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Posted on Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 6:03 a.m.

Ypsilanti man takes first place in Major League Dreidel competition

By Heather Lockwood


Alan Black practices dreidel spinning with his "Spinagogue, " a type of board used in dreidel spinning competitions, inside the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti.

Angela J. Cesere |

Last year, Alan Black spun a dreidel for the first time.

This year, he took first place at the annual Major League Dreidel Tournament in New York.

"I had spun regular tops and stuff," he said.

But never a dreidel. Not until a friend told him about the tournament and they decided to give it a try.

Black was one of about 140 competitors in the Dec. 9 event at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. It was his second year competing in the tournament. Black didn't win in the 2009 tournament, he suspects, because of nerves and because he and his friends, who also competed in the tournament, may have over-practiced.

"I think we practiced too much (last year). One of our players, his finger was sore," he said. "Last year I was more nervous, not knowing what to expect."

Black said he invested about 15 to 20 hours of practice time in preparation for this year's competition, compared to the more than 100 hours he spent practicing for the 2009 tournament.

Though dreidel spinning is an individual sport, Black said, he and several friends consider themselves a team, "Team Smoot," and support each other at the tournament.

The object is to keep the dreidel spinning for as long as possible on the Spinagogue — Major League Dreidel's official spinning stadium. As the tournament progressed, Black said, the walls surrounding the Spinagogue's confined spinning platform inched closer, reducing the surface area on which to spin.

Black said his winning spinning time in the final round — within the smallest spinning area of what he estimates to be about 6 inches across — was 12.81 seconds. As the 2010 champion, Black won a first-place trophy and a Spinagogue.

"It's the closest thing I'll ever get to winning a major sports championship," he said.

Eric Pavony, of Brooklyn, who founded Major League Dreidel in 2006 and invented the Spinagogue, came up with idea of a dreidel spinning tournament during his mother's "famous" Hanukkah party she calls "Latkes & Vodkas." He noticed the dreidels sitting on the table and as garnishes on plates served as more decoration than game.

Traditionally, dreidels are used in a game where players win money or game pieces based on how the four-sided dreidel, which has a letter on each side, lands when it is spun.

"Nobody was spinning the dreidels, they were just used as sort of a holiday icon," he said. "I said, 'This is crazy,' you know? ... 'There's got to be a way to make the dreidel more fun, more dynamic.' "

So, Pavony said, he challenged the party's remaining guests to a dreidel spinning competition, and the concept for Major League Dreidel was born.

"Part of Major League Dreidel's mission is to sort of extend dreidel season past the eighth night of Hanukkah," he said.

The tournament in New York was the largest of the 14 Major League Dreidel competitions held across the country this year, Pavony said. Next year, he hopes to hold a national championship in which champions from each of the regional events can compete against one another.

He said the annual tournament in New York is more than just a competition — it's the "greatest Hanukkuh party in the world," with food, drinks and live music, including a performance of "Hanukkah Gone Metal," by Gods of Fire. Dec. 9 was the last night of Hanukkah this year.

Black said most of the competitors go by a "spinner name" at the event — this year his was "Juspin Bieber." He said he chose the name because he wanted something funny people could relate to.

Black said he had not expected to win.

"It's kind of unbelievable," he said. "I was kind of in a dream the rest of the night."

But more exciting than winning the tournament, Black said, was the fact that he beat the dreidel spinning world record holder — Pamela "Pamskee" Goldman.

"I beat the world record holder this year when it was down to the final eight," he said. "That was the most nervous I was all night, going against her."

Kurt Anschuetz, of Ypsilanti, and a member of Team Smoot, also competed in the tournament. He made it to the final 16.

Anschuetz said a good dreidel spin requires "a lot of finesse," and the dreidel must not "move around the board" — all of its energy must go into the spin.

"Very few people can do that consistently, and somehow Alan was able to do it," he said. "We were as happy as anything, and extremely happy for Alan, too."

Black said he and some of his friends intend to compete in next year's tournament, too.

  • For more information on upcoming tournaments or to host a Major League Dreidel tournament in your city send an email to



Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 1:48 p.m.

@contrelmilice, isn't it? It's a story about a dreidel for crying out loud. If it's that uninteresting, don't read the article. I think Ms. Lockwood does a good job of finding interesting tidbits and local stories. It adds to the flavor of the city.


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 10:19 p.m.

Interesting spin everyone's giving to this story.


Mon, Dec 20, 2010 : 4:52 p.m.

Hey, it's the trivia guy! Way to go, Alan!


Sun, Dec 19, 2010 : 8:48 a.m.

A whole casino ---ala las vegas--dedicated to dreidel ( with associated celebrity -chef resturants featuring greasy latkes and do-it- yourself artery decloggers/slot machines) is a natural. Is there a casino-less michigan tribe listening? the whole 'native americans as a lost tribe of israel' tradition (per the mormons and others) is a plus here.


