19 Sep, 2015 @ 10:00
4 mins read

THE WINNING FORMULA: Gibraltar’s new backgammon tournament is not exactly uncharted territory

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TAKE a rock in the Mediterranean, a vibrant town, excellent transport links and year-round sunshine. Add a world-class event and – hey presto – what have you got? 

CHAMP: World backgammon champion Turkish Ali Cihangir Cetinel is set for the Rock
CHAMP: World backgammon champion Turkish Ali Cihangir Cetinel is set for the Rock

A winning formula that is steadily propelling Gibraltar onto the global stage and blasting away the traditional ‘Britain in the sun’ stereotype of bobbies on the beat and monkeys on the mount.

Hot on the heels of this year’s sell-out Gibraltar Music Festival headlining Kings of Leon and Duran Duran, and with the third annual Literary Festival set to write a new chapter in visitor figures in November, the best backgammon players in the world are primed to do battle on the Rock next year.

The news was announced as the British Territory was accepted as the 24th member of the European Backgammon Federation.

Organisers are betting on 200 players rolling up for the four-day tournament over February 11-16, to compete for a share of the estimated £60,000 prize pot.

And the odds of it becoming a regular fixture are stacked in Gibraltar’s favour. The event will be hosted by the Caleta Hotel, whose annual Tradewise Chess Festival has been a roaring success story since 2003.

Named World’s Best Open by the Association of Chess Professionals for the last two years, the event brings 300 players from over 50 countries to Gibraltar in January, boosting hotel occupancy during the quieter months – checkmate to the Rock!

“This is the latest step in a highly successful policy of event-led tourism,” Sports Minister Steven Linares told the Olive Press at the official announcement. “The chess tournament speaks for itself and there was no hesitation in asking the Caleta to host the backgammon one too.

“These events bring people and money to Gibraltar and create a real buzz about the place.”

That’s no exaggeration. Just look at the bullseye scored by the Gibraltar Darts Trophy in springtime.

What started off as a small, local fixture has become a major event on the global darts calendar, welcoming top pros and bagging hours of international TV coverage.

This year saw Michael Van Gerwen crowned victor after seeing off the likes of defending champion James Wade, as well as four local Gibraltarian entrants.

The Chess Festival has also welcomed a string of world champions over the years, with grandmasters and ambitious amateurs representing 59 chess federations worldwide last year.

Since 2011, there has also been a junior tournament. And like the chess, the backgammon will be live-streamed over the internet to an audience of millions.

While chess tends to attract the studious sort and darts is represented by a more vocal, beer-swilling, fancy-dress-clad crowd, aficionados say backgammon is the sociable experience.

The timeless board game, mentioned in Ancient Persian writings dating from 6AD, requires skill, experience and extreme concentration. Some contestants are known to film their matches and analyse them later when back in their room.

But players often bring a ‘support’ entourage of partners or families to urge them on and there is a convivial atmosphere, with spectators milling about and chatting in the arena.

“We are expecting a lot of players to make a family holiday out of the event, which is not the case with chess,” added Linares.

Those who register for the four-day event will also be treated to a free tour of the Rock and a lunch in St Michael’s cave, to show off Gibraltar’s attributes as a tourism destination.

But the tournament is not just about bringing in the best players from around the world and showing them the sights. All these events depend on grassroots support.

As with the chess and darts, Gibraltarians will have the opportunity to compete in a smaller tournament during the week before the main event. The four best players will win a free place in the international tournament, with their registration costs covered.

Caleta Hotel Manager Franco Ostuni explains: “All these tournaments need to have the local involvement in order to get Gibraltar enthused and excited. It simply wouldn’t work otherwise.”

It’s a winning formula that has been virtually patented in Gibraltar and the game plan is about to be applied to ‘four or five more events in the pipeline’, hints Linares, although he won’t be drawn on details yet.

The only problem will be finding a free ‘window’ in Gibraltar’s busy events calendar.

Festivals devoted to music, literature, wine, beer, food and beauty (Miss Gibraltar) have already bagged their dates and are giving tourists a reason to visit the Rock every month of the year.

Registration for the Gibraltar Backgammon Tournament is now open at www.gibraltarbackgammon.com and costs £400.

The game-changers

NINETEEN years. That’s how long it took Gibraltar to become a fully-fledged member of European footballing body UEFA.

In stark contrast, the backgammon equivalent welcomed Gibraltar after just a six-month application process.

And becoming the 24th member of the European Backgammon Association is already reaping its rewards.

The President has been lured to the Rock to become the tournament’s director, bringing a team of five experts with him.

The event is the first of a three-part series, along with Copenhagen and Cyprus, for which there will be a fat cash prize for the overall winner.

Risky business?

THERE are some who dismiss backgammon as a game of chance, not of skill.

Why would anyone want to fly hundreds of miles to play a game they could lose on the roll of a dice?

It’s true that if Lady Luck is on your side (and providing you know how to play the game) anyone can beat the world champion.

But that’s why a backgammon match consists of more than one game.

Over a ten-point match, luck balances out and the better player will almost always prevail.

Flushing out cheats

THE chess tournament is now obliged to install cameras in the corridors surrounding the arena and in the entrance to the toilets to deter cheats.

It comes after cases of players sneaking off to the loo and conspiring to fix a game or agreeing to draw.

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