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.

Where the Rich And the Royal Play Their Games

The Washington Post

September 6, 1981

IN MONTE CARLO one day last July, a tanned, middle-aged woman stepped onto a private beach and spied an old acquaintance. “Darling, you look so pale,” she said with obvious concern. “You aren’t working for a living are you?”

While the rest of the world works, Monte Carlo plays. During summer days, everyone is on the beach, some of the women bathing topless, their men ordering champagne from refrigerated drink carts. At night, the sunbathers don resort white and fill the restaurants, discos and casinos, where Europeans play roulette while Americans crowd the blackjack tables.

And once a year, several thousand people arrive to play in the world’s richest and most prestigious backgammon tournament. This year, by chance, I was invited to compete in the Sixth Annual Merit World Backgammon Championship along with a bevy of countesses, princes and other professional sharpies.

In a hard-fought duel of the dice in Georgetown last fall, I’d beaten Helga Orfila, wife of Organization of American States chief Alejandro Orfila, to win a division of a backgammon tournament sponsored by Black & White scotch. As my prize, I was to have been sent to play in the national championship in Los Angeles. But before I could collect, the scotch folks decided to change their promotion strategy in North America and to stop underwriting backgammon competitions. As consolation, they suggested I compete in Monte Carlo, where Black & White of Europe annually joins Merit cigarettes in sponsoring what they like the press to refer to as “the Wimbledon of backgammon.”

To the Monte Carlo tournament come the world’s best backgammon players, including the tournament’s organizer from London, Lewis Deyong, a fast-talking gambler who knows every pro and can state odds at the drop of a bet.The feared Gino Scalamandre, backgammon book author and champion player, would be there, along with Joe Dwek — a British citizen born in Cairo with the fast, dark eyes of a cobra — who makes his living winning games of chance in the world’s capitals. A wealthy young Iranian couple no longer welcome in their homeland would be there. Players with last names like Maxaculi, Bellavita, Cojab and Abimerhi would mix with gamblers and their groupies at the bar of the Hotel de Paris.

Backgammon appeals to the wealthy because it is a fast game that lends itself easily to betting. Skill is critical to winning, but, unlike chess, the dice add an element of luck that makes the game exciting in its unpredictability.

Most of the best players feel right at home in Monte Carlo, because like many of the principality’s residents, they don’t hold regular jobs. And what labor expert players must do to stay solvent — rolling dice onto backgammon boards — is generally accomplished in the shade of palm trees; like congressional junkets, tournaments are held in sunny climes. Purses at big tournaments can total tens of thousands of dollars, and side bets can double or triple a player’s winnings.

I resisted the temptation to call Helga Orfila and gloat, packed my tuxedo, and left to find out what Monte Carlo had that Ocean City lacked.

Foremost, there is the gambling. Until 1860, Monaco was a scrubby principality blessed only with abundant sunshine, olive trees and fields of violets. Today, Rolls Royces joust for parking spaces outside the palacial casino that, as European aristocracy flocked to gamble there, made Monte Carlo the premiere jewel in the Cote d’Azur’s necklace. And free of income, property and inheritance taxes, Monaco quickly found favor among those who have the most to be taxed. Now, sandwiched in the one-half square mile between Monaco’s dramatic cliffs and the Mediterranean, studio apartments in high-rise condominiums begin at $300,000.

Monte Carlo’s harbor is filled with the yachts of the very rich. Saudi Arabian businessman Adnan Khashoggi often docks his boat there, a sleek, gray, villa-sized vessel called the Nabila that looks like the villain’s ship in an Ian Fleming novel. Its heating vents slant upward from the bridge, and a couple of $200,000-plus cigarette boats, as sleek as quick-looking as their mother ship, are tucked on the middle deck of the Nabila. I asked the captain if Monte Carlo was the Nabila’s home port.

“The entire world,” he said cooly, “is our home port.”

But residents say that with the opening of the American-style Loew’s hotel and casino a couple of years ago, Monte Carlo became appealing to people who, well, who actually work for a living.

“Monte Carlo is not just catering to the millionaires anymore,” said an American stockbroker who has lived there for a decade. “To survive, the hotels have began soliciting corporate meetings and conventions. Insurance brokers, investment bankers, textile concerns are meeting here.”

The place is run with an iron hand, despite the fairly tale image Monaco projects to the world, thanks in part to handsome Prince Ranier and his American-born actress wife, Princess Grace.

“It’s an extremely disciplined country — you can see it in the cleanliness of the streets,” says the American broker with admiration. “They don’t tolerate bums here . . . Monaco has benefited from the ills of the world. A lot of people used to go to Beruit, Africa, Spain or Italy on vacation, but because of the various troubles in those places, Monte Carlo has benefited. Let’s hope we can keep the place clean and that we don’t get annoyed by jealous or envious people.”

Long-haired hitchhikers or others not likely to carry an American Express card are politely shown to the border of Italy or France by the authorities; there is no poverty in Monaco, and the citizens like it that way. Because the state has an obligation to support any permanent resident who should find himself destitute, residents of Monaco are forbidden to gamble in the principality’s casinos.

The benevolent master of fun in Monte Carlo is the Societe des Bains de Mer, or sea bathing society, a quasi-government organization (the principality owns 69 percent of the SBM’s shares) that operates most of the grand hotels, the golf and tennis clubs, and more exclusive beaches, discos and other facilities. (Once, Aristotle Onassis tried to buy controlling interest in the SBM; the government thwarted him by simply issuing more stock and diluting his interest, though it is said he received a fair price when he sold out in defeat.)

When I checked into my hotel room, a card from Prince Louis de Polignac, the chairman of the SBM’s board, welcomed me to Monte Carlo. It wasn’t a note on scented stationery from Princess Caroline, but then, since she’d broken her marriage with that rogue, Philippe Junot, she was busy elsewhere. This summer she frolicked near Cannes on a yacht with Roberto Rossellini Jr. The young couple explained to the press they were just childhood friends, but le tout Europe hoped otherwise; after all, with Prince Charles’ marriage, Princess Caroline moved center stage for fans of royal romance.

