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.

Cubing At 4-Away, 2-Away

by Gerry Tansey

Consolation - Gerry Tansey

Suppose that you are trailing in a 5-point match by the score of 3-1.  The bad news is that you only have about a 33 percent chance of winning the match against an opponent of equal strength.  The good news is that your side is a lot more fun to play.

For instance, suppose you win the opening roll with a 31 and make the 5-point.  Your opponent rolls a pretty good response with 42, and makes his 4-point.  In a money game, you would never think of doubling here, but at this crazy score of 4-away, 2-away, the decision of whether or not to double is very close.  This rollout indicates that you probably should go ahead and send it over, even though I only rolled out the position long enough to give XG 93.5% confidence in its verdict.


Analyzed in Rollout No double Double/Take
Player Winning Chances: 54.45% (G:17.21% B:1.83%) 54.66% (G:17.42% B:2.01%)
Opponent Winning Chances: 45.55% (G:14.94% B:2.03%) 45.34% (G:15.70% B:2.24%)
Cubeless Equities +0.021 +0.626
Cubeful Equities
No double: +0.617 (-0.010) ±0.009 (+0.608..+0.625)
Double/Take: +0.626 ±0.009 (+0.617..+0.635)
Double/Pass: +1.000 (+0.374)
Best Cube action: Double / Take

So if it is a close decision whether to double if you have made a slightly better point than your opponent on the opening roll, it must be a much bigger double if you have made a point and your opponent has not.

What is going on here?  Well, the trailer has an extra incentive to get the cube into play if winning a gammon is a possibility, since a gammon win on a 2-cube gives the trailer precisely the four points he needs to win.  Further, the normal deterrent to early doubling, namely the fact that one’s opponent can give an uncomfortable redouble later if the game turns around, is out of play at this score.  When the 4-away player doubles the 2-away player, the cube is dead.  The leader can never redouble.

Here I would like to be a little bit more quantitative and tell you about “Neil’s Rule of 80.”  The “Neil” here is Neil Kazaross, one of the greatest players of all time.  The rule is as follows:  At the score of 4-away, 2-away, take the percentage of games that the trailer wins, and add the percentage of games in which the trailer wins a gammon.  If this number is 80 or more, the leader should pass the trailer’s double.

Think about what this Rule of 80 means.  A position in which one side wins 60 percent of the games with 20 percent gammon wins is not usually a correct double for money, but at this special score, not only is it a correct cube, the leader should pass.  Thus the following early 55 blitz position, which is not even a proper cube for money, is a monster pass at the score.


Analyzed in XG Roller++ No double Double/Take
Player Winning Chances: 59.79% (G:27.59% B:0.55%) 59.63% (G:29.36% B:0.50%)
Opponent Winning Chances: 40.21% (G:9.75% B:0.47%) 40.37% (G:10.33% B:0.59%)
Cubeless Equities +0.292 +1.413
Cubeful Equities
No double: +0.854 (-0.146)
Double/Take: +1.413 (+0.413)
Double/Pass: +1.000
Best Cube action: Double / Pass

Let’s consider the opening position, before anyone has moved.  The trailer wins 50 percent of the games, and about 13 percent gammons (some have estimated that about 26 percent of all games played, if played to conclusion, would result in a gammon for one of the players).  So before anyone has moved a checker, the “wins + gammons” number is at 63.  Now, after the sequence of 31 followed by 42, the trailer’s winning percentage and gammon percentage have both jumped, so the “wins + gammons” number is in the neighborhood of 72.  One more jump like that and the leader would have to pass a double, so now is the time to cube.

However, there is another consequence to Neil’s Rule of 80.  If the trailer cannot win a gammon, the leader can take a double if he has a 20 percent chance to win the game.  This 20 percent figure is actually lower than it is for money, where in a typical long-to-medium length race one can take with around a 22 percent chance of winning.  Often it is a good idea for the leader to seize an advanced anchor at the expense of a more offensive play, as this makes it very difficult for the trailer to offer a scary double.  When the gammon threat is nonexistent, the trailer probably shouldn’t offer any cubes that are not proper money doubles.

Finally, let’s consider a last-roll situation.  What percentage of the time does the trailer need to win in order for a last roll double to be correct.  For money, the answer is 50 percent – one should double if one is the favorite, and refrain from doubling otherwise.  At the score, it is a little bit more complicated.

