Photo/IllutrationAkiko Yazawa in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward (Photo by Taichiro Yoshino)

Akiko Yazawa became the fourth player to win multiple world backgammon championships, six years after her doctor gave her less than a year to live.

“Backgammon supported me under a life-or-death situation,” Yazawa, 37, said about her victory at the world championship held in Monaco in August. “I could gain a mental advantage in the game unlike the last time, when I was obsessed with the idea that I may soon die.”

Her first championship victory came in 2014, when she was still suffering in pain from cancer treatment and an operation that saved her life.

Yazawa, from Tokyo’s Toshima Ward, said her condition and the game have enabled her to “see into the future.”

In backgammon, the players roll two dice to move their 15 checkers to a goal and to “bear them off.” The placement of the checkers can be used to block the opponent’s moves.

In the backgammon world championship, competitors keep playing each other and are eliminated once they lose two games. Yazawa advanced to the final without notching a single loss. She received 60,000 euros (7.8 million yen, or $69,000) as prize money after claiming the title.

The Japan Backgammon League estimates that 300 million people mainly from Europe, the United State and the Middle East play backgammon, one of the oldest board games.

In Japan, where backgammon is also called “Western-style ‘sugoroku,’” 200,000 people play the game, but there are only four professional players, including Yazawa.

Yazawa became captivated with backgammon when she first played as a student and won a national competition in 2004.

In 2012, she was diagnosed with stage IIIC uterine cancer and was told by her doctor that she “would not be able to survive even for one year without surgery.”

Past screenings had failed to identify the tumor deep inside her uterus.

Yazawa was initially against the surgery because it would mean she would not be able to have children.

But she later attempted to keep calm to “see into the future.”

Much like when she plays backgammon, she thought about her future moves and decided “to continue life.”

“I wanted to do all I could do to accept anything that would happen to me,” she said.

After her uterus, ovaries, uterine tube and lymph nodes were resected, Yazawa started preparing to win the world backgammon championship in the hopes of “making a mark” that would remain even after her death.

At the 2014 tournament, she struggled to throw the dice because her hands were numb from the side effects of anti-cancer drug treatment. In addition, her entire body ached.

But still, she took the world champion title.

While she still suffers from the aftereffects of the carcinoma, such as swollen legs, there is almost no risk of the cancer’s recurrence.

Yazawa now participates in competitions across the globe once a month on average.

“I have to win to show the appeal of backgammon to Japanese people,” she said.

Her current goal is to win a third world championship, a feat accomplished by only one player.

Yazawa also dreams of establishing a professional backgammon league, similar to the ones for “shogi” Japanese chess and go, so that more Japanese will become interested in the game.

“I want to create a place where my junior players can hold hope,” she said.

Yazawa likens life to backgammon.

“I cannot decide by myself how the dice will roll,” she said. “No matter how tough the situation I face, I have to make decisions and choices on my own and lead myself to victory.”

She continued: “Every player has a chance of turning the game around, even when they are at a great disadvantage and however low the winning percentage is.”