Also waiting for me at the hotel was a bottle of Black & White Scotch and an SMB gold card, passport to the SBM’s facilities, including Jimmy’z, the disco of choice for Monte Carlo’s smart set.

With the gold card, I was admitted to Jimmy’z even though I was neither titled nor wealthy. But like your average marquis, I was permitted to pay $20 a drink — for any drink — at the bar. There, after midnight, I watched impossibly handsome young men in white suits dance with slim, bronze-skinned young women wearing the kind of clothes I thought they threw away after Helmut Newton photographed them on Vogue models. Jimmy’z is a dark room with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook a tropical garden. A cramped dance floor and elegant bar are, along with the patrons, the disco’s focal points.

I confess I wanted to win the backgammon tournament if only so I could walk into Jimmy’z and get noticed. I wanted to show the European playboys that an American could gamble with ice water in his veins and win. I wanted to smirk across the table at my opponent the way James Bond does when he wins at chemin de fer.

I wanted to win the $44,640 in first place prize money and — when the world’s press asked me what it felt like — I’d look as bored as possible, shrug and say, “It’s a living.”

The road to victory began each evening at 4, when a couple thousand players gathered in several halls to meet their opponents, selected by lot. An hour or so into the matches, as half the players began accumulating enough points to win that evening’s match (and half began losing), the rooms became quiet and smoke-filled. Muttered curses in Spanish, French, Arabic, German, Italian and English accompanied unlucky rolls of the dice. Cool blonds began biting perfectly manicured fingernails, men fiddled with the bands on their Rolex watches. And each night half the players advanced up their ladder, while the others had their names entered in consolation rounds.

Black & White spent about $50,000 to help Philip Morris (makers of Merit cigarettes) sponsor the tournament, according to Anthony Hal, merchandising and promotion manager for the scotch’s distiller, Buchannan & Co. of London.

“Like the tobacco industry,” said Hall, “we’re under so many controls that we’re gradually being forced out of advertising. So it’s logical that we get into sponsorship. We turned down motor racing because we didn’t want to associate liquor with driving cars. And we like to sponsor events rather than individuals, because individuals can get unlucky.”

Hall, in conjunction with Buchannan’s public relations firm, the London office of Burson-Marsteler, selected seven journalists from England, Germany, Holland, Italy and France to come as guests to report on the tournament. (One French magazine, displaying a kind of Gallic gall that would horrify American editors, declined to send a reporter on the junket unless the deal was sweetened by a payment of $10,000; Black & White declined.)

“We sponsor backgammon because it’s an old game with a new wave,” said Omar Laghzaoui, head of public relations for Philip Morris in the Middle East and Afica, who declined to say how much money his company spent to stage the seven day soiree.

Tobacco and alcohol marketing aside, my fortunes appeared mixed even before the tournament began. I was playing tennis on courts Black & White reserved for tournament entrants. Bjorn Borg calls them his home courts and the bougainvillea was in bloom on the courts’ retaining walls, but I still thought the $65-an-hour court fee even members must pay was steep. Between sets, I played some $20-a-point backgammon with Katie Wright, who along with her companion, Gino Scalamandre, is among the world’s top backgammon players. I quickly lost a couple of hundred dollars. The pain of this defeat, however, was eased by Scalalmandre.

“You haven’t made a mistake since I started watching,” he said at one point, and I swelled with pride. It was pride purchased rather expensively, of course, but it was pride nonetheless. Then Scalamandre and Wright asked if I cared to sell them a piece of myself.

In backgammon tournaments, a player can sell percentages of himself to others, who might, in turn, sell a percentage of their percentage to others. While that helps a player defray his expenses and entry fee, it also means sharing a percentage of any winnings.

I was flattered by the Scalamandre-Wright offer. I expecially liked the slightly sinister ring to the name “Scalamandre,” and didn’t mind the prospect of telling people that I was “Scalamandre’s horse” in the tournament. We agreed to consummate a deal that night.

It was Scalalmandre’s good fortune that we couldn’t find one another on the opening night of play. His would have been a borderline investment — I lost may first match and had to wait until the next night to resume play in a consolation match. Still, if I could win the first consolation match, I’d pocket more than $1,000, enough to buy a round for a few of the boys and girls at Jimmy’z.

All around me the show was dazzling. Players met each night in three, high-ceilinged rooms. Wooden backgammon boards the color of a pack of Merit cigarettes lined rows of long tables. Among women, Yorkshire terriers as decorative accessories, clutched to sides like handbags, were the rage. The pets seemed comfortable in the crook of the arms of their mistresses, though some impatient ones drew rebukes when they licked the face of their Cartier Santus sports watches, the heavy looking gold ones with the rivet-like stainless steel screws.

“The terriers’ mistresses tend to be blond, long and slinky, be they models, actresses or singers — or royalty, from the Duchess d’Orleans to Princess Caroline of Monaco,” reported the International Herald Tribune earlier this summer. In France, women pay $700 for the pick of the litter that best matches their wardrobes. Toward the end of the evening, as the little fellas grew impatient to leave the backgammon hall, their yapping mixed with the clatter of dice.

Livia Sylva Weintraub’s purse was not a terrier, but a small, jewel-encrusted brass elephant. Inside, in addition to the usual contents of a fashionable woman’s purse, were wads of $100 bills. I know this because Weintraub sat down next to me at a black-tie dinner held to auction the top-rated players to investors interested in creating a side betting pool. Weintraub opened her purse to dispense perfume samples with a note card that read “A Little Love With Livia.”

Livia Sylva Weintraub, of New York, looked like a quen bee in a black evening gown with white puffed sleeves. Her red hair was set dramatically against a complexion so pale Gloria Vanderbilt would look tan next to her. (Sun apparently never kisses Weintraub’s skin – I saw her the next day pool side in an ankle-length white peasant dress with a matching parasol.)

“I am the first in the United States to develop a complete bee pollen treatment,” she told me as she distributed samples from her purse to women at the dinner table. “The bee pollen was used by all Hungarian beauties.”

