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It's a New Year; Let's do Something New

Posted By: Jake Jacobs
Date: Monday, 28 December 2015, at 2:11 a.m.

In Response To: It's a New Year; Let's do Something New (Timothy Chow)

That's the problem with backgammon generally: it doesn't translate to something the non-player can readily appreciate.

We had a few players in the past who could qualify as celebrities: Magriel, Dwek, Holland, Billy Eisenberg, several more. Of them Magriel was the exception, the others being flashy gamblers of the Bobby Riggs mode. The one "flashy gambler" today would be Svobo, who keeps a low profile. Magriel, who of course is a flashy gambler masquerading as a geek, is a charismatic personality with great intelligence and wit. Our top players today? Falafel is colorful, until he opens his mouth. He doesn't have much to say that is interesting. That isn't a comment on his backgammon; the things he says about backgammon are incisive, but for non-players almost meaningless. Mochy? A great guy, and highly intelligent, but not colorful. MCG? He makes Mochy look like Robin Williams. These guys need a villain to offset their niceness.

An example of what I am talking about is Phil Laak. He donned that hoodie and became a celebrity. If backgammon players looked like fugitives from the WWE it would help. Instead they look like fugitives from the IT department because, for the most part, they are. If the TV cameras ever point our way, the first guy to play wearing a Darth Vader mask will be anointed.

But here is the other problem. When poker was in the spotlight the decisions were comprehensible and the payoff was instantaneous. Sure, the players might be making complex calculations, but even without an announcer the audience could distill the essence: "Can the other guy beat three kings?" The money goes into the pot, and you quickly find out whether he can, or can't. In backgammon a player makes a series of decisions, and a few minutes later someone wins a point. Riveting television? Not!

But ... Thirty-five years ago I was watching Max and his backer, Joel, as Max played Freddie. All three are wearing expensive silk, and the badinage is relentless. Max is up one hundred points, at hundreds. Then comes a game where he is holding an 8-cube.

"I bet I backgammon you," says Freddie.

"Eight-to-one you don't, for a thousand dollars," says Joel. He pulls out a roll of bills the size of Rolling Meadows, and counts out eighty bills, eight thousand dollars, and lays the stack on the table to tempt Freddie.

Freddie accepts the bet, wins a backgammon to go from minus 100 to plus four.

"Let's go eat," he says.

That was riveting!

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