Double Sixes

A Prim Little Old Lady Battles for a Girl and a Baseball Club While Fate Scampers Over a Backgammon Board

By Otavus Roy Cohen

Reprinted from the August 27, 1933 edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Miss Martha was Pine Ridge and Pine Ridge was Miss Martha; that’s all there was to it.  You couldn’t think of one without thinking of the other.

The town was little and prim, and so was she.  She lived in a big, rambling old house, a thing with two cupolas and a couple of stained glass windows, and I remember when I was a kid there was a melodeon in the parlor.  Well, when I visited that house again last summer, the melodeon was still there, but Pat had also installed a swell radio.


Pat was Miss Martha’s niece, and looking at her you couldn’t help getting the idea that if the old lady had been fifty years younger she would have been just as Pat was today; pretty and full of pep and fond of a good time and democratic as all get out.

That was the nice thing about both of them. They had so much class that they didn’t have to go around high-hatting folks just to prove they were better. In fact, they didn’t think they were better, although after Pat and I graduated from high school together and she went off to a finishing place in the East, I sort of got afraid of her and never visited up there. That is, not until last year when we had the mix up about the baseball team.

Imagine Miss Martha – almost seventy years old; tiny, fragile and prissy; a leader in the ladies’ clubs; the richest person in Pine Ridge; a grand little lady but kind of old-fashioned – imagine her, I say, owning a professional baseball club and trying to run it!

Well, that’s just what happened in Pine Ridge last summer, and while the hunch was swell to begin with, it brought us plenty of trouble. Things are so mixed up that it’s sort of hard to tell ‘em straight.

First of all, about me: I’m a native of Pine Ridge. I reckon my folks have lived in that town about as long as Miss Martha’s family; but whereas the Fosters were always very rich, the Averys (that’s my family) haven’t ever been able to do much in a financial way. I sort of oozed through high school, but then I had to go to work. I got a chance to take over the agency for a very popular low-priced car, and bank helped me raise the money to fit up a first-class machine shop and garage.

All through school I had been a pretty nice ball player. First summer after graduating I put in a season in the Class A league and managed to do pretty well. Then I quit and went to work.

Pine Ridge is pretty far down South. All around us is a flock of towns which are bigger than we are, and they have for years formed a regular Class D league – just as much a part of organized baseball as the majors, though maybe a mite less important. And the year before, one of the towns had been obliged to forfeit its franchise, and the suggestion had been made that Pine Ridge take it over.


Lots of hot sports live in Pine Ridge and they go nuts about having a regular team in a regular league. The prominent citizens get together and agree that we’re to take our place in the baseball world come spring, and that was when they appointed me Manager of the club.

But that winter, everything went bad. Two of our best banks closed up, and just before the season was due to get underway, it was decided that Pine Ridge couldn’t afford pro ball. Unless…

While we were waiting in the front parlor, Pat came in. She looked like ninety million dollars.

“Bill Avery!” she says. “How are you?”

“Fine, thank you. And you are looking as pretty as ever too.”

She speaks to the others and drapes herself on the arm of my chair.

“Calling on Aunty?”


“And maybe I’m de trop, eh?”

“Maybe. But you might stand by to pick up the pieces after the explosion occurs.”

“What are you planning?”

“Something terrible, Pat. We’re trying to get Miss Martha to finance the Pine Ridge Baseball Association.”

For a minute Pat stares. Then she turns loose a laugh that a feller could dream about.

“Aunty a baseball magnate! Oh, Bill! You haven’t changed. You’re the same idiot I was always crazy about!”

“Crazy, perhaps – but desperate, Pat. It’s either Miss Martha or else.”

We heard a light step in the hall, and Pat jumped up and squeezed my arm. “Hop to it Big Boy.”

Then Miss Martha came in – neat and trim and tidy, and smiling at all of us.

Well, it’s my funeral and I start to talk. I commence orating about Pine Ridge and how it had always claimed to be the finest little city in the state. I see that this is getting me way past first base.

I then orate about how all the other towns nearby have rubbed it into us about being old-fashioned and backward, and about how we have a chance to show them a thing or two, and then I paint a picture of her as being the one person in Pine Ridge who can make us stand out like nobody’s business, Finally I explain the baseball situation and tell her that we want her to finance the club, else we’ll appear ridiculous for having said we’d take it over – and then welshing.

I’ll say this for the old lady, there wasn’t any explosion. But she did look kind of queer.

“Isn’t it rather absurd, Bill – that I should finance a baseball team?”

“Yes’m. But if you don’t, nobody will and we’ll be laughed at.”

“H-m-m! You’re a nice boy Bill Avery. In fact, I can’t understand why you’ve been avoiding us up here on the hill. But I wouldn’t dream of investing in anything I didn’t understand.”

“I’ll explain it to you Miss Martha. And then you can run the team.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

“I’m not. Just think what it will mean to the town too.” Then I hesitated for just a moment. “But there’s one other thing I’ve got to make plain Miss Martha. This is not a good investment. Ball clubs in little towns like this don’t make money. Sometimes they lose.”