Weintraub explained tht she hailed lfrom Transylvania — “I can make you do anything I vant, darlink.” She said she inherited her mother’s secret Romanian recipe for bee pollen cream and four years ago began marketing a line of cosmetics under her name, with financial help from her husband, a real estate developer and financier. “They finally bottled Livia,” read a slogan on a promotional flyer called a “Liviagram”.

During dinner, Weintraub pointed out some of the other guests around the room. Over there was the wife of the man who created Las Brisas, the expensive resort hotel in Acapulco. Near her was the Milan manufacturer of an exclusive line of designer dresses. There, the elderly gentleman with silver hair, was the Marquis d’Arcangues, of Biarritz, and his blond girlfriend, the Baroness von Meks. I remarked that the marquis seemed a good deal older than the baroness.

“Yes,” cracked a male British gentleman seated near me, “and he doesn’t seem to mind at all, does he?”

Seated near the marquis and the baroness was a duke who told his dinner companions that people ate like savages before his ancestors invented the dinner fork. Someone dubbed him the duke of Fork, a possible rival to the earl of Sandwich.

While watching the rich and the royal, I notice Wientraub and a partner bid several thousand dollars to back several top-ranked backgammon players. Several days later, before flying back to New York to attend a private dinner with New York Gov. Hugh Carey, Weintraub earned back her bet many times as her players finished in the money. I also contributed in a small way to her good fortune, losing $150 in a small stakes side match with the queen of bee pollen-based cosmetics.

Never, I decided, play backgammon with a Transylvanian.

After a bad start, I began cutting a swatch through my opponents in the first consolation tournament. I beat an earnest young man from Austria and a British mum with orange lipstick, gold high-heeled shoes and glasses with rhinestones in the frames. A Mexican gentleman who looked like a 75-year-old George Hamilton lost to me, as did a beginning player from Los Angeles who sported a diamond pinkie ring, a wafer-thin Piaget watch and a brown suede jacket. I was hot.

In the quarter finals, on the brink of entering the semi-finals and the money, I batted a nervous, middle-aged British woman named Mary Wyndham to a 12-12 tie in a 13-point match. The last game decided our fates, and we played evenly until the end, when Wyndham rolled a heart-breaking double five to take the match. As protocol dictated, I congratulated her with a handshake and a smile. Inside, I was crushed. There would be no trimphant entrance at Jimmy’z, no cool comments for the press. There would be no telegram to my editor telling him I’d be taking an extra month off to tour the south of France — as the eventual winner of the tournament, a Long Island woman named Lee Genud, did after her victory.

But then I remembered Chico Kranz, with whom I’d played a pickup set of tennis earlier in the week.

Kranz, a heavyset and olive-complected man with a diamond ring on one hand, explained he was cooling his heels in Europe until America’s baseball strike ended and he could return to making his living betting on baseball games in Las Vegas.

Kranz talked to me about gambling.

“Most guys, they start losing, they start making bigger bets,” Kranz told me. “When you lose, you got to decrease your bets.”

Kranz told me the successful, disciplined gambler understands losing and winning are not emotional events. On the court next to Kranz and me, two professional backgammon players batted a tennis ball around like a couple of Sunday amateurs. They laughed at their mistakes and seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. Only when the set was over did I learn they’d bet a friendly $4,000 on the outcome. After Monte Carlo, it was time to decrease my bets.

ON A DICEY CRUISE

Sports Illustrated – September 16, 1974

The voyage promised to be rough, with high-rolling in the richest backgammon tournament ever, but a first-class gambol was assured

Esmond Cooper-Key woke up early on a Tuesday morning in his London town house with the feeling, as he later said, that he was about to do something many people, not the least of them being his wife, might consider naughty, or even mondo bizzarro. But the hell with what they might think for the moment; he could either lie back and reflect about obstacles to what was becoming his plan or he could get up and carry on with it. Esmond opened his suitcase and threw in a tuxedo, a pair of sneakers and random garments that his eye fell across. He trotted out to the car, drove to the bank as it opened, wrote a check for cash and headed for Heathrow Airport, where he caught a noon flight to New York.

About eight hours’ worth of champagne later, at Kennedy Airport, Esmond Cooper-Key climbed into a taxicab and asked to be delivered to Pier 84 on the Hudson River side of Manhattan. There, beside the pier, gathering power of sorts from the broken boilers that had stranded her near Bermuda two weeks earlier, rose the astonishing bulk of the Queen Elizabeth 2. From keel to funnel, as high as a 13-story building. From bow to stern, longer than three football fields. Yes indeed, this was the place he was looking for. Esmond plunged through the ring of toy balloons at the end of the gangplank and hurried toward the First-Class cabin he had just booked for the QE 2’s return voyage to France and England that very same evening.

Up on the Quarterdeck, in a room colored maroon and gold and tucked away behind one of the two First-Class restaurants, gaffers were setting up movie lights, cameramen from Paragon Films were tinkering with their machines and pretty girls were tugging into place a board that said DUNHILL INTERNATIONAL BACKGAMMON TOURNAMENT with spaces below for the names of 32 invited players and the results of the matches.

Esmond’s name was not on the list of 32, but he had, after all, once reached the quarterfinal of a junior backgammon tournament at the Clermont Club in London, and he was a friend of some of the assorted elegantini—an earl, a lord and what not—who had been included. Besides that, Esmond had bought his own ticket, which most people had not, for what was until then the richest backgammon tournament ever held. In all there was close to $100,000 to be played for out in the open, not to mention the private betting in a game of which Prince Alexis Obolensky says, “You don’t play backgammon just for fun—always for money, even if you are playing the game with your little daughter, it should always be for money.”

Not that Esmond came on board to look at money. They did it all with checks, anyhow; one never saw stacks of cash moving across the tables as one often does in Las Vegas. Esmond merely had a notion that he ought to go have a bit of adventure and meanwhile indulge his fascination with backgammon at the world’s first floating tournament. However, six nights later when Prince Obolensky, a father figure of the modern version of the game, arose to speak at the black-tie gala that ended the tournament, it was a celebrating Esmond who walked past and said, “It’s not necessary to hear from you, old chap,” and dismissed Obolensky back to his table until part of the crowd began to applaud for the prince to return to his speech. By then so much had transpired that such a scene seemed not at all strange, and the next morning Esmond claimed not even to remember it.

