We sat down for a chat with Norwegian Grandmaster Elias Kritikos.
Elias was born in Bergen, Norway in 1977, but grew up in Rhodes, Greece. His mother is Norwegian and his father is Greek… hence those exotic looks. From the age of 18 he has been living in Bergen (apart from 1.5 years in Greek military service).
“I grew up in a beautiful place and had many friends. I was out playing a lot. Winters were mild and kind of boring. In the summer there was more life on the island because of all the tourists. It was a happy, safe childhood with a great sense of freedom.” Elias’ biggest influence has been his Norwegian grandfather. “He adored me and I was the son he never had. He took me to the disco when I was 4 years old and taught me that life should be adventurous. He had a strong personality and accomplished great things in life out of nothing. He was a great inspiration to me and I wanted to make him proud.”
Elias owns a physiotherapy clinic with seven colleagues, with his speciality being chronic pain and complex musculoskeletal disorders. “I really enjoy my work. Every day is different and helping people gives a great rewarding feeling.”
Two specific highlights for Elias? “Probably when my two daughters were born, and of course when we won the European backgammon championship with Norway in 2017! And I am very much in love with my partner Katharina; we’ve been together for 6 months!”
Elias has been playing backgammon since his childhood, “In Greece, everybody plays backgammon. I started playing in the local club in Bergen when I was 23.” It’s been a long journey to grandmaster status for Elias. “I became a strong player quickly, by studying and watching experienced players, and also by playing a lot myself. I had the luck to meet Øystein Johansen early in my career, and he taught me a lot. Øystein is a Norwegian guy who is a great theoretician of the game and one of the developers of GNU. I met him in Stavanger, where I was doing my physiotherapy practice in 2001. He became my mentor. I remember when I first visited him in his house, I was spellbound by his great collection of backgammon literature. I started reading some of those books and was fascinated by the depth of the game. My breakthrough was the year 2017, where I reached the final of the Nordic Open. It was my comeback after a long break due to family circumstances, and I realised I had become much better! Using XG and studying match scores, which was my weakness earlier, really improved my game.”
Elias is a member of the Norwegian band Heartshaker (think Bon Jovi, Aerosmith). “After my divorce in 2016 I suddenly had more time for myself. I hadn’t been playing drums for some years and wanted to start again. I responded to an ad where a rock band needed a drummer. I went to meet them and rehearse, they liked me and I liked them and that was it! I play the drums and some keyboard. I consider myself a composer; I make music all the time. Next to Heartshaker, I have a solo project called Moonscapes where I make all the music myself. I discovered my musical talent late in life. I started playing the drums at the age of 29! That’s 16 years ago now. Keyboard a little longer. Besides from 3-4 drum lessons I had when I started up, I am self learned.”
“In Heartshaker we all love rock, and our music is mainly influenced by 70s and 80s rock. So we are kind of a retro band. Few bands play our style. In Moonscapes I would say I am mostly influenced by 80s (synth) pop like Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, The Cure, but also atmospheric rock and metal like Anathema. Lately I have discovered indie, lots of great stuff there.”
“The common theme between my music and backgammon is creativity, improvement and having fun. Playing in a band and being a part of the Norwegian national team also has similarities. Being in a group with common goals and working together to achieve them is a great experience. I still consider music and backgammon as two different things though, but equally important for me. Music for me is about diving into internal landscapes, soul searching and regulating everything that happens to me emotionally. Backgammon is about skill and improving, but also meeting people and being a part of a diverse group of people with one big similar interest.”
Elias’ hopes for the future? “Of course, I look forward to seeing my girls grow up to be happy, healthy, and successful. In backgammon, I hope for constant improvement and of course trophies! My goal with music is also to keep improving and make music that is appreciated. I dream of making a big hit!”