“How much?”

“Oh, you might lose four or five thousand during the season. If you were lucky, you’d break even. We’re not asking you because we think you’ll make money. We’re asking you because we figure you’re the only person in Pine Ridge who has enough money and pride to want to do a good deed for the town.”

Well sir, that decided her. Of course there was a lot more talk back and forth, but before the afternoon ended she had practically agreed – and that meant she would do it. On the way out – me feeling kind of dazed – I run slap into Pat Foster.

“Bill Avery!” she says. “It’s marvelous!” She went into a suppressed giggle. “Aunty running a ball club!”

“I’ll help her all I can, Pat.”

“And I’ll help too.” Then she smiles straight into my eyes. “If it’ll get you up here occasionally, you poor goof, her losses will be worthwhile.”

“You’re a sweet kid Pat.”

“Says you! But you haven’t acted that way since I came back from school.”

“Scared! You were too impressive.”

“Baloney!” says she.

There’s plenty to be done right after that. Miss Martha buys the franchise and spends some jack having the park fixed up. As a matter of fact, I can see she’s getting a big kick out of the whole idea, though she balks at having her picture taken with the team.

And that team! I get one old, broken-down major leaguer who is smart, and I make him field captain. He is still a pretty good catcher. For the rest, I dig around that territory and gather up a bunch of likely lads who can really play ball and will take any salary.

Then I sign Slats Morgan.

Nobody who hadn’t seen Slats could possibly appreciate him, either as a ball player or man. He was spotted at first base for us, and I’m on record as prophesying that before he’s through he will be in the record books as another Hal Chase. That guy could play the initial sack; and how!

Hal Chase

Hal Chase

But there ain’t nothing else good could be said about Slats. On the field he was a wizard; off he was just naturally the biggest, strongest, dumbest egg that ever came out of the Big Sticks. Pretty near six feet tall, and broad to match; he had a big chest, a receding forehead and a vacant look. Also, he had long ago elected himself the handsomest and most desirable man in the world.

Well, the season opens and we get away to a good start. The team is green, but they scrap plenty and I can see that once the rough edges get worn off, we’re going to make the other five clubs all sit up and take notice. In fact, I don’t see anything to stop us – which proves that a guy can never tell. You wouldn’t think I’d go and forget Miss Martha that quick.

The season is a month old when the bombshell busts. She sends for me when I come in off a road trip. “Bill Avery,” she asks, “is it true that some of my ball players drink beer and chew tobacco and swear and play pool and gamble?”

“Why yes’m – sort of. But they don’t do any of those things much.”

“It’s got to stop.”

I try to explain to her that they are just a harmless bunch of kids who ain’t really got any bad habits, only sort of like to play around, but I don’t get nowhere. Miss Martha is bent on making a bunch of gents out of the Pine Ridge Club. If they can’t act sweet and pretty, they’re gonna get canned, and I know better than to argue.

I call the boys together and tell ‘em what’s what. They let out a howl you could hear across the state, but I made it clear it’s that – or else.


Maybe what happened pleased Miss Martha, but it didn’t make any hit with the fans or the players. They were pretty desperate; no pool, no profanity, no gambling, and me enforcing the rules because Miss Martha trusted me. Anyway, the boys went kind of went melancholy. Their playing lost its pep.

I’m admitting that we had the most gentlemanly team in the league – but also we were rapidly becoming the worst. I talked things over with Pat, and she worked on her aunt, but reported back nothing doing. “And what’s still worse Bill,” she tells me, “tomorrow afternoon, following the game, she’s having all the players up for tea!”

That slew me! Also, it durn near gave the boys nervous prostration – all except Slats Morgan.

They were all introduced to Miss Martha, and they all shook hands and were very polite, and they drunk tea all right, but only that Pat was there, the afternoon would have been three degrees worse than a funeral.

Also, word gets around the circuit about what has happened, and some bright sports writer gives us the nickname of Tea Hounds, and that finishes whatever damage hadn’t been done before.

But, getting back to the tea party, that was the first time Pat ever met Slats Morgan. Slats had never had any judgement to begin with. He thought he was the original answer to a maiden’s prayer.

Three days later I see him and her drinking ice cream sodas in Flynn’s drug store, and I call Pat on the carpet.

“He’s grand!” she says.


“Be yourself! He’s dumb as an ox!”

“Which is what makes him so delicious! You may never have suspected it, Bill, but Mister Slats Morgan is cute. He’s a riot!”

We go on the road and are handed tons of raspberries everywhere we visit. The boys go nuts and play worse than ever – if possible.

I’m thinking I’ve got all the troubles in the world, but no sooner do we get back home than I discover I ain’t seen nothin’ yet. It was Pat and Slats. They start running around together – and how!

