Backgammon is a game known by many but never played. I was privileged to have a first and exclusive interview with Sebastian Wilkinson one of the best professional players of backgammon in the World on his recent visit to Mallorca.
I have never played but was amazed to learn from Sebastian that the game has been played for over 5,000 years. What is backgammon one may ask? Well, it is a two-player board game played with counters and dice on table boards. It is the most widespread Western member of the large family of table games, whose ancestors date back nearly 5,000 years to the regions of Persia and Mesopotamia. The earliest record of backgammon itself dates to 17th-century England. Backgammon is a two-player game of contrary movement in which each player has fifteen pieces known traditionally as men (short for ‘tablemen’), but increasingly known as ‘checkers’ in the USA in recent decades, analogous to the other board game of Checkers. The backgammon table pieces move along twenty-four ‘points’ according to the roll of two dice. The objective of the game is to move the fifteen pieces around the board and be first to bear off, i.e., remove them from the board. Backgammon involves a combination of strategy and luck (from rolling dice). While the dice may determine the outcome of a single game, the better player will accumulate the better record over a series of many games. With each roll of the dice, players must choose from numerous options for moving their pieces and anticipate possible counter-moves by the opponent. It is played all over the World and on Mallorca and now an Association has been created by Toni Enev and Sebastian himself. The Association is “ Balearic Backgammon Association” and each week many players meet in Santa Catalina and also at the finca of one of the members. There are players throughout Mallorca and so the aim is to bring all players and even small Clubs into the Association, create new clubs so tournaments can be organised between clubs and players and to host a “Mallorca Tournament” attracting players in Mallorca and from all over the World. There are tournaments in many Countries and Monte Carlo hosts one of the biggest and all can play with an entry fee paid and major cash prizes and trophies are won in such tournaments. So the sport continues to grow and for Sebastian who lived on the island for 5 years it is a dream to grow the Association here on Mallorca. So it was that I met with Sebastian in Santa Catalina with Toni Enev and his friend, another excellent player Lathezar Zlatarev “Lucho” for our interview and to see the famous backgammon board as I must confess it was all new to me.
Well, who is Sebastian? An analytical person and with a quick thinking and mathematical brain which does help I am sure. Sebastian, born in Cambridge, England and only 32 years old who came to Mallorca in 2009 after working on the mainland but offered a job in Palma University. He stayed five years and loved playing guitar in a small band and it was whilst playing in a bar, Havanna, that by chance he saw two playing a board game. It was Backgammon. One of those playing was Toni and so it was that Sebastian had a game, lost, but then became good friends with Toni who taught him how to play the game.A small group played on Thursdays and mostly with yacht crews but of many Nationalities so the love for the game, the socialising and Sebastian as I mentioned was not bad at maths!!! He was a natural and soon began playing in tournaments in other Countries and decided to become a professional player. He said it was certainly not intended but why not!! There are only some 10-20 professional players in the World and Sebastian is one of those.Sebastian is a player for the UK which has a team of 5 as does other Countries. Over 20 Countries now have teams which play in tournaments. Japan has the highest number of players I was told and tournaments are organised throughout the World. Skopia in Macedonia hosts one of the major tournaments and Gold medals are awarded to winners and another is Monte Carlo in October each year. Amazingly Sebastian told me that N. Cyprus holds the biggest tournament. I would not have thought that, but it is a fact. Another in England, the famous RAC Club in London also hosts a major tournament so again I learn that backgammon is a sport that I knew little about.Monte Carlo famous for it’s casino and gambling but it also hosts one the major tournaments each July/August and it was here that Sebastian became World Champion. Not just once but twice. A huge achievement as the tournament attracts some 200 top players with a week long tournament. As Sebastian said the concentration is immense but winning is satisfying with excellent cash prizes so travelling the World, paying entry fees and making a living as a professional player is fun but intense with each game being played against top players. So far this year alone Sebastian told me he has played in 6 Countries and the next is Greece and then Istanbul for a major tournament starting April 23rd. That, with visits to his family and playing when he can with the Association here on Mallorca makes for a jet set life but not only that Sebastian finds it satisfying to teach others, playing online also which was a godsend when Covid hit and the World stood still for so long. Now Sebastian has established his own website www.BGWS.Co.Uk to teach others how to play so if you want to know more then do visit the website. Sebastian does one to one teaching and group teaching and even visits private houses to teach. He enjoys improving players games and this gives him satisfaction and motivates all who join in this sport that I now know more about. It surely must be promoted, hence the Association. In Mallorca there are 2 clubs but as Sebastian and Toni said the new Association was created to bring clubs into the Association, bring in individual players and put Mallorca on the map of Backgammon. What better teacher than Sebastian who is now a Grand Master and only 32 years old. Talent indeed and his plans are to write a book on backgammon and his story. I am sure he will do so as Sebastian is not only a social person, fun, but focused, so it was a delight to be the first to interview and learn not only about Sebastian himself but of the game of backgammon.Sebastian a World Champion, Grand Master and in a funny way he is a Giant, okay he is tall but there are 32 Giants in the World of backgammon. The best on a list of 32 voted every two years by players and Sebastian is on that list of who are called Giants. Is backgammon his life I asked. Well yes, he said but his hobbies are to still play the guitar and another sport and one I was unaware of. Boomerang events which again Sebastian excels at. He loves to travel, learning languages and meeting people from around the World. A true Englishman, polite, visiting his parents in Suffolk, England as much as possible and teaching others the game of backgammon. In joking, his only disappointment on his recent visit to Palma was not meeting Nicole Kidman and introducing her to the World of backgammon. Who knows, other stars may come Sebastian’s way and he will become the teacher to the stars! I trust you have found the article and the short history on Sebastian interesting. Thank you Sebastian for your time. Give backgammon a try and do check out the game. Sebastian will be back on the island as soon as he can. Meet him but to find out more about the Association and how to meet others, more information and venues then please do contact Toni by email at email@example.com. Celebrity Magazine brings you something different, varied, international and local so do please sign up for our newsletter www.celebritymallorca.es/subscribe and also read Celebrity Magazine online at www.celebritymallorca.es
By David Whitney