Gambling Wizards – Conversations with the World’s Greatest Gamblers by Richard Munchkin

The following is a small excerpt from:

Gambling Wizards – Conversations with the World’s Greatest Gamblers
by Richard Munchkin

For those of you who didn’t know, Richard Munchkin is the brother of backgammon player and author Jake Jacobs.  Who has penned many backgammon books, but is also the author of a great fiction book, The Battered Butterfly.

In Gambling Wizards, Munchkin interviews gamblers from several disciplines.  Interviewees are Billy Walters, Chip Reese, Tommy Hyland, Mike Svobodny (BG!), Stan Tomchin, Cathy Hulbert, Alan Woods and Doyle Brunson.  There’s something for everybody in this book and all of it is entertaining and informative.

From Chapter 2 – Chip Reese (He is speaking of Nick Vachiano, poker and pool player).

The only downside he (Vachiano) had was that when he was winning, he was a hit-and-run guy.  He’s win a little bit and if he lost, he would go for a number (take a big loss).  Most of the time he won, because usually, during the course of a session you get ahead a little bit.  So he booked a lot of winners and very few losers, but when he did book a loser it was a big one.

I remember one time we were playing $300-$600 (seven card stud) at the Flamingo and Nick was losing about $40,000. …The game had been going on a long time and I quit,  There were a couple of other guys who didn’t want to play short-handed, so the game was going to break up.  Nick says, “Hold it.”  …He gets up and takes me to the cage.  He goes to his safe deposit box, and he’s got a big box.  I only had a little safety deposit box – I had about $300,000 in it and I was proud as hell….He opens this big box and he probably had a million dollars in it.  He says, “See this here.  You know me.  I always win and I leave.  This is the only time you get a shot at this money – when I’m going off (losing and steaming).”  He says, “Are you sure you want to quit?”  You can tell when a guy is in heat from gambling.  I smiled and said, “You’re right.  Let’s go back and play.”  He went off for about $200,000 in that game.  He talked me into staying and winning a bunch of money.

You can get Gambling Wizards from Flint’s Carol Cole here Flint Backgammon Boutique  or any online bookstore.

A Few Vingnettes

Games of Chance

I have heard a story of two persons playing backgammon, one of whom became so enraged at losing his match at a particular point of the game, that he took his board and threw it out of the window.  It fell upon the head of one of the passengers in the street, who came up to demand instant satisfaction for the affront and injury he had sustained.  The losing gambler only asked him if he understood backgammon, and finding that he did, said that if upon seeing the state of the game he did not excuse the extravagance of his conduct, he would give him any other satisfaction he wished for.  The tables were accordingly brought, and the situation of the two contending parties being explained, the gentleman put up his sword and went away perfectly satisfied.

me

The Manitowoc Herald, May 5, 1859

Tom Browne Says

“A woman may learn one useful doctrine from the game of backgammon, which is, not to take up any man ‘til she’s sure of him.”

The Athens Post, June 3, 1859

Tric trac

Treatment of the Insane in Russia

The behavior of the attendants is polite and courteous; every patient is received very respectfully, and first taken into the society of the most rational of the lunatics, who have likewise acquired the same tone of politeness.  Here the patient is shown the interesting collections and productions of art; refreshments are brought in; he is invited to a game of billiards or backgammon…

Asylum

Burlington Weekly Free Press, February 17, 1843

How I Became a Gambler

Although I belong to the despised fraternity called gamblers, I have always made it a rule to advise young men to avoid the gaming table that they might avoid the rock upon which I split; and I will now offer, through your paper, some suggestions to the heads of families on the subject of social card playing.

Rhett

I was twenty years of age and had lived some months in New York before I even knew the names of the ordinary playing cards. But the importance of a thorough education in the science of games was soon made apparent to me – and from a quarter where I had least expected it.