It ain’t so much what they did, but how often they did it. Rides in Pat’s car, ice cream sodas, movies…and the whole town talking about how Pat is making a spectacle of herself. I try talking to her, but it don’t get me anywhere. She sticks to the old line about finding Slats a delicious novelty and all that sort of hooey.

At first, Miss Martha couldn’t hardly take it in. Then she sent for me.

“What are we going to do about it Bill Avery?”

“I don’t know ma’am. I’m as worried as you are. I got you into this thing, and…”

“Tommyrot! I went into this thing myself, and I’ll face the consequences. But I feel helpless, and I figured that you would help me out.”

“Yes, ma’am…all I can. I’m fond of Pat…”

“I once had hopes that you were in love with her.”

That knocked me for a loop, because I’d have sworn that Miss Martha would hate the idea of her niece marrying a garage keeper.

“Is she in love with this Slats person?” asked Miss Martha.

“She couldn’t be.”

“H’mph!” Miss Martha sniffed. “You don’t know the Fosters very well Bill Avery.”

“I know no Foster could lose her head over a man like Slats Morgan.”

“But one could – that’s what worries me. I shall trust you with a secret Bill Avery. When I was Pat’s age, I fell in love with an atrocious looking young man who earned a living by going around the country wrestling bulls. My father smuggled me into one of his astounding exhibitions, and I met him later – secretly.”


“He gave you a thrill Miss Martha. You would not have married him.”

“In a minute,” she snapped, “if he had asked me. Of course six weeks after he had departed from Pine Ridge my heart was mended, and I was glad I hadn’t become the wife of a professional bull wrestler, but that doesn’t alter the fact that I would have done so if he had given me the chance. So you can now understand Bill Avery why I’m so worried about Pat.”

I saw right enough. “Everything’s shot it seems Miss Martha. Pat running around with Slats and the team playing rotten ball, and all that razzing.”

“What do you mean – razzing?”

“It’s a slang word Miss Martha. It means kidding – joking.”

“Who is joking about what?”

“Well, you see, we’re kind of ridiculous in the league because you don’t allow the boys to act like real ball players. They can’t take a glass of beer or use cuss words or shoot pool or – well anyway that’s why we’ve been playing so badly.”

She gave me a hard, little smile. “I suppose I’ve been a fool Bill Avery paying attention to little things like that. Very well, I’ll tell you what I’ll do Bill Avery. If you’ll solve this Slats Morgan problem for me I’ll lift all the restrictions. And then, if I understand correctly, the boys will perform better.”

“They sure would Miss Martha. But you don’t have to bribe me to help about Pat. I’d do anything in the world…”

“You haven’t made any suggestions.”

“I’ve only got one. Slats is really a swell ball player. I think I can sell him.”

She looked kind of startled. “Sell him? What does that mean?”

Well I explained how organized baseball works. I could see she was shocked. She stated she wouldn’t be a party to any such thing. (She called it slavery.) And she said that after things adjusted themselves I could tell the boys that if they were sold up for good playing they could have all the purchase money.

“Besides,” finished Miss Martha, “selling Slats wouldn’t do any good. If I know anything about Pat – and if she in love with that person – she would follow him to wherever he went.” She looked at me hard. “Why don’t you make Pat marry you right away?”

“I’d like to. But I’m afraid I’m a trifle late.”

“H’mph! You don’t deserve a fine girl like Pat. You’re worried but you don’t do anything. You even confess you’re in love with her, and you haven’t the nerve to propose.” She walked across the room and stood there a minute; then whirled on me. “That’s the trouble with you Bill Avery. You’re too weak…I’m going to handle this thing myself!”

I ask her what she’s planning to do and she says she don’t know but that she’s going to handle it.


I don’t sleep very well that night, and early next morning I’m called to the telephone. It’s Miss Martha. She tells me to come right up to her place.

She looks serene, but grim. “Bill Avery,” she starts, “I wish to ask a direct question and get a direct answer. Does this Slats person indulge in games of chance?”

I didn’t see what she was driving at exactly, but I admitted that Slats was usually very keen to lay a little something on the line when there was any action promised.

“Go get him,” she ordered.

Worried – that’s what I was. I found Slats at the boarding house and dragged him along with me.

Miss Martha was sitting at one end of her big reception room. She gave Slats a stare that made him fidget.

“You have been in my niece’s society a great deal,” accused Miss Martha in a voice like snapping icicles.

“Yes’m,” says Slats.

“You’re not her kind,” says Miss Martha, “nor is she yours. I know better than to approach you on those grounds, however. So, I’ve sent for you to find out whether or not you are a good gambler.”

He suspects a trick. “We’ve got a rule against gambling.”

“You and I are going to break that rule, Mr. Morgan. We’re going to make a bet and play a game for high stakes. We’ll play the game,” she continued bleakly, “to settle our problem. If you lose, you are to take your contract and leave the club and the town. And you are to give me your word that you will never again see my niece or communicate with her. Furthermore, if she follows you, you will refuse to speak to her.”

“And if I win?”