“Waiter, actually my wife can’t see a damned thing with you standing in front of the window, now can she?” said the old British gentleman.

As the QE 2 pulled out of New York Harbor during dinner hour the waiters found reasons to linger in front of the big windows, polishing away tiny specks with their napkins while the food cooled. The lights of New York are a rare and incredible sight. One of the headwaiters, a man not easily moved, could stand beside a table at a meal and recount tales of torture and mutilation he had witnessed during World War II in Kenya in the same stolid tone with which he discussed aircraft maintenance or snake handling. But the view of New York Harbor reached his soul. “It’s a grand sight, sir,” he said, “one of the grandest that exists, and I’ve seen most of them.”

The lights of New York had barely vanished astern when the auction commenced in the maroon and gold room. An auction in backgammon is what is called a Calcutta pool at a golf tournament; players are sold and the purchaser wins if his player fares well. It is not uncommon for a player to buy himself at an auction by arranging for someone else to bid for him. He ordinarily buys back a piece of himself if he is bought by someone with whom he did not have an arrangement.

The auctioneer on the QE 2 was Charles Benson, 38, who describes himself as a constant gambler who spent four years at Eton studying racing charts. Benson is a racing correspondent for the London Daily Express, for which he tries to pick winners under the name Bendex. When Esmond Cooper-Key walked in, Benson was auctioning Philip Martyn (36, Lincoln College, Oxford, member of the 1964 British Olympic bobsled team). For a year and a half, Benson has lived with Martyn and Martyn’s wife as what Philip calls “our permanent and very welcome guest.”

“Philip Martyn is the world’s first self-professed professional backgammon player,” Benson was saying to a roomful of backgammon players.

Vast sections of America may be astounded to hear that there is such a thing as a professional backgammon player. But, in fact, there are a lot of them. Many with backgrounds in clubs like the Racquet in New York or the Clermont in London refer to themselves as gentlemen gamblers, amateurs who nevertheless play backgammon for very large amounts of money. Others go to backgammon tournaments the way professional golfers go to golf tournaments and hustle the sales of backgammon boards and books as golfers sell equipment. Gentlemen gamblers sometimes hustle a few books and lessons themselves, which makes the distinction between a gentleman gambler and a professional even more vague.

To those who still think of backgammon as that odd foreign-looking diagram on the back of a checkerboard, this may be hard to swallow, but backgammon in the Western world has broken out of the clubby atmosphere in which it flourished for a century as a smart, inbred game not meant for the public. (In the Middle East, they have been playing it in cafes for thousands of years.) People who might never be suspected of playing backgammon have taken it up)—housewives in Fort Worth, Gestalt therapists in Santa Barbara, Calif., retired postmen in Hollywood, Fla. Backgammon is getting as hot as Mah-Jongg and Scrabble were in their day.

With all that action in tournament prizes, gambling, auction sales, backgammon schools, backgammon books and equipment, it was inevitable that agents would be drawn to the scene by the smell of money. Thus came Mark McCormack, agent for professional sporting figures like Arnold Palmer, Rod Laver, Larry Csonka and Jackie Stewart. McCormack signed a contract that made Philip Martyn the world’s first professional backgammon player with a manager. A number of people pick up a handsome, even a semiglamorous, living out of the game. As head of the World Backgammon Club and promoter of many tournaments since he staged a big one in the Bahamas 10 years ago (SI, May 4, 1964), Prince Obolensky, whose face looks like a granite outcrop, is an example of one whose profession is, in fact, backgammon. But Philip Martyn is one of the few who admit backgammon is his livelihood, rather than passing it off as a game he happens to be so good at that he doesn’t need to go to the office very often.

So as Benson was selling his London host, Martyn, at the auction, Esmond Cooper-Key wandered into the maroon and gold room and bid ¬£1,100. Esmond’s smile seemed a bit too bright when he realized his was the winning offer. Already that day Esmond had flown across the Atlantic to begin sailing directly back home, and now he had just paid the top price for a player in the tournament.

“Why did you do that, Esmond?” someone asked.

“I only heard what they were saying about his professionalism, and of course I do know something about Martyn,” Esmond said. “But I don’t know anything really about whether he will win, do I? I mean, one doesn’t follow backgammon players the way one might follow thoroughbreds. Actually, I thought the numbers would keep going up, and someone else would buy him. Well, there’s no use crying, is there?”

Esmond sipped a glass of Mo√´t and leaned on a railing that separated a gallery from the carpeted pit a few feet below, where the auction was in progress and the games would be played. “Some people are spending tremendous sums of money to promote backgammon, and I wonder why,” mused Esmond. “I can’t imagine the masses are clever enough to buy millions of boards, can you? I mean, backgammon is more of an in-here game than an out-there game, it seems to me.”

From reading the invitation list of players, it was clear Richard Dunhill, the deputy chairman of Alfred Dunhill Ltd., intended his tournament to be an in-here affair. “Backgammon is a good promotion for our company because it has a certain snobbish appeal,” Dunhill said. But Dunhill wanted to be certain the tournament was heard of out there. Hence free airplane tickets to New York and First-Class return passage to England on the QE 2 for members of the British press. Hence the invitation of celebrities to keep the press awake once the fascination with galloping checkers wore off. Singer-actress Diana Ross, who would have provided the tournament its only woman and only black in the same body, turned down the trip, as did Playboy magazine Publisher Hugh Hefner, in whose heart of games backgammon has replaced Monopoly. British TV star Spike Milligan came along to chat up the press, but spent much of the time in his cabin writing a novel. “I always thought backgammon was a particular cut of bacon,” Milligan confided at dinner on the night of the gala.

Liberal M.P. Clement Freud, who occupied a penthouse suite, was knocked out in the first round as a player but served as a narrator for the film and phoned in stories to the Daily Express. Bulge-eyed and bearded, Freud (grandson of Sigmund, of course) roamed about the ship scowling and looking perpetually startled, as if he were afraid he might have accidentally said aloud what he had just been thinking, and that was why people were behaving toward him in such a manner.

