Last Sunday night, while most of us in the UK were fast asleep, BMAB Grandmaster and former UKBGF Team Captain Tim Cross won the LA Open – online this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic – and (as far as we know) he is the first UK player to win an ABT event. Both the first 11 point match, which Tim lost, and the 9 point decider of this double-elimination contest can be watched here on YouTube, with commentary by Victor Ashkenazi, Ben Friesen and Steve Sax, starting at about 5h 26m.
Tim describes how the event was organised online…
For obvious reasons the USBGF decided to run their tour online rather than live in 2020. In order to retain credibility all players had to play whilst on Skype and send their recordings to joint TD Ben Friesen this was a massive undertaking as many players (myself included) needed training in this and in the use of Challonge. My ‘trainer’ was the new young backgammon star Cory Hoarty and I want to thank him for his patience. The tournament took place over 3 days (which were nights in the UK) so I was obviously very tired. The dice were unbelievably kind to me on the first and third day when my standard slipped. Fortunately for me however, the bulk of the tournament took place starting early Saturday morning which was still a reasonable time in the UK so I produced a decent standard of backgammon that day. All the Americans (especially Candace Mayeron) were extremely helpful and welcoming and I urge all UK players to play in an ABT tour event either online or (even better) live if they are able.
Tim has taken the UK by storm since returning to the backgammon scene in 2014. He first learnt to play around 1977/8 whilst at school, but for the following eight or nine years he didn’t know anyone else who played. A chance meeting in a pub between a friend of Tim’s and Nigel Merrigan and David Wallbank brought Tim back into backgammon and eventually to BIBA (British Isles Backgammon Association) where he competed regularly until about 2000. A long break followed until Tim’s next tournament – the first UK Open in 2014, which was the first event to be organised by the UKBGF. At this event, Tim’s first opponent was Mochy…who Tim beat!
A few years of serious play and study enabled Tim to win the UKBGF Tour in 2018, and he became a BMAB Grandmaster the same year. Probably his biggest tournament win to date, with a field of 88 players, was last September’s 6th UK Open Masters at Woodland Grange Hotel in Leamington Spa. On Sunday night he added the LA Open ABT Online to his growing list of titles.
Although Tim is notching up some impressive singles victories, the part of his backgammon career which he considers to be his greatest honour is his selection as UK Team Captain – a position he held for four years until the end of 2019. During this period I think it’s fair to say that in the eyes of the International backgammon community the UK went from also-rans who were not expected to do well, to a respected (even feared!) force to be reckoned with. Team UK’s many impressive results under Tim’s captaincy included winning the 2016 World Wide Team Challenge in Tbilisi and the Nations Cup at the Nordic Open in 2018.