“Then as to my niece, you will have to take your chances – with the frank understanding that I will continue to oppose any alliance between you. But also, if you win, I will turn over the entire baseball club to you!”

“You mean,” he gasped, “that it would be mine?!”


That’s where I jumped up and said a lot of things, but Miss Martha told me to shut up and mind my own business. Of course, Slats accepted the proposition.

“And now,” says Miss Martha, “what game shall we play?”

“Stud poker?” suggests Slats eagerly.

“I’m not familiar with that sport.”

“I – er – I don’t suppose you shoot pool do you?”

“No,” she answered primly, “I don’t.”

“Well I’ll be dog-goned if I can think of anything else except maybe matching pennies best three out of five.”

“That wouldn’t do Mr. Morgan.”  She thought for a minute and then looked up. “Do you play cribbage?”

“No ma’am.”

Suddenly her eyes lighted. “Surely you play backgammon?”

That was right up his alley, and he said so – never mentioning however, that he was one of those newfangled backgammon hounds who have the board all figured out. Anyway, they agreed to play the best four out of seven games of backgammon with a beautiful girl and a ball club as stakes. It was decided they would play that night after supper and I shooed Slats away.

I begged and argued and pleaded with Miss Martha but I never even budged her. She said she had been playing all her life and didn’t believe any such person as Slats could beat her. Then I explained that she couldn’t trust Slats, that he was a natural double-crosser, and even if he lost he would most likely make a play for Pat anyway, but she said she didn’t believe me – that no man would welsh on a bet, not even Slats Morgan.

Instead of going out to the ballpark, I telephoned for my field captain to handle the team that afternoon and did some heavy thinking. Somebody had to save Miss Martha. Slats was a whang at backgammon, and I knew it. Besides, I knew he’d double-cross her if he lost, and if he won…

Then suddenly an inspiration slapped me square in the brain and I hustled down to the Jimdandy Pool Room and backed Tim McSwan into a corner.

Tim ain’t one of our best citizens, but he’s a nice guy. He’s a hustler, a bird who makes a living by reading the backs of cards and shooting educated dice. Him and me have always liked each other, and I know he’s twice as tight lipped as a clam so I spill the story.

“You’ve got to help Tim.”

He looks at me kind of queer. “You used to be pretty good at doing tricks Bill.”

“I still am.”

“All right,” he says handing me a pair of dice. “As I know this game, each player shoots with a different pair of dice. See that Miss Martha uses these.”

I look ‘em over and don’t see nothing phony; so I ask him how come.

“They’re my private backgammon dice. If you inspect closely you’ll see that each die has two sixes. Also the ace is left off one and the deuce off the other. It makes backgammon a cinch – almost always high numbers and a lot of double sixes.”

I told him he was a genius and no kidding. He explained he’d never been willing to try ‘em himself because they were pretty crude, but that not even a guy like Slats would suspect a neat little old lady like Miss Martha – especially if she didn’t know she was using ‘em.

As to the ethics of the thing, I didn’t worry at all. Slats was a worm and was always hitting below the belt. I was merely fighting fire with fire, and anyway, when Slats lost I was gonna sell him and give him the purchase money, which was a grand thing for any ball player. I felt that whatever kept him and Pat apart was right – no matter how it was done.


Well, that night after dinner I take Slats up to the big house on the hill. Miss Martha has the backgammon board all laid out. They sit down and she produces two dice cups. Slats selects a pair of bones and a cup. Then I start a last-minute plea, and while I’m doing it I fool with Miss Martha’s dice cup and when I put it back I have shifted dice.

Beat that for a goofy game; a prim, proper little old lady and the world’s worst roughneck battling over a backgammon board for a girl and a baseball club…and the nice little old lady shooting crooked dice, all unbeknownst to herself!

The game started. Slats was rolling lucky, but Miss Martha’s dice were phenomenal. She starts with a six four, then a double six then a pair of fives. She wins that first game so fast that it wasn’t anybody’s business.

She also wins the second. But Slats gets lucky in the third and wins a close game. The air in that room was pretty tense. Miss Martha didn’t show how excited she was, but her lips were set in a firm, straight line and her hand was trembling.

The fourth game went to Miss Martha and the fifth game starts.

That game is a bird…and when finally Miss Martha takes her last man off I feel like yelling. Slats flings away from the table and sort of swears under his breath, and then Miss Martha looks up at him coldly.

“Permit me to remind you of your promise Mr. Morgan. You are to leave town immediately without again seeing my niece. Moreover, you are not to communicate with her now or ever. Is that clear?”

Slats says uh-huh and takes it on the lam. Miss Martha is dimpling and twinkling at me.

Well, she then tells me that everything is jake with the ball club. Now that she has got rid of Slats Morgan, she don’t care how the fellers have a good time, so long as they don’t over-do it. Also, she repeats her permission for me to tell the boys that they can have any purchase money the club gets for them, which I know will make them play like streaks. I am up in the clouds when Pat busts into the room.