Richard Dunhill, though, was pleased with his lineup. “It’s been wonderfully traumatic wondering if we would make it,” he said. The idea for the floating tournament was conceived a year before when Patrick, Earl of Lichfield, cousin of the Queen, winner of Male Elegance and Best Dressed awards and a free-lance photographer to boot, phoned up and suggested it. “I rushed out and bought a book on backgammon and became terribly keen on it,” Dunhill said.

By now Benson had come to the last players to be auctioned. “One of them is tall, handsome, witty and well-bred, and the other is Takis,” he said.

Crash! Takis Theodorocopulos threw a champagne glass at the rostrum. Takis, 35, Greek, karate champion and former Davis Cup tennis player, is a gentleman journalist for the National Review and heavy gambler with a fortune somewhere behind him. He was bought for ¬£400 by his friend John Zographos (Greek, 45, called “King Zog,” Cambridge, investments and real estate). Wait, a player had been overlooked. The Hon. Michael Pearson (29, Gordon-stoun, the Household Cavalry, film producer, son of Lord Cowdray, whose family in this century controlled more than 1,500,000 acres in Mexico, with attending mineral rights and the country’s only Atlantic-to-Pacific railroads) was sold for ¬£500. Then Benson himself was peddled for ¬£500, and most of the players retired to the ship’s casino to get in shape for the next afternoon when half of them would be losers. The ship’s casino was a very good place to get accustomed to losing.

In the game of backgammon each player has to move 15 disks around the board as determined by skill and by the roll of the dice, which obviously means it helps to be lucky. The first player to get all his disks off the board wins. A disk can be “hit” by an opponent if not protected, and must start all over again. A “doubling cube” is used to raise the stakes and test the nerve or sense of the players. If you are offered a double and feel the odds are too strongly against it, you can decline and forfeit the game and cut your losses, or you can accept and perhaps defeat the odds and win extra points. “A good player is one who knows when he has the advantage,” said American Tim Holland. “A mediocre player is one who thinks he has it when he doesn’t. The cornerstone to backgammon is anticipating future moves.”

It is said that among players of equal skill luck is about 80% of the game. Supposedly the superior player will overcome the luck factor and beat his opponent if they play long enough. But a player who can count up to 24 (the sum of a roll of double sixes) and can keep his head clear enough to march his men in orderly fashion is liable to beat a master anytime by shaking hot dice. Holland, 43, who is not reluctant to acknowledge that he is tops at backgammon, estimated that five or six of the 32 players in the Dunhill tournament could be rated among the world’s elite 50.

A few of the best players in the world play not at the Racquet or the Clermont, but at New York’s Mayfair Hotel in a place called The Dump. They are known as Dumplings. Some of the Dumplings don’t get their shoes shined, their sweaters don’t cover their bellies, they have social connections that reach into the wrong Queens and they are too shrewd to be allowed access to big games like the Dunhill tournament.

“You can’t blame Dunhill for not inviting them,” said Holland, who occasionally plays at The Dump but usually at the Regency in New York. “Dunhill has worked hard to build up the Beautiful People aspect of this promotion. Five Dumplings could come on board and take everybody’s money. How would that look?”

Some say the best players are found at none of those places but in sleazy little clubs in Beirut. Obolensky learned to play the game in Turkey.

Jack Vietor is an American, 59, educated at St. Paul’s and Yale, former publisher of San Francisco magazine, grandson of the inventor of Jell-O. Though he has held the Vietor Round Robin Private Backgammon Tournament at his home in La Jolla, Calif. since 1962, Vietor says he is merely an amateur. He says one big problem with backgammon tournaments is keeping the hustlers out.

In the first round of the Dunhill tournament Vietor beat Philip Martyn. Martyn had been twisting in agony in his seat at each throw of the dice, raising his eyebrows as if to ask heaven how things could be going so badly for one who deserved so much better. Vietor was flushed and sweating, lighting cigarettes while previous ones still burned in the ashtray. Both men looked as if the game were as pleasant as sinking in quicksand. “A lot of top players go through pain when they play. They fight as if they think they can control the dice,” said Claude Beer (American, 36, former squash champion, winner of the Clermont Club British backgammon championship in 1970 and the 1974 Las Vegas World Championship). “I always try hard, but it’s not worth agonizing over.”

At the final roll Martyn leaped up from the table and rushed out of the room like a Tex-Mex border-town tourist who just found out that wasn’t chicken in his taco. In a minute or so Martyn was back to shake hands with Vietor.

“It must be a terrible feeling for a pro like you to lose to an old California hacker like me,” Vietor said with a smile.

“Absolutely galling is what it is,” replied Martyn. “Staggering.”

In the back of the room Esmond Cooper-Key steadied himself against the subtle movement of the ship.

Martyn is a tall, lean, athletic-looking man with hair that has turned muddy gray. Besides being on an Olympic bobsled team, he played rugby at college and he drives fast cars. Martyn runs in a park for exercise with his friend Jackie Stewart, and he is married to Nina Rindt, 28, widow of racing driver Jochen Rindt. Talking about backgammon, Martyn describes some fierce primeval struggle that may not be immediately apparent to a casual observer.

“Backgammon is a sport, not a game,” Martyn said after he had calmed down a bit from his loss to Vietor. “It has contact, violence, one-to-one competition like boxing. Good players tend to stay in good physical shape. People used to think you had to stay up all night and drink and smoke to be a backgammon player. That’s silly. One can think much more sharply when the body is fit.

“This is not an intellectual endeavor like bridge, where the players are usually ashen gray and cigarette stained, and it’s certainly not like chess. Backgammon is all out in the open, full of stingers, very aggressive. I went bonkers when I lost to a softer player like Vietor. Backgammon has had the image of rich, bum sportsmen and very private clubs, and some of these sportsmen want to keep it their own private affair, but I want to see backgammon become widely popular. It’s not hard to learn. I’ve got no flair for math. Even a beginner can play well if he doesn’t let his ego defeat him. The doubling cube is what makes it so extraordinary.”