Boarding on Broadway, I made the acquaintance of a number of highly respectable families. By one of these, I was invited to attend a social party. The heads of this family I knew to be members of an Evangelical church. And you will readily judge of my surprise when I made my entrée into the parlor to behold most of the company – and my pious friends – deeply engaged at play!

gods

Not the plays of innocence! But the plays of depraved gamblers! The father of the family was engaged at chess, whilst his wife presided at a card table! Their children were among the whist players and others of the company were engaged at backgammon, dominoes and checkers!
dominoesdevil

The wine circulated freely and all seemed happy but myself, who in such a party was a barbarian. I could do nothing but look on and confess my ignorance, or occasionally engage in conversation with some old lady, whilst

“The young and gay
Were all engaged at play.”

craps
It is needless to say that I spent a very unhappy evening; and that I resolved to acquire at once an education so necessary to the maintenance of a respectable good standing in society!

I was not long therefore, in mastering the mysteries of High, Low Jack, and The Game, and Whist – and a slight knowledge let to a desire for further information, until at last, I was adept at a variety of games and a favorite partner wherever I went.

I was exceedingly fond of cards as they were introduced into every social circle I was in. And the fondness ripened into a passion which clings to me even in this hour.

blog-demon_

No better illustration of the dangers of social card playing can be given than my own history. In the parlors of respectable families I acquired a taste for play which became an all-consuming passion knowing no bounds and rapidly hurrying me down the road to ruin, desolation and hell.

But my case is not a solitary one; thousands of gamblers have been made in the same way, and tens of thousands have fallen before this terrible vice, in consequence of a taste for play formed in the family circle!

sin of gam

The Biblical Recorder, Raleigh, North Carolina, September 8, 1849

Backgammon in the News

One of the first mentions of backgammon I could find was in the gossip column of the Pennsylvania Gazette of August 23, 1739.

Apparently, the Players Gone Wild phenomenon is not exclusively a product of the modern era:

We hear, that here are private letters from Rome which advise that the Pope and the Pretender (Bonnie Prince Charlie Stewart, Pretender to the British throne), had an unlucky quarrel over a game of backgammon, so that the boxes, dice and tables were thrown about the room, and the Pretender left the city next morning in high disgust.

And they weren’t even playing with the cube!

BG Match

On November 14, 1760, King George II appears to have settled the question, “Backgammon – Skill or Luck?”  (I always thought Georgie II was smart, George III must have been a regression to the mean.)

George II enacts that the game of Passage, and all and every other game or games invented or to be invented with one or more die or dice, or with any other instrument, engine or device in the nature of dice having one of more numbers thereon, (Backgammon or other games played with a Backgammon table excepted), are and shall be deemed to be games or lotteries by dice, within the intent and meaning of the foregoing Act and persons keeping any house of place for such purpose and persons playing at any of the said games shall be liable to the several penalties inflicted by the Act.

London Public Advertiser, November 14, 1760

These penalties included transportation to America – oh the horror!

George ii

The July 13, 1786 edition of the Belfast Evening Post tells us that O’Carolan, the celebrated Irish bard:

…though blind, was eminently skilled in the game of backgammon.

All I can say  is that O’Carolan must’ve REALLY trusted the guys in the local chouette.

Backgammon has certainly had some distinguished players.  As Napoleon was en route to exile on St. Helena, the British ambassador asked General Bertrand (he was to be Napoleon’s companion on the island) if there was anything Bonaparte wanted to take with him.  The reply was:

…20 packs of cards, a backgammon and a domino table and some articles of furniture.

The Times of London, August 11, 1815

Napoleon

And sometimes, you just REALLY, REALLY want a new backgammon board – and flowers.

A SWINDLER – On Saturday afternoon a man of gentlemanly appearance went into Mrs. Morton’s filagree shop and ordered a backgammon board to be sent to 39 Tavistock Street and said it would be paid for on delivery.  (25 pounds sterling or $2,358.58 in today’s dollars)  He stated his name was Kenny.

A lad was accordingly sent with it.  On his arrival near the house, the “Kenny” accosted him and inquired if he was going to #39.  The lad answered in the affirmative and recognized him to be the person who had ordered the board.  He delivered the board to him and walked with the swindler to #39.  On their arrival, the “Kenny” knocked and while waiting for the door to be opened, directed the boy to go back to the shop and return with another board of smaller size that he would purchase as well.  The door was opened and the boy saw the swindler enter the home after which he returned to the shop to fetch the second board.

