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World backgammon champ Tim Holland dies at 79

MIAMI - Tim Holland, a world backgammon champion who was one of the most prominent competitors in the game's modern heyday, has died. He was 79.

Holland died Wednesday of emphysema at his West Palm Beach home, said his daughter, Vanessa Holland, of San Diego.

Backgammon is a game of luck and strategy, played with checkers and dice on a board with a series of elongated triangles.

When it enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, Holland traveled the world handing defeat to opponents.

He won the World Backgammon Association championships in 1967, 1968 and 1971 (no tournament was held in 1969 or 1970) and made his living between game purses and his own wagering.

Holland authored "Beginning Backgammon," "Better Backgammon," and "Backgammon for People Who Hate to Lose." He also created a teaching aid called Autobackgammon and opened the now-defunct Park 65 Backgammon Club in New York.

Born Simeon Harold Holland on March 3, 1931, in Rockville Centre, N.Y., he grew up playing bridge and golf there. For years, he made a living as an amateur golfer.

As interest in backgammon surged along with the game's earning potential, though, he set his sights on a new career, spending years mastering the game.

He lost repeatedly at the outset. But he eventually mastered it, captivating opponents with his focus and skill, traits noted in a chapter devoted to Holland in the 1975 book "Fast Company."

"He did not speak; he did not smile; his eyes rarely left the table. There was a palpable arrogance in his play," author Jon Bradshaw wrote. "He rolled the dice and moved his men about the board with the poise of a man who knows that victory is only a matter of time."

Backgammon eventually retreated in popularity and Holland changed course again, returning to his childhood love of bridge in professional circuits. He played that game through the end of his life.

Holland's wife was the former Nancy Zorn, of West Palm Beach.

Several prior marriages ended in divorce, including one to the former Joanna Ulrich, who later married "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson.

Holland talked of backgammon's allure in "Fast Company" and spoke of getting retribution for his early failures.

"It's the luck factor that seduces everyone into believing that they are good, that they can actually win. But that's just wishful thinking," he said.

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