Martyn foresees pro backgammon leagues with players dressed in sweatshirts that say OMAHA or MADRID, competing with each other on TV. The final of the Las Vegas tournament, in which Martyn lost to Claude Beer, was on closed-circuit TV at the Hilton with a commentary by Lewis DeYoung (London, 39, Oxford, noted amateur tennis player and international gambler). “The tension of an international match would be terrific,” Martyn said, “and all there for the audience to see, millions of people watching and criticizing the moves.”

While Martyn was talking, Esmond Cooper-Key went to recoup his fortunes at the ship’s casino. But he was distracted by his friend the Baron, who had put down quite a few doubles at the bar and had decided to disrobe.

The Baron, it should be explained, is not actually a baron. He is a young London businessman who came on the voyage to be with some of his pals who were involved with the backgammon tournament. On a whim, he wrote on the booking form, in the space for titles, that he was a baron. As a result he was furnished with a dressing room, refrigerator and enormous stateroom at no extra charge, addressed as Baron by the staff and requested to dine in the smaller and more exclusive of the First-Class restaurants.

The Baron’s real name will not be mentioned here for reasons to be made clear. For now it is enough to say that when the Baron felt the urge to undress in the casino, he even removed his eyeglasses. The Baron trotted around the casino naked a couple of times and then careened into the Tourist-Class disco. There is an assumption in First Class that people in Tourist Class are probably having more fun, the swine, and the disco in the QE 2 was crowded every night with elegantini looking for a serving wench to pinch or a plumber’s apprentice to say hidy to. The Baron loped onto the dance floor and blinked at the laughter. Abruptly, he whirled and fled from the room.

When he was asked why he had chosen to put his clothes back on so suddenly after all the terrific trotting and loping, the Baron said, “It was really quite thrilling to be buffers in the casino, and it was a kick to arrive in the disco. But standing there nude on the dance floor without my glasses—couldn’t see a bloody thing in that violet light—I began to feel a small touch of paranoia.”

Mondo bizzarro, all right. By the second night out, when the captain’s cocktail party was held in the First-Class nightclub, the ship was already steaming half a day behind schedule with its impaired boilers. “Right now, at this moment, I can hopefully say that I think we’ll come out on top,” the captain assured his cocktail guests. His leeriness was as sensible as the sign posted in First-Class cabin bathrooms that said: DO NOT STEP INTO SHOWER BEFORE TESTING WATER TEMPERATURE.

There already had been open snarling about the food. Not that it was in short supply during the limited hours it was available, but a piece of fish, a filet of beef, a slice of veal, a Caesar salad, all seemed to taste pretty much like a piece of newspaper.

After having returned a few meals to the kitchen for further study, Clement Freud, who appears to examine everything placed before him as if it might be made of spiders, decided to investigate the source of this paper food. He went into the kitchen, lined up the staff and marched up and down peering around with his look of surprised disgruntlement. “These are the boilers back there, are they?” Freud asked the chef.

“No sir, those are the cookers.”

“Ah. I have been under the impression that you did the cooking in the boilers.”

Adding to the general feeling of oddness aboard the ship, it was soon discovered that one stateroom key would open many other staterooms; exactly how many is not known, but experimentation proved it true in dozens of cases, and a steward cheerfully admitted, “Saves us the trouble of different passkeys, and only old ladies lock their doors, anyway.” Patrick, the Earl of Lichfield, is not an old lady in any sense; he even has a tattoo on his arm. But he rushed to the captain to demand protection for his photographic equipment. There is a story in Dunhill publicity releases that the Earl of Lichfield, “coordinator” of the tournament, is forbidden by his family to play backgammon because an ancestor had lost a fortune at the game. True or not, the earl certainly had no desire to lose his cameras. “Outrageous,” is what he called the matter of the door keys. Mondo bizzarro is the way Esmond put it.

Charles Benson, the auctioneer, kept advancing in the backgammon tournament in the maroon and gold room, while better rated players like Tim Holland, Ted Bassett, Walter Cooke, Claude Beer, Philip Martyn, Joe Dwek, Gino Scalamandre. Porter Ijams, Lewis DeYoung, Michael Stoop and others fell out. In one match Benson needed to throw double sixes on the last roll to win, and he did it. Benson’s puckery smile grew steadily. A friend described Benson as “the sort of fellow who owns two coats, three shirts, a necktie and a Ford, but when the rest of us are betting ¬£2 on a race at the dog track, Benson will be betting ¬£200.” Lewis DeYoung said, “Benson has tremendous courage. He’s been whipped by every bookmaker in London, and he keeps coming back.”

“Going to the track with Benson is a thrilling experience,” said Takis Theodorocopulos. “If people find out he’s the famous Bendex whose tips they’ve bet their life savings on, they’ll try to kill him.”

At last it was the final, and Benson was still in. His opponent was Barclay Cooke, who could hardly be more unlike Benson. Cooke, 61, an American, is from Yale, a gentleman gambler, coauthor of a backgammon book, winner of the Clermont Club British Championship in 1972 and co-holder, with his son Walter, of the World Cup Duplicate Backgammon Championship. “Barclay Cooke was the best player in the game until about 10 years ago,” says his friend Porter Ijams. “Then a number of people went past him, but in the last two or three years Barclay has become the most improved player in the game.”

Barclay Cooke does not drink or smoke. Benson, on the other hand, was furnished for the final with all the Moet champagne he could put away, and that turned out to be an amount that would have floored a goat. Where did this champagne come from? The donor was Esmond Cooper-Key, who had taken the waiters aside and told them to keep Benson’s glass full no matter what the cost.

Esmond, it developed, is married to the sister of Benson’s dear friend. Lady Charlotte Anne Curzon, a lovely blonde girl who was sitting at Benson’s side during the final match. Why did Esmond do this with the champagne? Was he for Benson or against him? “I’m totally for him, old man,” Esmond explained. “I don’t own a piece of him, and it’s costing me a bloody fortune the way he drinks. But I want Benson to win, and he plays best when he’s loaded to the ears.”