On his arriving the 2nd time at #39, the boy knocked and the door was answered by a female servant who said no person of the name of Kenny lived there.  An altercation ensued between the boy and the female which brought the master of the house into the hall.  He stated that a man had been there a short time before carrying a backgammon board.  The man had inquired if anyone named Kenny lived in the home, and being told “No” went away again.

The man further reported that a flower woman had been also been swindled the week before in the same way.

The Times of London, November 12, 1816

Handmade backgammon board made of walnut tree with mother-of-pearl and filigree

Handmade backgammon board made of walnut tree with mother-of-pearl and filigree

Gaby Horowitz and the C.U.B.E.

by Jana Bohrer

Gaby Horowitz did approximately 4,096 bad things for backgammon.  For example, he was rumored to be the real inventor of the magnetic dice and board set referenced here.  A History of the Game – Part Four

I believe it worked rather well until one evening in Vegas when Gaby asked the magnets for one set of sixes too many.  This resulted in a small conflagration.  Fortunately, only Gaby’s wallet was injured in the blaze.

But before we consign Gaby to the inner circle of backgammon hell, we should, in fairness, remember the four good things he did for the game.

1.  He taught Lucille Ball how to play.  And Lucy said of him, “He is the finest gentleman I have ever known.” (Which really says a lot about where Desi set the bar.)  Getting a celebrity to play gave backgammon a cachet and made it cool.  And Gaby was heard to say that, “I never took a dime off Lucy.”  From which this author infers that he took whole dollars instead.

Lucy

2.  In the ’90s, as backgammon languished in obscurity, Gaby connected it to the most important event of the 20th century – that’s right – The O.J. Simpson Trial.

Marcia Clark, the prosecutor … was once a dancer. After she divorced her first husband, Gaby Horowitz, a backgammon gambler who played for high stakes with such fanatics of the game as Lucille Ball and John Wayne, he was accidentally shot in the head by his best friend, Bruce Roman, who was represented by Robert Shapiro.  (Shapiro got him off too.)

From the February 1995 issue of Vanity Fair– L.A. in the Age of O.J., by Dominick Dunne

Incidentally, in addition to being Gaby’s best friend and shooting him in the head with one of those ubiquitous unloaded guns; Bruce Roman also co-authored a backgammon book with Gaby, and he conducted the Scientologist ceremony that united Gaby in marriage to Marcia Clark.  With friends like that…

enquirerLead prosecutor Marcia Clark tells the jury in Los

3.  Gaby (left) was not hard to look at.  This at a time when that could not always be said of the backgammon set (right).

gabyBilly

4.  Lastly, Gaby gave the game a truly useful cube mnemonic presented in his book with the aforementioned Dr. Roman.

dynamic

C – Consider Potential Gain vs. Potential Loss

U – Use the Cube as a Weapon, NOT as a Gift

B – Blend Checker Play and Cube Action

E – Eliminate Emotional Influence

Unfortunately, many players fail to remember Gaby’s sage advice with disastrous and sometimes humorous results.  That’s a topic we will begin exploring tomorrow in:

C – See, I was winning.  A minute ago.

 

A History of the Game – Part Four

by Jana Bohrer

Backgammon reached Western Europe in the 11th century, first appearing in France.

In 1254, King Louis IX was forced to issue a decree prohibiting his court officials from playing when it was discovered that they were frittering away all their work time in houses of ill repute practicing dice mechanics.

cheating

Other innovations of the period include the first use of the magnetic board and dice combination set imported directly from China by Marco Polo Enterprises. This set was made widely available to players, and was marketed by late night town criers as:

Guaranteed to Produce the Roll You Need When You Need It! With No Shock Warrantee! For the Low, Low Price of ᵮ12.95 (florins) With Free Shipping and Extra Remote Control IF YOU ACT NOW!! (Batteries not invented.)

The first European depiction of such a set may be seen in Steen’s painting:

“WTF-Double Sixes AGAIN?!”

Steen