YORKTON - If there is one game that seems inherently Canadian it’s crokinole.
But the game, which dates back to the 1800s, is played in many countries as witnessed by participants from a number of countries travelling to Tavistock, Ont. for the Crokinole World Championships.
There are participants from Britain, Hungary and Sweden scheduled to take part in the championship which typically attracts a few hundred players.
One of the participants is Magnus Rundström from Ängelholm, Sweden, who was kind enough to consent to an interview via email.
Not surprisingly of course is that Rundström likes board games, pointing to a couple of favourites – one admittedly I had not heard of until I Google searched and found it is pretty much Pitchnut.
“When it comes to board games its Couronne and Backgammon,” he said. “Couronne is similar to Carrom however you play it with cues. Couronne was a popular game already when I was a kid and it still is. To make the game more interesting and adapted for tournament play, we made additional rules and procedures. I host the City Championships and the Summer Cup on annual basis since 2010.”
For Rundström Backgammon has long been of interest.
“I’ve played Backgammon for three decades but so far I played on feel without any real mathematically knowledge about which play is the best for any particular moment,” he said. “I’m a decent player however recently when I started to dig in to the game theory, I realized how much I need to learn to be a great player. I follow and learn watching UBC on YouTube (Ultimate Backgammon Championship).”
So when did he find Crokinole?
“I found Crokinole early in 2018 when I was looking for another game online,” offered Rundström. “I saw a picture of a Crokinole board and it got me intrigued so I checked out some matches from WCC on YouTube and it looked awesome.
“That same evening I found a Danish-based company who provided Crokinole boards and accessories so I purchased my first board five minutes later.
“The board arrived a few days later and I gathered three friends and the first day we played 10 hours straight -- we were hooked on the game.
Rundström was soon not just playing, but becoming a builder of the game.
“I then decided to purchase another five boards to set up the first ever City Championships (Doubles) on June 2, 2018 limited to 32 players,” he said. “This championship is now running annually with an addition of the Winter Cup in December and Summer Cup in July.
“I enjoy planning and hosting tournaments and I hope to one day set up the Swedish Crokinole Championship. So far we have only competed in doubles, we find it more social and fun.”
As a huge Crokinole fan personally, I was curious what it was about the game that so intrigued Rundström.
“Crokinole is an eye-hand coordinated game where there are targets and precision is a key,” he said. “’Targets’ are in my DNA since I always enjoyed activities such as Shooting, archery and darts. Crokinole gets even more interesting since you need to factor in who holds ‘The Hammer’ and apply a different approach dependent if you are ahead or trailing the round.”
But there is also a simplicity to Crokinole which Rundström appreciates.
“Anyone can play as long the can sit and move a finger -- no previous skill are needed,” he said. “Perhaps the best aspect is the social and fun atmosphere it creates, especially in doubles games. Most first-timers say they understand the idea of the game directly and realize they are managing quite well on their first time playing. This makes them want to play again.
“To be honest, not many people have said to me that they disliked the game.”
So, what sort of community for Crokinole exists in Sweden? Is it growing?
“Crokinole is at this point not very known in Sweden to be honest,” admitted Rundström. “At this point the Engelholm Crokinole Club is the leading body of the game in Sweden.
“I only found one other Crokinole community ’Swedish Crokinole Society’ located in the capital area of Stockholm. However they seem to have been in a hiatus for the past three-four years judged by their lack of activity on their Facebook page and furthermore, not so regular tournaments.
“Iur crokinole community (city of 25,000) in the south of Sweden is about 35-40 people strong and they sign up for annual Championships, other tournaments, and casual game nights that I host, all for free, no costs. I normally strike a deal with a bar/restaurant to use their facility having discount on food and beverage in exchange for bringing in hungry and thirsty people. Some other times I rent a place where we are not controlled by time or other things and people can bring their own picnic basket. Once I host bigger tournaments I need to charge a fee I guess.”
It's part of Rundström’s passion for the game.
“I have worked a bit on growing the game locally by lending out my boards to friends to test the game,” he said. “All of them enjoy the game and some actually bought the board from me. My impression is that the game is slowly growing however only by mouth-to-mouth and only around our city.”
Rundström noted other countries in Europe have developed a larger following for Crokinole.
“Europe, some nations are ahead, Hungary and Netherlands, France. In Budapest, Hungary the first European Championship, with NCA approval, was played 2018,” he said. “I see online that tournaments are held on regular basis in Hungary and Netherlands as well. Hungary has a board maker called Woodesticks https://woodestic.eu/ In Netherlands there is a fairly new board manufacturer Crokinole Europe https://croki.eu/”
Rundström said he enjoys the organizational side of things.
“I like to plan and organize in general, but doing it around a great game like Crokinole makes it even more fun,” he said. “The fact that the participants are enthusiastic about the game and my events makes me satisfied and there is no doubt the game can grow in Sweden. I’m not involved in any marketing or promoting of the game in other cities or counties, only in the local township, that’s pretty much it at this point. Promoting the game by marketing is one way, but I think a Swedish Championship with some heavy media coverage can start the train moving so to speak. I want to gain experience of hosting larger tournaments during my visit at WCC for this reason.”
The trip to Canada is about loving Crokinole.
“First and foremost, I love the game and I like to compete,” offered Rundström.
“Secondly, I made a promise in 2019.
In 2019, I made an announcement/promise that I would go to WCC but I don’t think anyone believed me. For many reasons it didn’t happen that year and during following years, the pandemic stopped everything. Last month we held the City Championships and I announced my confirmed registration, some of them were very surprised but some remembered and promises should be kept. Perhaps some thought I was crazy flying eight hours to Canada to play Crokinole but that’s what I’m going to do.
“Most World Championships requires ranking or qualification and it’s almost impossible for a guy like me to get in, however in this Championship anyone can take the opportunity to play an official World Championship and possibly face the best.”
The pilgrimage will be his first.
“First time for me in Canada and I do understand that Canada is so more than Toronto-Tavistock area,” noted Rundström. “I have a Swedish friend in Vancouver who emigrated some 20 years ago and I wish I had a full month just to explore your country but this trip I will be focusing on the game and its history only.
“I arrive in Toronto on 1st June and depart 5th June so it’s a short stay, only for the WCC and possibly see the Hockey Hall of Fame since I come from a hockey town. Some NHL hockey-players originate from our small town and its hockey team Rogle BK. One is #29 Kenny Jonsson, Toronto Maple Leafs (94-96) born in Engelholm and played for the club, another one is #37 Timothy Liljegren (current player) who got his entire hockey upbringing in our team until his move to NHL.”
The event will offer a rather different Crokinole experience for Rundström.
“It’s the World Championships so I expect some players to posses the highest level of skills for sure,” he said. “I kinda know the top-level because I have viewed every available WCC match since 2016 and additional tournaments that I found on YouTube so I know how good the best are. Although these guys are great players with massive skill sets, there is always a chance, just look at 2019 WCC final, Mr. Carr, who was relatively unknown, played very well and proceeded to the final against Mr. Slater.
“You can only try your best, so my plan is to stay positive, focused, and get lucky.”
Rundström said he hopes he gets the right vibes to be successful.
“I normally rely on feel, luck and sometimes performance enhancing beverages however my plan for WCC is to intensify the training three weeks before the tournament,” he said. “I will do consistency training for open 20s, control of finger positions to minimize moving parts. Other practices will be follow through shots, angling of the opponent discs and not getting nervous.”