Matvey Natanzon, a/k/a Falafel, was born in Soviet Russia and moved with his mother to Azor, a small Israeli town near Tel Aviv, in 1972.
He moved to Buffalo, New York as a teenager and graduated from the New York State University at Buffalo in 1991 with a degree in accounting.
Shortly thereafter he moved to Manhattan. Homeless, he lived for 6 months in Washington Square Park and learned to hustle chess and backgammon from local gamblers.
Some of Falafel’s associates at that time went on to become famous poker players, including Phil Laak, Gus Hansen, and Abe Mosseri. Falafel himself plays poker and is part-owner of a card parlor in Tel Aviv.
In 2005 Natanzon played on the Israeli team in the Nations Cup backgammon tournament.
In 2007, Natanzon was named the number one backgammon player in the world by an unscientifically compiled peer-audited review known as Giants of Backgammon. Although the rankings are not precise, Jake Jacobs, the list’s compiler, says about it that “We can never know for certain who is the best player in a given year, but we can confidently eliminate 99.99 percent. Falafel survived the cut.”
Falafel’s colorful commentary, sharp wit, and on-point analysis make him one of VoB’s most requested co-hosts.