She stops in the doorway, looking pretty as seven pictures, and asks what’s what. I tell her about all the restrictions being lifted on the club, and with that she sits down suddenly and says, “Hallelujah!”

I tell her I didn’t know she was interested and she gives me the kind of look out of the corners of her eyes which is enough to drive any poor goof nuts.

“And also,” she says, “I have a little news myself.”

“What is it?” inquires Miss Martha.

She looks straight at us. “I’ve just had a proposal of marriage.”

“A what?!” Then: “From who?”

“Slats Morgan.”

We can piece the story together easy. Just like I had figured, Slats had played both ends against the middle. Having lost the backgammon game and his chance to own the club, he had done just what I expected and made a play for Pat. “What did you say?” I ask.

“What do you think silly? I turned him down cold.”

Miss Martha and I looked at each other then we both commenced getting sore. The fact that things had turned out all right didn’t make Slats any sweeter…and believe me, I was happy that I had switched those dice, because if Miss Martha had lost she’d have handed him her ball club with never a whimper.

Pat is looking at us kind of queer, and finally she asks what it is all about. Miss Martha – in her prim precise way – tells the whole story. Pat. smiles, then chuckles, and finally rolls over on the sofa laughing.

“Aunty and Slats Morgan playing backgammon for my future. She howls, “Can you ever tie it?”

“It seemed necessary.” stated Miss Martha, “You were acting like an idiot.”

“I had a reason.” Little spots of pink show in her cheeks. “I was trying to help Bill Avery.”

“Some help.” I grunted.

“It was some help,” she said sharply. “Aunty was interfering with a good ball club and making you look ridiculous as a manager. I thought if she started worrying about something worthwhile she would give you a free hand with the club. I was only waiting until the time was ripe to drive a bargain with her…and then you two butted in with a crazy backgammon game…”

Miss Martha looked at me and then at Pat. Her expression was stern – all except her eyes.

“You two children,” she remarked coldly, “are both so crazy that you ought to be married.”

Pat and I started to grin. Then we looked at each other and stopped grinning. My knees felt kind of wobbly and we were staring at each other like a couple of saps.

Miss Martha was impatient. That’s Miss Martha all over. She’s going to run things, and run them her own way.

“You laughed at me, Pat, for playing backgammon with your future as the stake. Are you willing to take the same chance?”

“I-I…” For the first time in her life Pat was at a loss for words.

“Sit down and play,” ordered Miss Martha. “If Bill Avery wins he is to marry you. Are you both willing?”

I couldn’t say a thing and Pat answered with the same words. But we sat down and prepared to play.

Miss Martha is hovering over us, trying to keep from showing how delighted she is with herself. She finally makes me look straight at her and I see in her eyes the keen, mischievous light that I love.

I thought I knew Miss Martha pretty well. Nice and sweet and innocent and guileless. But I guess I was mistaken in her. Because with a broad wink, she handed me the same pair of dice she had used in winning the backgammon game against Slats Morgan,

“Better use these magic dice yourself Bill Avery,” she smiled. “There’s no sense taking a chance if you don’t have to.”



From Sketches New and Old, Complete

By Mark Twain


Written about 1867

At that time, in Kentucky (said the Hon. Mr. K.); the law was very strict against what is termed “games of chance.” About a dozen of the boys were detected playing “Seven Up” or “Old Sledge” for money, and the grand jury found a true bill against them. Jim Sturgis was retained to defend them when the case came up, of course. The more he studied over the matter, and looked into the evidence, the plainer it was that he must lose a case at last–there was no getting around that painful fact. Those boys had certainly been betting money on a game of chance. Even public sympathy was roused in behalf of Sturgis. People said it was a pity to see him mar his successful career with a big prominent case like this, which must go against him.

But after several restless nights an inspired idea flashed upon Sturgis, and he sprang out of bed delighted. He thought he saw his way through. The next day he whispered around a little among his clients and a few friends, and then when the case came up in court he acknowledged the Seven-up and the betting, and, as his sole defense, had the astounding effrontery to put in the plea that Old Sledge was not a game of chance! There was the broadest sort of a smile all over the faces of that sophisticated audience. The judge smiled with the rest. But Sturgis maintained a countenance whose earnestness was even severe. The opposite counsel tried to ridicule him out of his position, and did not succeed. The judge jested in a ponderous judicial way about the thing, but did not move him. The matter was becoming grave. The judge lost a little of his patience, and said the joke had gone far enough. Jim Sturgis said he knew of no joke in the matter–his clients could not be punished for indulging in what some people chose to consider a game of chance until it was proven that it was a game of chance. Judge and counsel said that would be an easy matter, and forthwith called Deacons Job, Peters, Burke  and Johnson, and Dominies Wirt and Miggles, to testify; and they unanimously and with strong feeling put down the legal quibble of Sturgis by pronouncing that Old Sledge was a game of chance.

“What do you call it now?” said the judge.

“I call it a game of science!” retorted Sturgis; “and I’ll prove it, too!”

They saw his little game.