“Merry Christmas,” Benson said to Cooke before the match. “Let’s shake hands now. It’s liable to turn ugly later.” That morning Benson had left the Tourist-Class disco at 5 a.m., at the gentle urging of Lady Curzon and Victor Lownes, a 46-year-old American who is managing director of the Clermont Club and of Playboy’s European enterprises, of which the Clermont is one. “Look at Benson’s eyes. He’s in absolutely perfect shape for the match,” Esmond said as the two opponents faced each other across one of the $1,000 leather boards that the Dunhill company had supplied for the tournament.

Whether a spectator cared much for backgammon or not, there was excitement in the Benson-Cooke match—two greatly different personalities opposing each other in the glare of movie lights, with the audience crowded close around and the waiters pushing to get through with trays of champagne. Benson started poorly but recovered to tie the 29-point match at 27-all. Cooke won the next point, and Benson tied the match again. The last point developed into a running game in which each player had his disks clear of his opponent’s end of the board. The winner would be the one who threw the highest dice.

Benson looked at the board and took a thoughtful gulp of champagne. Cooke toasted him with a glass of ice water.

Benson spoke in a low voice to Cooke. He was asking if Cooke would care to split the prize money. That meant each would receive £7,500 instead of the £10,000 that was to go to the winner and the £5,000 to the runner-up. Cooke agreed. That done, Benson shook the dice cup and rolled double fours. Benson had won the tournament.

At the black-tie gala that night, wine was thrown about, large splashes of it landing on chests, laps and faces, and a great many speeches were made, including the one by Obolensky that was interrupted by Esmond Cooper-Key, champagne glass in hand. Later, Benson capered madly through the noisy Tourist disco with his shirt off, buying drinks as fast as they could be poured, howling and singing, unreservedly celebrating his victory.

“This was definitely not a triumph for clean living,” Philip Martyn said, grinning as he watched his permanent guest crash through the dancers. “One drinks milk and is hard as nails. The other dunks champagne and is soft as butter, and wins.”

In another room Barclay Cooke stood quietly in a corner, replaying the match in his mind. “I wanted to win,” he said. “It wasn’t the money, though that was pretty nice. I just wanted to win. My son, Walter, thinks I played the six-four move wrong. I don’t think so. What do you think?”

Some people said they thought he was wrong. Some said they thought he was right. Benson hardly seemed to care.

Under its previous owner, the celebrated London gambler John Aspinall, the Clermont Club on Berkeley Square was an 18th-century Palladian mansion where one could gamble for very high stakes and might also be invited to parties that included entertainment by lions, tigers and midgets. Now the Clermont is a Playboy property renting out its basement to an outstandingly snotty private disco called Annabel’s. Upstairs from Annabel’s the gambling continues with roulette and craps and chemin de fer, and there is a good restaurant, but the preoccupation of most of the Clermont clientele appears to be backgammon.

In fact, only a few hours after the QE 2 docked at Southampton a full day late, the Dunhill tournament was no longer the richest backgammon tournament ever held. The Clermont tournament, with Charles Benson acting as auctioneer, quickly surpassed the Dunhill. With the players’ pool and auction pool, the prize money rose to more than $50,000.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Tim Holland. “It’s like golf a few years ago. Soon we’ll have regular $150,000 tournaments. Sponsors are signing up all the time. You can become a good player without spending a lifetime at it. That is an important point.”

Holland was rated at 12 to 1 in the Clermont, in which there were 80 players, a number of them women. Benson was 22 to 1 and had spent part of his QE 2 winnings buying a piece of a player named M. Baquiche (20 to 1).

A private backgammon game was already under way in which one of the Dunhill players would lose close to $200,000 before the following night. “The biggest gambling games in the world are in London,” said Lewis DeYoung, who came downstairs shaking his head over the beating he had just been watching. “London makes Las Vegas look like very small change. I’ve seen $312,000 wagered on one spin at roulette in a club here, the man going from $400,000 loser to $150,000 winner in a few hours.”

A little later a visitor walked out in front of the Clermont, where Rolls-Royces and Bentleys were double-parked and gleaming under the lamps. The visitor saw several banknotes fall onto the sidewalk and thought he saw who had dropped them. The visitor picked them up, but before he could call to the person he thought had lost the money, one of the best-known backgammon players in the world snatched the bills out of his hands and said, “Thank you, I’d hate to lose those.”

“But you didn’t lose them,” the visitor said.

“Of course I did,” said the backgammon player and entered a chauffeured Bentley with a bar in the back.

“Now you see what it takes to become an international shark,” another well-known player told the bemused visitor.

At cocktails at the S.W. 1 area home of the Baron, people were betting on how many times a certain letter appeared on the back of a particular cigarette package. The Baron wasn’t playing. The letter he was interested in was the one he had just received from an aunt, who had read in a London newspaper about the Baron’s naked romp on the QE 2. The story had been radioed from the ship to a London columnist by an unidentified snitch who was among the Baron’s crowd. “You are a spoiled rich kid with more money than brains,” the letter from the aunt said. “You have given your family a right royal black eye. Your uncle has gone into a silence.”

“All my mother said was she had looked at my body for quite a number of years, and couldn’t understand why I would want to show it around,” the Baron said.

Later, back again at the Clermont, one could see across the room the backsides of many people pressing in to watch the final of the tournament. “I would like to see what they are doing,” said Esmond Cooper-Key, “but I would rather need to be a giraffe, wouldn’t I?”

“With a grasp of the game,” the Baron said.

Charles Benson joined the group at the table.

“Are you doing well, Charles?” asked Esmond.

“We’ll know in a few minutes. You know I bought Baquiche at the auction,” Benson said.

A sudden prattle burst from among the backsides.

“Baquiche has won,” someone said, heading for the bar.

“Not too bad a week, all in all,” said Benson.

The Fans

A Dodgers fan, a Cardinals fan, and a Cubs fan are climbing a mountain and arguing about who loves their team the most.

The Dodgers fan insists that he is the most loyal.  And to prove it, he yells, “This is for LA!” and he jumps off the mountain.