If the trailer does not double and loses, the score will be 4-away, 1-away Crawford, from which the trailer will win about 18.5 percent of the time.  If the trailer doubles and loses, the match is over and the trailer wins 0 percent of the time.  So the trailer risks 18.5 percent match equity by doubling.

If the trailer does not double and wins, the score will be 3-away, 2-away, from which the trailer wins about 40 percent of the time.  If the trailer doubles and wins, the score is tied at 2-away, and the trailer wins 50 percent of the time.  Thus the trailer potentially gains 10 percent match equity by doubling.

So the minimum winning chances the trailer needs to double a last-roll position is given by

Risk/(Risk+Gain) = 18.5/(18.5+10) = 18.5/28.5, which is around 65 percent!  The extra point put at stake by doubling is much more valuable to the leader than the trailer, since it allows the leader to win the match.  This means that the trailer can’t cube positions in some positions in which he clearly should for money, such as this one:


Analyzed in 4-ply No double Double/Take
Player Winning Chances: 63.89% (G:0.00% B:0.00%) 63.89% (G:0.00% B:0.00%)
Opponent Winning Chances: 36.11% (G:0.00% B:0.00%) 36.11% (G:0.00% B:0.00%)
Cubeless Equities +0.278 +0.245
Cubeful Equities
No double: +0.278
Double/Take: +0.245 (-0.032)
Double/Pass: +1.000 (+0.722)
Best Cube action: No double / Take
Percentage of wrong pass needed to make the double decision right: 4.1%

At some point in the future, I may write about the leader’s cube strategy at this score.  For now, I’ll summarize it as follows: “If you can win a gammon, don’t double.  If you think your opponent has a small pass, don’t double.  If your opponent has a huge pass, okay, think about doubling.”

The Dictionary – Part One

by Jana Bohrer

Back Game
Noun The Wonderland one wanders into after rolling an opening 4-1 creatively played by splitting and slotting the 5 “as an experiment to see how it turns out”.  Followed by an opponent’s 4-3 hitting twice. Then fanning, coming in, getting hit again somewhere else, and repeating this sequence until one achieves a number of men in the opponent’s board for a “well-timed” game.  At some point during which, one takes the cube because:
1.  One is a masochist whose hobbies include watching Nickolodeon marathons of Gilligan’s Island and patronizing a holistic dentist who believes betel leaves are an anestheticgilligan
2.  One is off one’s meds
(See also:  Backgammoned and Creative)

1.  Verb Losing 3x the amount of the cube.  Frequently occurring in a 5 way chouette in which one is holding 4 sixteen cubes in the box. This often results voluntary homelessness, as one is too frightened reveal that one has lost a significant amount of the household grocery money and all of the little tyke’s college fund;  (See also: Back Game, Chouette)

2.  Noun The game on the back of the checkers board variously known as:
a. Jacoby’s Bane
b.  The One Game
c.  The Game of Power
d.  The Precious

Noun  A checker you anticipate  using to build a useful point.  It should be noted that Builders must be used sparingly and while still in earliest stage of their development.   If the metamorphosis of a builder is not interrupted;  or if a hive of Builders is allowed to form; the Builders transform into Blots.  These Blots will in time emerge from their chrysalises as Gammons.
(See also:  Blot, Gammoned, Creative)


Noun A type of backgammon game which allows more than two players.  Side effects include, but are not limited to:
1.  Superiority Complex – “Every other player in this chouette is a creative idiot.”
2.  Inferiority Complex – “I should say something about leaving 5 blots, but I’m losing, and they’ve been playing so many more years than I have.  He keeps saying they’re builders…”
3. Rage Complex – “Well, if he hadn’t refused to hit twice when I told him too, I wouldn’t have had to hit him with the baffle box.”
4. Sleeping in the Car Complex – “I told you.   I checked out of the room already and now we don’t have the money to check back in.  The car’s perfectly comfortable, just imagine you’re shorter.”
(See also: Creative, Builder, Gammoned, Backgammoned, Back Game)

Chouette is derived from the French for “Train”.t2

Adjective  Term used by experienced players to describe various plays made by less experienced players.  Most commonly used by one’s spouse/significant other, as in it’s first known written usage found on the wall of King Tut’s tomb which depicts Queen Ankhesenamun saying:
(See also:  Sarcasm)