Paul Magriel R.I.P.

I learned of the death of Paul Magriel from the excellent blog of Grandmaster Kevin Spraggett (http://www.spraggettonchess.com/), in his ‘Trending Now’ section, ‘Chess in the News’. This led me to his obituary in the New York Times. These are excerpts:

Paul Magriel, Who Was Called the Best in Backgammon, Dies at 71

By Sam Roberts March 8, 2018

Paul Magriel,

a former youth chess champion who traded game boards to become known as the world’s best backgammon player, then turned to poker as his passion for gambling grew, died on Monday at his home in Las Vegas. He was 71.

After winning the New York State Junior Chess Championship at 19, Mr. Magriel (pronounced ma-GRILL) became fixated by backgammon, the 5,000-year-old dice-and-disk board game that combines luck, skill and speed.

Before the 1970s ended, Mr. Magriel had won the world backgammon championship and published what was acclaimed as the bible of backgammon. He was also writing a weekly column about the game for The New York Times.

In 1977, The Boston Globe described Mr. Magriel,

who by then had given up teaching math at a New Jersey college to play professionally, as “probably the best backgammon player in the world.”

His quirkiness and cunning gave backgammon currency.

“He was a big part of the reason for the backgammon boom that happened in the late ’70s and ’80s,” Erik Seidel, a stock trader who became a professional backgammon and poker player, said in an email.

Mr. Magriel could be philosophical on the subject of games. “Games are controlled violence,” he told Gambling Times magazine in 1978. “You can take out your frustrations and hostilities over a backgammon set, where the rules are clearly defined — in contrast to life, where the rules are not so well defined. In games, you know what’s right and wrong, legal versus illegal; whereas in life, you don’t.”

As a child, Paul was remembered as a savant who rarely answered questions and spoke only when he had something to say. After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and getting a perfect score on his college boards, he earned a bachelor’s degree in math from New York University. At. N.Y.U., he was a fellow of the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

He was later a National Science Foundation fellow at Princeton University, where he specialized in probability. He taught at the Newark College of Engineering (now part of the Newark Institute of Technology) from 1969 to 1973.

Mr. Magriel made his transition from chess to backgammon in Greenwich Village, at hangouts like the Olive Tree Cafe, while he was a doctoral student at Princeton and on track to become a math professor there.

“Psychologically, backgammon is very different from chess,” Mr. Magriel said. “It’s an exercise in frustration — you can make the right moves and lose, or you can make the wrong moves and win. And chess didn’t have the gambling that I like.”

For all his expertise in any game that required mental acuity, Mr. Magriel found backgammon to be “the most frustrating, the cruelest.”

“The fascinating thing about backgammon is that it represents an interesting paradox,” he told The Boston Globe in 1977, adding: “People who want a sure thing don’t make it in backgammon. There are risks, yes, but on the other hand there is an enormous amount of control needed, something most gamblers lack.”

With Ms. Roberts, he wrote the seminal “Backgammon” (1976)

and “Introduction to Backgammon: A Step-By-Step Guide” (1978). His Times column appeared from 1977 to 1980.

Wrote the Book on Backgammon

“When it came to games, Magriel loved them all. At just 19, he became the New York State Junior Chess Champion while studying at New York University, where he would graduate a year later with a BA in mathematics.

However, his real expertise was in backgammon, which is where he earned his “X-22” nickname. He was the 1978 World Backgammon Champion and co-wrote both “Backgammon,” still considered the game’s bible, and “An Introduction to Backgammon: A Step-By-Step Guide,” both published in 1976.

He was profiled in the New Yorker, which is where he explained how he came to be known as X-22.

“I used to play backgammon against myself and once I had a private tournament with 64 imaginary entrants, whom I designated X-l, X-2, and so forth, through X-64,” he said. “In the final, X-22 was pitted against X-34, and X-22 won.” (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1985/05/27/game-9)

Magriel, who wrote weekly backgammon columns for The New York Times from 1977-1980, was considered one of backgammon’s best teachers and thinkers. He is thought to have won the most major backgammon tournaments in the world.”
https://www.cardschat.com/news/rip-paul-magriel-backgammon-legend-known-as-x-22-dies-at-71-59717

Remembering Paul Magriel

“He was a math wizard, who loved numbers and relished the opportunity to solve complex puzzles. At night, he played games. During the day, he was a math instructor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he worked for seven years before deciding to finally put away the chalk and take up backgammon (and later poker playing) for a living, because the money was just too good a thing to pass up and there were plenty of suckers who wanted a game.

Back then, backgammon was a high-stakes web of rich people and cultural elites who gathered nightly at posh social clubs. Paul’s immersion onto that privileged scene, first in New York City then later around the world at the most exclusive resorts, was every bit as momentous as the indelible impact on games and gambling left by Ken Uston

and Stu Ungar,


The 1980 WSOP, where Stu won his first Main Event title, was also the first time he played Texas Hold’em. The Legendary Doyle Brunson is on the left.

every bit his contemporaries.”
http://www.nolandalla.com/remembering-paul-magriel/

RIP Paul Magriel: Backgammon Legend and Poker Player Known as X-22, “Quack, Quack,” Dies at 71
March 7th, 2018 by Chad Holloway

“To poker fans, Paul Magriel was the wild player who would often say, “Quack, quack.” What most don’t know is that Magriel, who died in his sleep on Monday at age 71, was to backgammon what Doyle Brunson

is to poker.”
https://www.cardschat.com/news/rip-paul-magriel-backgammon-legend-known-as-x-22-dies-at-71-59717

Although I never met Paul he had a HUGE on my life through his book. BACKGAMMON influenced me in the same way Chess Openings: Theory And Practice by I. A. Horowitz

influenced me in Chess.

