Art Benjamin is Backgammon Champ

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Harvey Mudd College mathematics professor Art Benjamin, won the inaugural 2020 American Backgammon Tour Online (ABTO) with the best overall performance in a series of 17 national tournaments.

Benjamin garnered a 72–37 win-loss record by finishing first in three ABTO tournaments (Buffalo, Ohio, and Summer Finale), second in one event (Spring Fling), and finishing in the top 20 percent in six others (Michigan, Minnesota, Sunny Florida, St. Louis, California, and Chicago Classic). All tournaments were played online. He also won several events organized by the U. S. Backgammon Federation (USBGF), including the 2020 Tournament of Champions. Last year, Benjamin was part of a six-player team that represented the United States in the World Internet Team Championship. With 31 countries competing, the USA took first place, with Benjamin winning seven of his 10 matches.

The American Backgammon Tour (ABT) began in 1993, and Benjamin finished second that year. He finished third in 1996, and took first prize in 1997. From 1995 to 2001, he was the all-time point leader on the ABT. In March 2020, the ABT was suspended due to the pandemic, and switched to the online ABTO format, which is currently in place.

A member of the USBGF board of directors since 2011, Benjamin is a supporter of the foundation’s backgammon educational activities, including stimulating interest in the game and educating young people and adults. He initiated Backgammon Night, a social event he created for MAA MathFest 2011, the annual summer meeting of the Mathematical Association of America. His love of the game also includes research.

“I’m grateful for funding that I received from HMC and the Department of Mathematics, which allowed me to hire students for the past two summers,” says Benjamin. “Stephen Gross ‘22, Jackson Bibbens ’22, Cedar Turek ’23 and Mathus Leungpathomaram ’23 did really interesting research with me on racing and the doubling cube, which we plan to publish soon. I’d like to think that some of that research also helped my game this year, too.”

Benjamin believes that backgammon is the best game for the mathematically inclined. It can also be a great tool for learning mathematics. His video “Counting Magic: Handy Mental Shortcuts to Improve your Game” is a helpful guide for backgammon players at all levels.

Benjamin is both a mathematician and a magician. As a magician, Benjamin performs a mixture of math and magic to audiences all over the world, including the Magic Castle in Hollywood. He has demonstrated and explained his calculating talents in his book and DVD course, Secrets of Mental Math, and on numerous television programs. His most recent book, a New York Times bestseller, is The Magic of Math: Solving for x and Figuring Out Why. He has been featured in many national newspapers and magazines and has given three TED talks, which have been viewed over 20 million times. Princeton Review profiled him in the book, The Best 300 Professors and Reader’s Digest named Benjamin “America’s Best Math Whiz.”

Since 1989, Benjamin has taught at Harvey Mudd College, where he is the Smallwood Family Professor of Mathematics and past chair of the Department of Mathematics. In 2000, he received the Haimo Award for Distinguished Teaching from the Mathematical Association of America. In 2017, he received the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award for Public Outreach. which recognized his books aimed at general audiences, his TED talks, his popular video courses from The Great Courses and his “mathemagics” performances. The same year he also received HMC’s Henry T. Mudd Prize for extraordinary service.