He brought in a cloud of witnesses, and produced an overwhelming mass of testimony, to show that Old Sledge was not a game of chance but a game of science.

Instead of being the simplest case in the world, it had somehow turned out to be an excessively knotty one. The judge scratched his head over it awhile, and said there was no way of coming to a determination, because just as many men could be brought into court who would testify on one side as could be found to testify on the other. But he said he was willing to do the fair thing by all parties, and would act upon any suggestion Mr. Sturgis would make for the solution of the difficulty.

Mr. Sturgis was on his feet in a second.

“Impanel a jury of six of each, Luck versus Science. Give them candles and a couple of decks of cards. Send them into the jury-room, and just abide by the result!”

There was no disputing the fairness of the proposition. The four deacons and the two dominies were sworn in as the “chance” jurymen, and six inveterate old Seven-up professors were chosen to represent the “science” side of the issue. They retired to the jury-room.

In about two hours Deacon Peters sent into court to borrow three dollars from a friend. [Sensation.] In about two hours more Dominie Miggles sent into court to borrow a “stake” from a friend. [Sensation.] During the next three or four hours the other dominie and the other deacons sent into court for small loans. And still the packed audience waited, for it was a prodigious occasion in Bull’s Corners, and one in which every father of a family was necessarily interested.

The rest of the story can be told briefly. About daylight the jury came in, and Deacon Job, the foreman, read the following:


We, the jury in the case of the Commonwealth of Kentucky vs. John Wheeler et al., have carefully considered the points of the case, and tested the merits of the several theories advanced, and do hereby unanimously decide that the game commonly known as Old Sledge or Seven-up is eminently a game of science and not of chance. In demonstration whereof it is hereby and herein stated, iterated, reiterated, set forth, and made manifest that, during the entire night, the “chance” men never won a game or turned a jack, although both feats were common and frequent to the opposition; and furthermore, in support of this our verdict, we call attention to the significant fact that the “chance” men are all busted, and the “science” men have got the money. It is the deliberate opinion of this jury, that the “chance” theory concerning Seven-up is a pernicious doctrine, and calculated to inflict untold suffering and pecuniary loss upon any community that takes stock in it.

“That is the way that Seven-up came to be set apart and particularized in the statute-books of Kentucky as being a game not of chance but of science, and therefore not punishable under the law,” said Mr. K. “That verdict is of record, and holds good to this day.”

An 8 Cube From Chicago

by Gerry Tansey

Winner-Gerry Tansey

The championship division of the Chicago Open this past Memorial Day weekend was run using the “More Swiss” format.  In each round, the organizers try to pair players with the same record.  Players with four losses cannot cash and are eliminated, but players with two losses or fewer can still win the title.

My tournament started out well.  I managed to win my first four matches on Saturday, including one against the number two Giant of Backgammon, Michihito Kageyama, known to the world as “Michy”  (you can see this match on the USBGF channel on YouTube if you would like to see just how good my dice were at the start of the tournament).  My fifth round opponent was Paul Weaver, who has been named one of the top 32 Giants of Backgammon in every incarnation of the list since its 1993 inception.  Our 9-point match only lasted two games, but there was plenty of excitement.

In the first game, Paul rolled an unfortunate 66, and eventually we reached this position.  I am White and on roll, considering a double.  Scroll down slowly if you want to consider your own decision, as XG’s opinion immediately follows.



Here I decided to “double on ugly.”  I figured that Paul’s position was dangerously awkward.  I can make another offensive point or attack the lone checker on the ace point.  If Paul cannot escape his back checker quickly, he may be forced to leave blots where he does not want to, since he does not have a great deal of flexibility in his position.

However, Paul is up in the race, and he often can make a three-point board, which is strong enough to fight back with in a blot-hitting contest.  The true “danger time” for Brown is often two or three rolls away, when I have more ammunition near my home board, and Brown has perhaps stripped his midpoint.  Basically, I need to improve my position a bit more in order for Paul to seriously consider passing.

I did not roll this position out to statistical significance in XG because it really isn’t necessary to get the practical verdict.  This position is on the border between a double and no double, and it is a trivially easy take.  Whether it is a technical double or not, I think I would cube this against anyone.  A lot of players on the Brown side will look at the state of their home board and just not feel like playing it out.  But, as someone once said, “Backgammon ain’t no beauty contest.”  Brown needs to take this, and Paul correctly did.

Well, I ended up having to attack Paul’s back checker, and it didn’t go very well.  Paul turned the game around, and we reached this position, with Brown on roll.





Paul is leading by 10 pips in the raw pip count, but his racing advantage is not quite that large.  He has a few more checkers buried on low points, and those gaps on the 4 and 5 points will hurt him in the bearoff, since he will be forced to bury checkers when he rolls 4s and 5s rather than bearing checkers off.  But still, Paul is a solid favorite, and he will lose his market if he points on me, or if he rolls a lot of pips and I don’t respond well, so he redoubled now.  Facing this cube, I decided that I was not dead in the race, and I noticed that Paul leaves a direct shot when he rolls 63, 62, 53, 43, 44, 55, and 66, so I took.  If I had to rely solely on my racing chances, or solely on hitting a shot in order to win the game, I would be less thrilled about taking this cube, but my combined chances make this a huge take.