Not to be outdone, the Cardinals fan is next to profess his love for his team. He yells, “This is for St. Louis” and pushes the Cubs fan off the mountain. GO CARDS!!!

WillyRingSimba

Trumped Up Backgammon

(If Donald Trump played backgammon, what might it sound like?  Here is one possibility.)

So I guess you know we’re live on the Whittenburg Network. They’ve got this camera here and we’re live. The other players never have their matches covered live. You know 24 million people watched my last match.

Live Match

I’m leading in the race by the way. Everyone’s counted and Trump is ahead on every count. It’s amazing. Gerry counted, and in Gerry’s count we’re leading big. Another count just came out from Cliff and we’re leading even more in that one, and Trump’s lead is tremendously big in Litton’s count. So we’re winning the race.

Winning Race

So I see this guy Michael, a total lightweight, was talking about Trump. You know Michael. What a stiff. I hear this guy Michael calls me a pigeon. I said to myself it’s amazing, here’s a guy who must not be a very bright guy. Anyway, he said some terrible things about the way Trump plays. Where is Michael on the scoresheet? Zero.

He might be smarter than DT, but what do I know. I saw DT the other day. He’s doing very poorly on the scoresheet, by the way. And he puts on glasses so people will think he’s smart. But lots of people have tried to come after Trump and they all go down on the scoresheet. Trump is leading on the scoresheet, by the way. We have a tremendous score. It will make your head spin.

Candidates

The other day, I played Jana. By the way, look at that face. What a face. Is that a face you want to sit across the board from? Anyway, I’m playing her and I think she got some very unfair dice against me. It was clear they were gotcha dice. You could just tell there she was there to beat Trump. I mean she had dice coming out of her…wherever.

Carly

And we’re going to do some amazing things, I have tremendous plans for this match. It’s going to be terrific, we’re going to do great things. I don’t want to talk about it too much now in terms of specifics, but I’m very smart. I went to the Magriel School. So you’re going to see some amazing things in this match.

Trump smart

So one problem we’re having in this game is checker security. It’s a tremendous problem. Huge.

And by the way, I love checkers. I have a lot of respect for checkers. A lot of people say, “Oh, Trump doesn’t like checkers.” But I do. I’ve had thousands of checkers working for me. I’ve built points with checkers. They love Trump. Seriously, they love me. And by the way, a poll just came out, and your checkers love me more than they love you, they want me to win. I’m gonna win with the support of your checkers. But anyway, I love checkers. They’re great.

But one thing checkers do is they make anchors. We’ve got to talk about the anchor checkers. And so now people will say, “Trump hates anchor checkers.” But that’s not true, I love them, they’re tremendous checkers, but we can’t have that. Just because they start over here, they think they have a right to stay here and make an anchor but that’s not right. A lot of smart people have looked at this and I think we’re gonna find out that we need to change the rules on allowing anchor checkers.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate, real estate mogul and TV personality Donald Trump makes a point as he formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during an event at Trump Tower in New York June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid - RTX1GRB9

So anyway, we’ve got this real problem with checker security. The checkers are being sent from over there and they’re coming over here and hitting other checkers and we’ve got to stop that, and I will stop that. We’re gonna build a prime, the most amazing prime. It’s going to be terrific, beautiful. You’re gonna love it. Because Trump builds primes, I know how to build a prime, I’ve built the most amazing primes. We’re gonna call it the Great Prime of Trump. And it’s not gonna be the kind of prime you can just come out and leap over. No, it’s going to be a smart, strong, amazing prime. You’re not gonna believe how great it’s going to be.

And I’m gonna make you pay for it.

pay

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

More Funny Papers!

On October 11, 1821, the Times of London gives us an account of two people who loved the game a little too much.

It appears that one fine day, a certain Mrs. Kahl of London went out visiting in the morning around 11:00 am and returned about 7:00 pm the same evening.

But Mrs. Kahl returned home to a bit of a shock. She was:

Struck with astonishment at seeing a light appearing and disappearing at the windows of her house.

And as she knew no one was home, Mrs. Kahl leapt to the only logical conclusion. Burglars! But she did NOT panic.

Instead of making a noise that might alert the thieves as most other females would have done, she quietly went to some of her neighbors and communicated her suspicions…

The troupe of neighborly Good Samaritans reconnoitered the house, procured a ladder, and entered quietly as mice through a second floor window. They crept down the stairs and tiptoed to the parlor door where:

They saw to their great surprise the two thieves playing a game of backgammon. They were sitting on a sofa and had the backgammon table between them. One of them instantly started up and said, “We’ll make no resistance.” On examination it was found that the house had been ransacked from top to bottom!

If only one of them hadn’t steered for a backgame and successfully executed the coup classique they would have gotten clean away! The moral of the story is, that if you MUST play backgammon while burgling a home, try for racing games!

Charles_Peace_penny_dreadful_1Burglar Bill


In November of 1822, The Hagerstown, Maryland Torch and Light Public Advertiser gives us a punny backgammon tale.

Apparently, it was the fashion of the era to make backgammon boards in the form of books like so:

bg book set

One day, a gentleman named Adam purchased one of these sets that was housed in the shell of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Upon taking the set home to his fair Eve, it was found that the dice cups and checkers were all present and accounted for, but:

The magical cubes (proverbially the device of the Old Serpent) which give life to the whole system were missing!

Whereupon Eve remarked:

In truth, my dear, this is Milton’s pair o’dice lost!

waldorf


In June 1840 the New York Evening Post reported an unfortunate occurrence in the life of a player who was loving but not much loved in return:

On Saturday evening last, Major John Loving, proprietor of the Commercial Hotel in this place, was dangerously wounded with a dirk, in a personal affray with Dr. E.E. Slade.  The misunderstanding arose respecting a game of backgammon they had been playing together.

bdh-13887-(pk)_large


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

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.

House

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.

team

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?”

“Uh-huh.”

“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.

charlie


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.

soda

“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.”

bull

“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.

cow


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?!”

“Absolutely.”

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.

dice


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.

slide


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.”

gable