ARTICLE #23 [First published in February 1989 Chicago Point]

The Transition

Backgammon is tougher these days. The game has evolved from a social pastime into a mentally energetic sport. The influx of clear mathematical reasoning has transformed average players into efficient competitors. It’s not like ten years ago when a handful of players dominated the tournament circuit and established a hierarchy within our community. Today, tournament seeds regularly fall to the onslaught of the unnamed opponent.

Level of experience is now the major difference between players. The inexperienced players sometimes falter under pressure. They will either continue to make risky plays even after becoming a favorite or else avoid taking the calculated necessary risk. This problem varies and is dependent on the confidence these players have attained.

I can see the difficulties of change as advancement takes hold. The nostalgia of the “good old days” is dead and buried. It is replaced by the sobering effect of cold, hard numbers where performance is the reality and impression is the dream.

The identification of quality players requires constant updating. This brings me to the nagging problem of player evaluation and placement. The growth of the Open division may require the transition of players from among the Intermediates. Most top Intermediates are now mislabeled. Today’s Intermediates play better than the Open players of yesteryear.

There has been turmoil with transition because mandatory advancement standards don’t exist. The question of transition itself may be debated. Does elevating a quality player diminish the Intermediate level of play? Does this player victimize the lower division or aid in its development? Should players be forced up in class even against their will? Is an independent Intermediate division with optional transition feasible?

These questions and others create problems for directors who must decide if maintaining a restricted development division is practical. Has the overall caliber of play improved to where the title of “Intermediate” is misleading? What about the beginning Intermediate? Does he stand a fighting chance? Perhaps the Intermediate level should be transformed into a second performance division. What I mean by a performance division is that anyone can reach their potential without the fear of removal. But if the restrictions are lifted, how do you keep the sharks out? Is it fair to let only the “homegrown” Intermediate sharks feed freely while little Open sharks are starving? Is a sense of pride enough to keep them out?

The players who take advantage of this situation are only motivated by self interest. They are like hungry bears finding a pond full of fish. Their main concern is that another bear will come and steal their catches. It’s possible that the current crop of Intermediates can handle the additional competition. I’m not worried about them as much as the future Intermediates who might have to face this type of carnage.

In fairness to players who are caught in the spotlight, I would like to present another point of view. It’s not your fault that you have become too good. It’s more a credit to you for your accomplishments. If I were you, I might write this letter of appeal:

Dear Director: Considering that there is no great advantage for me to move up in class, why should I leave my current divisional competition? It would be foolish -- even “unbackgammon-like” -- to take a higher risk without a reasonable prospect of return.

If you consider me to be a good player, perhaps it’s because I’ve discovered some truths about this game. I might have learned the “predator and prey” relationship: I prefer to survive as a predator among Intermediates rather than risk becoming prey in the Open division. The idea of fair competition and developing one’s potential is great, but the necessity for self preservation appears greater. I was taught to reject bad propositions.

I believe I’ve paid my dues. It’s my money on the line and if I don’t look after it, who will? It took a lot of work to become proficient in the Intermediate division. And I’ve earned my position; nobody handed it to me. Why do you want to take it away? Besides, someone is always going to be called the “best” Intermediate; why can’t that someone keep his status? Why put a penalty on improvement?

If I move up to the Open, I’ll lose more than the additional entry fee. All of my friends are Intermediates. The side action that I feel comfortable with will be gone. They won’t want to play with an Open player and I don’t blame them. Besides, I feel good when they look to me for advice. The Open players will treat me like a comparative novice. I’m beyond that stage.

I’ve invested too much time and effort in the Intermediate division. I’ve made too many friends, faced too many battles and I don’t want to trade this for “who knows what.” I’ve learned how to survive there and I don’t want to start all over. Can you understand my position? -- Placed On The Edge.

Fortune Cookie
Sometimes making a choice must be settling for the lesser of two evils -- an easy practice to fall into, but a hard habit to break.

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