The game continued and turned into a race.  I was able to bear in my last checker relatively quickly, and then I rolled 22 in the bearoff, to reach this position, as White, holding a 4-cube:



There is quite a bit going on here.  Most experienced players will know that the 5-roll vs. 5-roll position (where both players have 10 checkers on the ace point) is an initial double in a money game, but not quite a redouble, as seen in the XG diagram below.



However, the main reason this is not a redouble for money is that by redoubling, White is giving Brown access to the cube that he did not have before. So if White redoubles and Brown takes, consider the sequence where White rolls a non-doublet, Brown rolls a doublet, and White rolls a non-doublet. Brown is now on roll, holding the cube, in a 3-roll vs 3-roll position, and so Brown will redouble, and White should pass. If White had held on to the cube, Brown would have had to play this game out to the end, giving White a chance to get lucky and win the game. It is the fear of Brown’s potential use of the cube that makes a redouble slightly wrong for White in a money game.

Now what should White do in that 5-roll vs. 5-roll position holding a 4-cube at 0-0 in a 9-point match? The first thing to note is that if Brown takes White’s 8-cube, White should not fear Brown’s 16 cube. White is never going to pass a meaningful 16-cube in this game. This is because if White passes a 16-cube, he will be trailing 8-0 Crawford, a score from which he wins only about 5.6% of the time. Thus the value of Brown’s cube ownership is reduced to almost nothing, so at 0-0 in a 9-point match, White should redouble the 5-roll vs. 5-roll position to 8.



Now that we know what to do with the 5-roll vs 5-roll position at the score, we can return to the position that arose during the match. Both White and Brown have worse positions than in the 5-roll vs 5-roll position.

White can fail to bear off in 5 rolls or fewer if he “misses” (fails to bear off two checkers in one roll) twice. This will typically happen when he leaves a gap on the ace or deuce points, and then rolls an ace or deuce. Further, 11 and 22 do not save a roll for White, and while White will welcome rolling 33, this will leave a gap on the three-point, which will end up not saving White a roll if he rolls another 3.

Brown can fail to bear off in 5 rolls or fewer if he misses once. This will only happen if he rolls a single ace on two distinct rolls. As for Brown’s doublets, only 11 fails to save a roll.

The upshot of all this is that while both Brown and White are worse off than in the 5-roll vs 5-roll position, White is quite a bit *more* worse off than Brown is. So Brown has a trivially easy take.

I confess I did not analyze it quite this calmly over the board. I basically said to myself, “I’m favored. I don’t have to worry about his recube to 8. I’m playing Paul Weaver. I double!” It turns out I was right, by a razor-thin margin.

Paul thought about the take for quite a while, as is good practice when facing what is almost certainly the last and most important decision of the match, and then correctly took. I then rolled…21! This one roll dropped me from nearly a 2-to-1 favorite in the game to a 52-48 favorite. Fortunately, in spite of creating two gaps in my board, I only missed once in the bearoff, and Paul never rolled a set of doublets, so I won that game, and then later the match. Sometimes an 8-cube decides matches when neither player is crazy or otherwise out of line. Paul was very unlucky to lose this one, although he did get some measure of revenge against me in the After-Tournament Tournament. It’s hard to beat a Giant twice in a row.

As for the rest of my tournament, I became the only undefeated player in the field on Sunday afternoon at 6-0, and then won my next match to go to 7-0. Then, I crashed and burned, losing my next four matches to finish out of the money. My dice just ran out of magic, although I do believe that my last four opponents, Di Di, Neil Kazaross, Matt Cohn-Geier, and Carol Joy Cole, played very well in beating me. Dorn Bishop, a very strong player from California, was the deserving champion of the event.

How To Play Backgammon

By J. Herman Seidlitz

Reprinted from the November 4, 1930 edition of the Lincoln Evening Journal.

(With illustrations from your Director.)

In today’s whirlwind installment, J. Herman Seidlitz teaches us about backgammon,  There is no greater authority on indoor sports than Mr. Seidlitz.  He was the first man to freeze his own dice in an electric icebox.  He originated the idea of pasting grasscloth wallpaper on a ping-pong table and calling it miniature lawn tennis.  He also devised the famous Seidlitz play in checkers.  This consisted of dethroning all a checker opponent’s kings by tipping the checkerboard upside down.  Mr. Seidlitz is also the mastermind behind all indoor games.  In literary circles it is an open secret that he was the ghostwriter for Hoyle.

The game of backgammon has been hidden for years on the inside of folding checkerboards. Its recent discovery is on a par with the Indians who nibbled for centuries on the skin of cantaloupes before they discovered the best part was on the inside.

Like finding the Holy Grail – only better.

