Masayuki Mochizuki, or "Mochy" as we know him, won the 2009 World Championship in Monte Carlo, defeating Lars Trabolt 25-20 in a most exciting finals, and becoming the first Japanese to win the coveted title. Mochy is a full-time backgammon professional player, teacher, and student of the game. More importantly, he is known as a generous, fair, and friendly player.
Here are some interesting insights he has agreed to share with us:
How did you get introduced to backgammon?
I played Japanese chess (Shogi) in high school. After I graduated from high school, I failed the university entrance exam. I had a lot of free time until I could take the exam again the next year.
One day in my senior year of high school, someone from the shogi club introduced me to a funny-looking game. I don't know why I became hooked on the game, but it was probably because I had too much free time and BG is good way to kill time. Also, the people who played backgammon were so much more fun than most of my friends in cram school.
I was very lucky to pass the exam the next year but I dropped out after studying two years at the university, because I had decided to become a backgammon professional.
What is your favorite tournament or type of game?
I think tournament backgammon (match play) is “distorted” from original backgammon. Although I have a greater edge in matches than in money games, I would love to play more heads-up money games.
In my dictionary, “heads-up money game” means not just 10 or 20 games, but more like 50 or 100 games played in one sitting. The session should be really unlimited, with no break, no fixed number of games, and no excuses such as job, family, tomorrow, etc. In this kind of a game, you need skill, stamina, bankroll, mental toughness, psychology... everything.
Regardless of the outcome, after playing for 10 hours (or sometimes 24 hours), I will always be able to enjoy the memory of the long session.
What was your most fun, exciting win?
As you might expect, my greatest thrill was winning the World Championships in Monte Carlo in 2009.
I'm still proud of my take in the finals at 22-20/25pts. I showed a bit of bravery, which every champion needs at some point.
What advice would you give to a new player who wants to become a top player some day?
I have no special advice to give to give those who want to become good players: just do whatever you think will help you. Read books, analyze games and matches, play in chouettes and listen to the opinions of experts. There is no shortcut to becoming a good player.
However, if you want to be among the top ten players in the world, you have to do a lot more work. You should devote ALL of your time and life to the game for at least a few years.
Backgammon is difficult game; we are not sure how to play some of the opening rolls, even though this game has a history of 5000 years.
The good news is that you don't need any special talent to be in the Giant-32 List. For example, I was not at all talented. I did not have a good background in mathematics or English. My level of shogi was upper-middle, at best. I just kept studying, playing, reading and thinking about the game every day - for years and years.
I must admit that I'm lazy and I compromised a lot in my life but never in backgammon.
My advice to the young players would be: You should try really hard and aim for the highest goal. Don't compromise in your passion.
Do you have any philosophy to believe in that applies to backgammon or life?
There is always tomorrow. Even after the most painful loss, you are still alive. That’s a lot.
How many hours a week do you play backgammon?
I spend a lot of time, not just playing backgammon, but studying and teaching, as well. I am not sure exactly how many hours per week, but most of my waking hours are spent in backgammon activities.
Do you teach backgammon? If so, where?
I have given backgammon lectures many times in Japan and sometimes abroad. I also go to a high school once a month to teach backgammon to a group of boys. They have a backgammon club and I'm their coach. Falafel and Serge Rived (from France) visited the club with me when they were in town for the Japan Open!
What's the best backgammon book or article you've ever read?
All of Kit's and Robertie's books are great, but New Ideas in Backgammon (by Woolsey and Heinrich) was a real eye opener.
When I read the book, I was bit tired of backgammon because I felt playing backgammon seemed to be repeating same patterns. Then I was shocked, like “Wow - backgammon is much deeper than I thought...”
What would you suggest to make backgammon more popular and exciting?
Backgammon is not as popular as it could be for many reasons. Some professionals spend too much time killing fish, and as a result, we are getting few new players right now.
My little plan for the game is that first I would like to create a common rating system in different nations. I have already spoken to the federations in Denmark and German and they also like my idea. [The US Backgammon Federation is working on this also, and has a committee dedicated to this project.] If it works, we will invite other federations to join us.
Then I would like to make an international backgammon federation to include all countries. During the process of making a common rating system, we will get to know each other and learn how to cooperate.
Is there any difference between the way people play or learn backgammon in Japan compared to the rest of the world?
Players in Japan don’t recognize backgammon as a gambling activity, which enables us to promote it more freely.
I am just starting to organize online tournaments for people under the age of 25, including those under 18. The winner will receive a free trip to the tournament to Monte Carlo or another tournament. It will probably be harder in other countries, where backgammon is considered to be a gambling game.
Do you have any other thoughts or views about any subject at all that you would like to share with my readers?
I have seen a lot of stupid arguments and a lot of guys who do not behave like gentlemen at backgammon tournaments.
Some tournament participants intentionally make illegal moves. Some people don't tell an opponent that he forgot to hit his clock and they pretend to be thinking while their opponent’s clock is running. You should not take advantage of it when your opponent forgets to hit his clock. Would you want your kids to engage in this behavior? I must tell those who are ethically challenged that they are selling out their souls.
[Note: Again, the USBGF has produced a Standards of Ethical Practice that takes these very subjects into account and puts players “on notice” that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. If these standards become accepted internationally, as we hope they will be, we hope to see a much higher level of sportsmanship in the future.]
PS: Here are some comments from Paul Weaver, one of the Giants of Backgammon, relative to Mochy:
It has been my privilege and pleasure to know Mochy for five years. The Japanese have a great culture; the vast majority of them are exceptionally honest and polite. Mochy is no exception.
On Tuesday nights in Tokyo, several backgammon players meet at an Italian Café. Mochy is usually there, and he often gives free backgammon lessons to beginners. He also goes once a month to his old high school in Nishi-Azabu to teach the boys in their backgammon club. I know of no other top player who generously donates his time for the good of the game to the extent Mochy does. I am predicting that, as a result of Mochy’s contributions to the game in Japan, they will have many great players in years to come.
Mochy has been dedicated to learning backgammon for a long time. Several years ago he spent about six months in Denmark for the express purpose of improving his game. His hard work has paid off.
Mochy is one of the very best players on the planet and he is also one of backgammon’s greatest ambassadors. We all wish you the very best!