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Posted on Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 2:06 p.m.

Ypsilanti dreidel champion returning to New York City to defend title

By Tom Perkins

Cue the “Rocky” theme song.

Local dreidel champion Alan Black is heading back to New York City on Saturday to defend his title at the annual Major League Dreidel Tournament.


Alan Black practices spinning dreidel with his "Spinagogue," a type board used in dreidel spinning competitions, inside Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti on Dec. 16, 2010.

Angela J. Cesere |

Black, an unknown in dreidel circles two years ago, captured his first MLD title at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory in 2010.

But this year, he knows he goes to the tournament with a target on his back, and he says the pressure is on.

“I’m definitely nervous,” Black said. “Last year there were no expectations and we were going to have fun, but this year I feel if I don’t have a certain level of success then it will be bad. So there’s definitely some pressure.”

Black beat out 144 competitors to claim the MLD’s fourth annual championship last year.

The game works by attempting to keep the dreidel spinning for as long as possible on the Spinagogue, which is the MLD’s dreidel board. The walls on the board are brought in as the tournament progresses, leaving competitors with a smaller board and larger challenge.

After early qualifying rounds are over, 64 contestants enter the tournament bracket. Competitors face each other head to head, and a match consists of the best of two out of three games. A game consists of up to two spins. If a player doesn't like their first spin, then they can spin again, but they must use the second spin.

Players also must decide if they want to spin first or second, and they can try to psych out their opponent through several different measures.

“There’s definitely some strategy to it,” Black said.

A spin of 13 seconds is good enough to advance deep into the tournament, Black said, and he was spinning around 15 seconds with regularity last year. On a larger board, the world record holder recorded a spin of 17 seconds.

Last year’s winning spin on an area Black estimated to be about 6 inches across was 12.81 seconds, which earned him a first-place trophy and a Spinagogue.

But a year of practice hasn’t meant a year of improvement for Black. He says he still spins around 13 seconds and hasn’t seen his average jump.

“I wish I could say I have, but I haven’t noticed any improvement,” he said. “I don’t think I’m any better than I was last year, so hopefully that’s still good enough.”

But he added that he should be helped by automatically advancing past the qualifying rounds and holding a higher seed, which pits him against the worst spinners early on.

In 2009, Black had poor finish that he attributed to over practicing, so, like last year, he and his teammates have kept their practices to a minimum and are more laid back.

“We’re pretty much keeping it casual,” he said. “The first year we went nuts practicing entire weekends and hours and hours at a time.”

But this year, he and other Team Smoot members are doing what they did last year - bringing their Spinagogue to the bar when they meet up for drinks and having a few spins.

Although dreidel is an individual sport, some participants travel in teams and support one another at the tournament. Ypsilanti resident and Team Smoot member Kurt Anschuetz advanced to the quarterfinals in 2010, and Team Smoot is represented at the 2011 MDL Tournament by more than 25 members from four states, though most are from Ypsilanti.

Black said the spinning is accompanied by lots of partying and fun, and Team Smoot got its start traveling to “rock scissors, paper” tournaments several years ago. The team is hoping to bring a dreidel competition, a "head or tails" competition or similarly odd tournament to Ypsilanti.

"I think Ypsi, with the kind of vibe it has, could work for something like that," Black said. "There are enough unique type of people that everyone might get into something like that."


Freddy Rosenthal

Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 3:22 p.m.

Good luck Alan!


Sun, Dec 18, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

Have fun, Ypsi is proud of you!


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

Gee, one of the comments reminds me of my ex-wife - no fun in their world. It's like Michigan fans hoping one of the Michgan college teams doesn't get a bowl game - their from Michigan cheer them on. I won't be there; but I certainly will be cheering him on to bring the title back to Ypsilanti. It's personal acheivement


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 12:27 p.m.

What is wrong with this country ? Where has it gone ? We have hunger, homelessness, people dying everyday from illness and accidents, foreclosures, high unemployment, etc. etc. and this is news worthy. you have hit a new low. Are these the dreams and hopes our younger generation aspires to attain.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 9:45 p.m.

Hmmm. What are your dreams Tony? Are you fulfilling them by raining on other people's parades? It may be approaching the time in your life when you need to get a life. So, Tony, I hope you'll let the world know about your dreams and whether you're fulfilling them.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

@bedrog- your have a right to your opinion everyone has one right. I just see this as mindless. sorry.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

Lighten up.....a dreidel savant is preferable to some political "activists' on both the far right and far left , who mis- analyze the causes of problems ,demonize the wrong people and trash/ interfere with public spaces with their posters and other messes.

Chaz H

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 10:12 p.m.

Alan is a great guy. Best of luck in the tourney, Alan!


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 8:55 p.m.

Nice story, best of luck!

Dog Guy

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 8:50 p.m.

To Alan Black, a hearty Mazel Tov!


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 8:04 p.m.

I wish I could observe this event live but I'll actually be busy defending my tiddlywinks championship that day.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 7:27 p.m.

Not only is Alan an extraordinary spinner, but a trivia deity, as well!

Patti Smith

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 10:47 p.m.

I thought he looked familiar, and that is where I know him from! Thanks for the reminder :)


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 7:23 p.m.

I have never been more proud of being from Ypsi than I am now. *wipes tear away*


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 8:05 p.m.

Haha! That's too funny. I'm from Ypsi, too, so I hear ya!