Like finding the Holy Grail – only better.

The idea is to arrange the backgammon board with a collection of attractive felt pennants, carefully laid side by each. When these pennants are all laid out with perfect precision, the board should look like the rear window of a Ford sedan.

I don’t know what that means, but I sense it might help explain these images.

I don’t know what that means, but I sense it might help explain these images.

It is not necessary to buy a backgammon board at all when you can easily make one yourself. First get a slab of wood. Then go to a dozen football games and purchase pennants from the vendors outside taking care to buy both the winning and losing colors. In case of a tie game, you buy the winning and losing colors just the same, as most tie games are a moral victory for one side or the other.

Attendance at these football games, plus the cost of pennants, arm bands, peanuts, chrysanthemums, etc. will average $271.00. This is slightly more expensive than going down to the 5 and 10 cent store for a backgammon board, but remember you have all the fun of constructing your board yourself.


In case you do not care for football games, you can secure the necessary pennants by stopping at such places as Coney Island, the White Mountains, Ausable Chasm, Mount Vernon, Yellowstone National Park, etc. At each one of these stops you purchase a felt pennant at the souvenir shop until you have the required number. Then turn your car around and come home


Once you have arrived home, you simply nail or paste the pennants, in the prescribed manner, on the slab of wood as above. Then you have a backgammon board complete. All you need are the checkers.

If you have made your own backgammon board, you will certainly want to make your own checkers, also. One way to make checkers is to take two barrels and paint the top of one red and the other top black.

Then bore a hole the size of a checker thru the barrel top for each checker required. Of course the checkers will drop into the bottom of the barrel, but you can retrieve them by kicking the bottom of the barrel out.

Another economical way to make checkers is to slice a banana into pieces and then shellac the slices so as to stiffen them.bananaIn tomorrow’s masterly article I will show you how to play the game.


Reprinted from the September 25, 1930 edition of The News-Palladium of Benton Harbor, Michigan

By Julia Blanshard
(With some commentary and illustrations courtesy of your humble editor.)

America has a new remedy for boredom this winter.

In addition, it is calculated to help a girl catch a beau, to keep husbands in nights and to prevent children from leaving home.  More than that, it’s the smartest thing you can serve guests as a party.  Its name is backgammon.


A good old stand-by game for the elite back in the gay 90’s, backgammon has gone modernly 1930, is smartly democratic and threatens the country with a vogue this winter more widespread and contagious than miniature golf.

BG v Mini Golf

Society folks on the Riviera and Lido last winter are responsible for the renaissance of this game. Somehow, it seems to answer the modern need for thrill. It combines the chance of throwing dice with the skill of play, which challenges even the most blasé. More than that, while two people play the game – or four in some types of backgammon – as many as four others can look on in the capacity of kibitzers; and we all know how much more Americans enjoy telling folks how to do things than actually doing them, themselves.


This summer, backgammon added zest to Long Island weekends and this autumn clubs, hotel and homes are adopting backgammon as one of their chief stocks in trade. Suburban commuters are foregoing their rummy and going in for backgammon while riding to work and home again. Dragging out a backgammon board when a new young man calls is now considered not only a fine way to get a slant on his I.Q., but also to rate him socially. Giving a backgammon party is quite the smartest thing a hostess can do.


All good department and sports stores now carry a multitude of paraphernalia for backgammon parties.  Some stores have rigged up separate little backgammon shops where you not only can purchase boards, men and dice, but such party accessories as backgammon sets of linen or crepe paper cloths and napkins for serving refreshments when the game is done.  Backgammon china and beverage sets and modernistic smoking things with backgammon figures on them also attest the vogue.

OMG - It's true!

OMG – It’s true!

If you would be very, very chic and take to the new game with flair, you can purchase a backgammon table with ebony legs and smartest of inlaid tops designed for the game.  Even newer and more modernistic backgammon tables are made with automatic legs (when you shut one you shut all) and tops of gorgeous Chinese red or bright jade green glazed leather tops, with cork inlay for the markers.  Most of these are convertible by lifting out the backgammon board and turning it over onto a bridge table if you happen to have a few old-fashioned guests.


I love it! I have no idea how 4 people play with 36 checkers each – but I wanna learn!

There are sets of backgammon men and dice that come as high as $250.  There are sets in colored stones.  Othemadonna madonnars come in ebony and white reflecting the classic color for the old fashioned game that is over 100 years of age.  No matter what color your men and dice happen to be, you casually refer to them as black and white for this same conventional reason (Editor’s note – You do?!  And why “casually”, why can’t I refer to them formally?”)

This revival of an old time game and adapting it to modern use is quite in line with other contemporary trends.  Smart new costumes for women have quite a Naughty Ninety note in some of their styles.  A new-old elegance is reviving home-hospitality.  The old-time waltz thrills now where the quick one-step leaves us cold.  Backgammon rightly takes its place as a classic that bears a renaissance.  It appears to be about to ride the crest of popularity into becoming the great indoor American sport this winter.