Michael Crane reports after some early morning TV viewing
Over a period of four weeks during late July and early August, Channel Five broadcast four programmes about the PartyGammon Million. If you didn’t get to see it or wasn’t aware of it, it might be due to the fact it was aired around 0530ish each day! Unless you had Sky+ or similar it meant getting up at the crack of dawn and watching it bleary-eyed.


So, what was it like? Well first of all let’s talk about the two presenters, Jesse May and Roxanne Siordia. It was clear neither of them were backgammon aficionados and that they were reading an autocue and sticking to a script. It didn’t take long for their voices to really grate and I was often reaching for the volume control to mute them.

Jesse tried very hard to come across as an ‘expert’ but he failed on a few points: He said that Bill Robertie had written "... a bible on backgammon." Then later he said of Paul Magriel that "He had written the bible on backgammon!" Perhaps Robertie wrote the King James version!

At the end of the final programme he signed out by saying he’d see us all again when we had, "one man on the board and the dice on the bar." - whatever that means! However, despite his lack of backgammon knowledge, Jesse did manage to conduct several interesting interviews.

Mind you, there was one other ‘presenter’ that acquitted himself very well, Julian Wilson. Julian gave several tutorials to explain to the backgammon virgins what was going on and how to play the game. He did a great job and was aided by some clear graphics and clear explanations . . . and in a voice that didn't grate!

Overall the presentation was very professional. The location in the Bahamas was stunning and it was good to be able to put faces to the many names we've all heard about, Bill Robertie, Nack Ballard (who seems to have a variety of cloth-caps surgically sewn onto his head!), Paul Magriel (who finds it necessary to wear two wristwatches!), Sander Lylloff, Malcolm Davis, Masayuki Mochizuki, Mike Svobodny, Andreas Märtens, Lasse Madsen, James Vogl and many, many more. Oh, and Victoria Smirnoff!
Nack Ballard
Wow, what a lady! Victoria's not only an excellent backgammon player but she is also very beautiful and I could have gazed at her for ages - in fact I did! She has a great warm-up technique that has to be seen for words alone cannot describe it. I have added a screen-shot of her but it doesn't do her justice. Victoria has her own web site, www.victoriasmirnoff.com which is well worth a visit. The portrait picture of her is taken from there.
I found viewing the matches shown a little frustrating inasmuch as the screen was split in two (down the middle) and this meant that not only could you see the board but the protagonists as well. The frustrating thing about this layout was the fact that the board was too small. I really wanted to see more of the board action and a lot less of the players faces and dice shaking. It would have been far better to have let the board occupy the greater part of the screen and the players consigned to a corner . . . if at all.

Having got that off my chest, the graphics and stats were well presented and clearly visible; the only thing I was a little 'bothered' by was the commentating from Kent Goulding. Often he was OTT and it took the calming influence and voice of co-commentator, Julian, to tone it down to a more respectable, English, level.

I was a little disappointed with the Doubles coverage. I was expecting some banter and discussion from the teams but it was conducted in relative silence. I was amazed at how quiet and reserved, Mark Telscher was. Those of you who might be expecting 'The Backgammon Boy' of years ago to be as outspoken and 'annoying' as he was in the 'Movers & Shakers' would not have recognised him. Next time a doubles match is televised, give the teams a microphone and let us hear what they have to say.

The Final took up most of the last transmission and a good part of it was shown. However, harking back to my previous comment - it would have been nicer to have seen more of the board (ergo, the dice more clearly). However, this is just a personal gripe and no doubt many others weren't bothered by it.

So, was televised backgammon a success? In this instance, Yes. It might have been shown at an ungodly hour but it was on mainstream UK television and that's a good thing. Perhaps, when it's repeated (and I am sure it will be), it might get a more sensible slot. If it doesn't I suggest you invest in Sky+!

OK, I'm off now to work out to my Victoria Smirnoff, Warm-up video. Byeeee!