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Interview with Akiko Yazawa

Ace Point Backgammon video-interviewed two-time World Champion Akiko Yazawa on Monday, November 23, 2020 to say hello and to learn what she has been doing during this coronavirus year of no travel and no tournaments. Akiko shares her activities, her emotions on the passing of Falafel and Malcolm Davis, and her hopes for the return of live play in 2021.

AP: Hello, backgammon fans. This is Bill Riles and Tara Mendicino with Ace Point Backgammon. Today we are very fortunate and honored to talk to a very good friend, two-time World Champion, and perhaps the best known backgammon player in the world, Akiko Yazawa. In games, sports, and life it is rare for people to be known by one name, Akiko is one of those people. So, Akiko, thank you for joining us.

Akiko: Hi (waving).
AP: And happy birthday last week, I hope you had a good one.
Akiko: Yes, thank you. This year I spent my birthday with my family.
AP: Ah, that is the best kind.
We are living in a strange time with the virus and everything. From what I understand, Japan has done a better job than most places with fewer cases and so forth. But can you go out? Or are you quarantined staying at home? What’s the situation for you?
Akiko: Japan is safe compared to other countries but there are many people in Tokyo, so staying home is better. I just stay home and watch a movie, cooking, and relax.
AP: You, your husband, and your family – everyone is doing well?
Akiko: Yes.
AP: Are there any opportunities to go out and play backgammon? Or do you not go out at all?
Akiko: If possible, I want to go to tournaments, but there are no tournaments.
AP: Not even in Japan? Not even any local tournaments?
Akiko: No.
AP: I know your husband is a good player. Do you play together some at home?
Akiko: Usually I play against people at tournaments. In my house I only play against the computer. I don’t play backgammon against my husband.
AP: At home you play on the computer. Do you play other people online?
Akiko: No. For me I want to enjoy time with people and friends. Face to face is better.
AP: Backgammon is a very social game and that is a great part of the game. You just don’t get the same feeling playing online.
Akiko: When I play online I cannot see the people’s faces, so I cannot really enjoy.
AP: Some of the servers have started now where they have a Zoom or video feature where you can see the opponent, but it’s not the same.
Akiko: If my opponent has the video and I can see, then I would like to play. Even online.
AP: You might check that out. I know Heroes and Galaxy have video features now on the servers.
All of us are missing all the tournaments. We miss the travel, we miss the tournaments, we miss seeing our friends. I guess you share the same feelings.
Akiko: Right.

AP: Well, we understand you are writing a book. I guess you are being able to spend more time doing that than what you had anticipated.
Akiko: This year I wrote a book. This is my first book. (She holds up the book to the camera.)
AP: Oh, yes. Very nice. So, what is the title in English?
Akiko: “How to Make Your Life Better”.
AP: So, it is maybe more about life, your life, than just backgammon?
Akiko: So, I wrote about backgammon but backgammon is not so major a game in Japan. So, at first I wanted people know about backgammon.
If I wrote about strategy or difficult things people might be upset. So this book introduces backgammon.
AP: But it is also about Akiko, your life, and how people might learn things from your life?
Akiko: It includes many pictures. (Again, she holds the book up to show some pictures.)
AP: Will the book be available in English and other languages?
Akiko: Not now but maybe in the near future. (She shows another picture.)
AP: I am sure everyone would like to see that.
Akiko: I am writing my second book now.
AP: Is it a similar book or is it purely backgammon?
Akiko: Similar to this book but more backgammon things. Some strategy and many ideas in backgammon.
AP: I’m sure there are many, you have so many friends and fans around the world, I’m sure everyone looks forward to being able to read your books. I think they will be very popular.
So, you have finished one book and are writing a second one now. I guess that provides you a lot to do while you can’t do anything else.
Akiko: Writing a book is very hard for me…
AP: …harder than backgammon?
Akiko: Yes (laughing). So that is why I cannot really play online.
AP: Yes, it takes so much time, focus, and concentration.
Akiko: It is a new, good thing.
AP: Well, you are going to have to get that translated and available so the rest of us can enjoy it.
Akiko: I will try.

AP: Well, let me ask you…this has been, as we said earlier, a very tough year with the virus and the restrictions on travel and all those things. And that is tough enough. But we have also lost some great players this year that have passed. In February we lost Falafel and in July we lost Malcolm. I know you were very close to Falafel as a friend, a confidant, and player. Are there any special memories or thoughts that you have of him that you might want to share with us.
Akiko: I have many good memories with them. But with Falafel he was a very good friend, not only backgammon. So, when I go the States I stayed at his house many times. We talk about backgammon and sometimes we talked about love. Of course, Falafel and me there was no …
AP: I know. It is interesting. I heard him talk a number of times over the years how he ultimately wanted to get married and have kids. I guess that is some of the things you talked about. But, sadly, we lost him early and he never did realize those things.
Akiko: After he passed away for a few months I couldn’t say anything. (emotional pause) I had cancer, he had brain cancer. I know how he took treatment.
AP: You can relate and understand. You know I had prostate cancer five years ago and had it removed. I was very fortunate that they got it early and I did not have to have chemo or radiation, but I know that initial diagnosis that you have cancer. That really hits a person hard. I know you and Falafel obviously had much tougher courses of it than I did and I appreciate that. But it is something we can all relate to in ways.
I was going to ask, I know you knew Malcolm well, and he passed in July. But you know it’s a different thing, it’s unusual. Malcolm and I were great friends, but Malcolm was in mid-80s so that wasn’t totally unexpected. We hated it. But it’s part of life, we are all going to get there. But with Falafel it was different because he was only 50. So, hopefully, next year will be better in every regard.
You know, hopefully, if these things turn around and these vaccines come to fruition, we can get back on the road, and we all hope to see you at tournaments.
Akiko: Right. I hope next year has many live tournaments.
AP: Tara and I were talking in the last day or two that we would have just gotten back from Cyprus. We love to go to the Cyprus tournament, to Monte Carlo, and to various tournaments all over the world.

Once everything gets safe again I’m sure everyone will want to go everywhere and see all of our friends and have fun.
We just wanted to take this opportunity to chat with you, to see how you are doing, to see how your book is doing, and to let our friends see you and know how you are doing as well. So, we appreciate this time today with you.
Akiko: Thank you very much. I appreciate you and Tara.
AP: Thank you and good night.
Akiko: Thank you. Good night. Bye (waving).

— Bill Riles and Tara Mendicino

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