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The Independent Online
The Channel 4 programme Movers & Shakers broadcast on 10 November proves how difficult it is to make a sensible programme about backgammon lasting only half-an-hour. For those who didn't see it, the main theme was the aspiration of Mark Telcher - by his own admission a somewhat spoiled 17-year-old - to become a professional player. He has dropped out of the education system in order to pursue his dream.

The programme did try to explain some of the basic concepts of the game, but non-players will probably not have been significantly wiser after the event, while those who can play will have learnt nothing new. The programme covered Mark's progress at one of the Biba tournaments and touched fleetingly on the professional side, but ignored the true professional game, played only in London's private clubs. Chouettes for pounds 250 per point are a very different proposition from a pounds 5 game. They can seriously damage your health, or at the very least your bank balance. A glimpse at one of these games would have been fascinating.

What of Mark's aspirations? First he must realise that to reach the top at backgammon, natural flair is not enough. Hours of study and practice are required and proper coaching is necessary. From what I have seen of his play, his next significant step forward will be when he learns how to learn. Secondly, only one of the world's top players got into the Top 10 in a couple of years; the rest took at least 10. This is because it takes that long to store a sufficient base of reference positions, the key to winning backgammon. With the advent of computers that apprenticeship of 10 years can probably be reduced, but Mark is still a minimum of five years away from being a top-flight player.

Finally, if he seriously wants to become a professional player he will have to emigrate to the US where it is still possible to earn a living at the game. In the UK and Europe he would struggle to survive. Of course, he could take the route that many others have before him and become an options trader - nearly as much excitement, and a great deal more money ...

Channel 4 are to be applauded for whetting our appetites with Movers & Shakers, the first backgammon programme since their documentary on the World Championship in 1985. What is now needed is a series of programmes on the game in order for it to reach a wider audience. Interested television producers please apply here.