an interest in competing against live opponents on physical board games around a table. According to UW-Eau Claire Research & Instruction Librarian Hans Kishel, it’s that interest that he and UWEC Geography and Anthropology Professor Paul Kaldjian are counting on to make the university’s first-ever Backgammon City Championship a success.

“There’s sort of this renaissance of playing of board games around a table that’s taking place here in the U.S.,” said Kishel, who is helping Kaldjian organize the free, bracket-style competition for the last two weekends in February. “There are a lot of people who will play on a tablet, but if they get the chance to play in person, they jump at that. That’s one of the reasons I promote these kinds of games: You get a very different experience when you play on a screen as opposed to a physical entity. The younger generations are turning off devices to actually sit down and play a game because of that experience.”

“There’s sort of this renaissance of playing board games around the table that’s taking place here in the U.S." – Hans Kishel, backgammon tournament organizer

Getting people off of their devices and into the university’s McIntyre Library, where the tournament will take place, is just one goal of this first annual event. According to Kishel, the main purpose of organizing such an event is to introduce one of the oldest board games in the world to university students and people in the community and to have fun doing it.

“Backgammon is a truly international game – it has many different names around the world and is played many different ways,” Kishel said. “Our goal is to provide an opportunity for people to get together and learn the game and share their version of it.”

Support for the tournament comes from the university’s Council on Internationalization and Global Engagement, which Kaldjian chairs. The faculty, staff, and students who make up the council share the goal a goal of cultivating meaningful relationships between the campus and international communities. According to Kishel, interest in the game began when Kaldjian traveled with students to Turkey, where the game is often played at outdoor cafés.

“His students became very interested in the game after seeing it played there,” Kishel said. “It’s very competitive in some countries. For me, I’m always trying to promote games and education, and of course, the fun and entertainment they provide. If we can make this an annual event, then all the better.”

The championship, which is free and open to the public, will take place at McIntyre Library. The first two rounds will take place from 1-5pm Feb. 21, and the semifinal and final rounds will take place from 1-5pm Feb. 28. Kishel and Kaldjian are planning for enough participants to have two 16-team brackets, with participation maxing out at 32. Players will complete a best-of-three match in the first two rounds, then continue playing the following Saturday in two best-of-five matches. An email will be sent to each player by Feb. 19 notifying them of their scheduled match time, the first round of which will be determined by skill level. Registration is required to enter the tournament, and light refreshments will be provided both days. One participant will be randomly selected to win a backgammon set.

“I’ve only played the game once, and I played against my 7-year-old and lost,” said Kishel. “But I still had a great time. If you’re a beginner, we want you to come out and play along with the experts. This is an opportunity to learn and have fun.”

To register, contact Kishel at kishelhf@uwec.edu or (715) 836-2959 by Feb. 17.

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