Sun, Dec 19, 2010 : 8:18 a.m.

A dreidel is a gambling device...did Mr. Black win any $'s or Hannukah gelt from his competitors?


Sun, Dec 19, 2010 : 8 a.m.

I sense there may be a movie deal in the works akin to Dodgeball or Balls of Fury. At least the Michigan movie tax credit was one thing Jenny did right. Why else would anyone make a movie in Michigan?


Sun, Dec 19, 2010 : 7:34 a.m.

The informative video could have been even better with a soundtrack of the hip hop dreidel song by sasha baron cohen's ( 'ali g.', 'bruno', 'borat') brother. google " baron cohen dreidel song'...


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 9:46 p.m.

Congrats, Mr. Black. Ride the wave! Author a book, go on tour, sign autographs, sell Black Dreidels, do Art Fair... Good luck.


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 9:45 p.m.

A dreidel is a gambling device...did Mr. Black win any $'s or Hannukah gelt from his competitors?

Barbara Nickel

Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 9:21 p.m.

Congratulations to Kurt Anschuetz also for making it into the final 16! I think this is worthy of top news; Chanukah is the Festival of Lights celebrated for 8 joyous nights.


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 6:23 p.m.

Congrats man, that was excellent!


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 6:13 p.m.

Awesome display of sports skills!

Marshall Applewhite

Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 5:47 p.m.

We're going to need a blood test for Mr. Black. I'm hearing whispers of extensive performance enhancing drug use in the Competitive Dreidel community.


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 4:06 p.m.

I loved this story and was getting ready to tweet it and Facebook it because I know my friends will think it's fun too. it But I thought I'd check the comments first, just out of curiosity. Because typically, the first comment I read on is negative, but as I read this fun happy story, I figured there was no way the first comment (or any comment) could be negative this time. There was nothing political or financial in it to argue about. No town versus gown controversy. Nothing to do with the stadium bridge, a high school teacher facing tenure charges, what will be built on the library parking lot, or AAPS calling people at 5 in the morning. This is a fun, feel-good story with niche appeal. Nothing but positive as far as I can tell. But that doesn't mean that readers won't find something negative to say. I just don't get it. You know what takes more time than reading an article you find irrelevant? Posting a comment to an article you find irrelevant. If you don't like it, don't read it. But why harsh on somebody else's success, however un-newsworthy it may seem to you? Kudos to you, Alan Black! I think you rock.


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 3:12 p.m.

FYI - There WILL BE a Major League Dreidel Championship in Ypsilanti Next year. So purchase your Spinagogues and start practicing. You'll have to beat the best to get to NYC in 2011.


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 2:19 p.m.

We should promote great activities like these. Not only does it not take any thought to play, you can also snack on a tasty treat while competing at the highest level. Brilliant!


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 1:22 p.m.

@jackson72 - This is a great holiday puff piece. Does it all have to be super sensational to be worthy of attention? TMZ or FOX is just a click away.


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 11:49 a.m.

a2chrisp: yes I read all of the above, and others. I think the evolution of a city paper to a local rag is very interesting, and thank you for pointing out that there are national newspapers. is like a neighborhood newsletter. It's very cute.

dading dont delete me bro

Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 11:37 a.m.

looks like plays a lot of dreidel. of course, his recent championship attests to that.


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 11:21 a.m.

Congratulations Mr. Black. Here is hoping this experience somehow gets turned into a movie like Dodgeball. As for all of those critical of's coverage of this, maybe someday you will do something noteworthy, and someone will try to steal your 15 minutes of fame. More to the point, is local. If you want national/world news, read the Washington Post or the Nytimes. The time is over where you can get all of your news from one place.


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 10:02 a.m.

They don't do national or international news. Is it too expensive for them to subscribe to a news service for that, or are they just trying to fill a local niche? Well at least the news isn't about a traffic accident today, that's cheerful.


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 9:30 a.m.

i just hope he doesnt let this go to his head, and go the route of kobe bryant, tiger woods, michael vick and other badly behaved sport stars.


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 8:48 a.m.

COngratulations to this man At least we don't have to read about another shooting or robbery THis is positive we are tired of all negative things in the world


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 8:46 a.m.

Relax, Jackson. It is a slow new saturday, that's all. :) And Congrats to Alan. I will have to go down to the Corner Brewery to check out his dreidel spinning.


Sat, Dec 18, 2010 : 8:30 a.m.

Not to take anything away from this young man's incredible accomplishment...are you kidding This is your top news of the day? REALLY? This is exactly why so many of us are so disappointed with your "news" coverage around Ann Arbor.