About the time a new bar/restaurant named GAMMONS opened in the Peachtree-Piedmont shopping plaza in the Buckhead section of Atlanta his book was published. I spent the first week eating dinner after work and nursing a beer while watching the “action.” Those were the only alcoholic drinks ever consumed at GAMMONS. One night Steven Moffitt, a former junior Chess champion of Texas, entered. Steve was a professor of statistics and probabilities at Emory University at the time. We met in San Antonio in 1972 during the Church’s Fried Chicken Chess tournament. He greeted me warmly, asking if I would play a couple of speed Chess games. My reply was, “Only if they are fifteen minute games.” He smiled, and agreed. Steve was higher rated, but both games ended in hard fought draws. He had also come early from work and the sight of us playing Chess caused raised eyebrows as the regulars entered. Those two games were the only Chess games ever played at Gammons.

Steve mentioned a Backgammon book I needed to read. It was Paul Magriel’s book. As it turned out his advice was some of the best advice ever received in my life. I was not seen again at Gammons until the book was devoured. The first match I played at Gammons was with a regular, Rick Calhoun. I took a lead never relinquished. When time to pay Rick offered a check, which bounced. The next time I entered GAMMONS, I spotted Rick playing in a chouette, and walked straight to the table, whereupon I laid the rubber check, saying, “Make it right or step outside!” He did not have the money, but some of the other regulars produced the money, hoping to avoid any negative publicity. It was the only check I ever took from any Backgammon player.

Later Steve said they had wondered who was the fellow who came every night to watch. Knowing Steve told them I was a player. Calling Rick out said to them I was a player to be reckoned with…

During research for this post I found the following:

“I do not recommend this book to beginners. Yes, it was a masterpiece at the time it was written, and it is incredibly clear, but I rolled out the Advanced section — excluding the openings chapter — about 322 positions, and found 27 percent of them incorrect. I do not want to put wrong ideas into beginners’ heads by recommending Paul Magriel’s book when there are better books available. I recommend Backgammon Boot Camp instead because it contains some match theory and has a lot more about doubling theory. You can learn a lot if you roll out the positions and think about what Magriel got right and wrong.”

He is correct in that Paul’s book was an introduction to how Backgammon should be played. What it did was make me THINK critically about the game. QUESTION EVERYTHING! Think for yourself. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you.” (http://bobdylan.com/songs/rolling-stone/)

Backgammon Boot Camp was published in 2004, decades after I stopped playing Backgammon and went back to Chess, so I have not read it. Notice it is unsigned. Here are a couple of other, signed, comments about Paul’s book, a book known as the “Bible of Backgammon”:

“The best introduction to the game. Covers basic checker play very well. If you read and thoroughly understand this book, you’ll play a decent game. Weaknesses—skimpy treatment of the doubling cube.”—Marty Storer, May 1992

“By far the most complete book on the game. A must for the serious minded backgammon enthusiast. It carefully explains the game’s basic concepts, ideas and strategic principles.”—Butch Meese, January 1984 (http://www.bkgm.com/books/Magriel-Backgammon.html)

Paul’s book helped me to become a decent player. Two books by Danny Kleinman, Vision Laughs at Counting: With Advice to the Dicelorn,

part one & two, helped elevate me to another, much higher, level. (http://www.bkgm.com/books/Kleinman-VisionLaughsAtCountingVol1.html)

Some years later, after “retiring” from BG, I encountered a young man who had earlier asked my advice on how to become stronger at Backgammon and I mentioned the Kleinman books. “I read the books you mentioned and am now the strongest player in Atlanta,” he proudly boasted. “I do not know how to thank you,” he said. “You just did,” I replied.

There were many good Backgammon players at GAMMONS. There was a tournament every Monday night.. Tom Daniel, a Viet Nam vet, won more than his share of those tournaments. There were two women, Kathy, from Chicago, and Debbie, who excelled at the nightly tournament. The real players, the money players, played in the tournament, but could not wait to get into action where the money was…Neither Kathy, or Debbie won any of the weekend tournaments, where the matches were longer and the pressure higher. The competition was fierce, with players coming from several different states to play. Then there were the traveling Backgammon players who took their ego’s on the road. Only two players finished in top places two tournaments in a row. One was Steve Moffitt, who took top prize back to back in tournaments with names long forgotten. The other was this writer, who finished second twice in a row. Former Chess player, and budding Doctor, Frank Blaydes, whom I had known from Chess, and his friend Mark watched while writing down the moves, as I lost to a dentist in the first round. “He was lucky,” they said. “Remember what I told you guys,” I answered. “I know, I know,” said Frank, “I’d rather be lucky than good, ’cause when I’m good and lucky I can’t be beat!” Fortunately for me it was a double elimination event, and I was able to get to the final from the elimination group, a first. My opponent, the dentist, said, “I was hoping it would not be you.” Once again Frank and Mark took notation. Once again the dentist was lucky, besting me again in a long match, in which I was the heavy favorite in the side betting. I could not contain myself. “You were lucky,” said I. “You are not as good as you think,” he retorted. I challenged him to continue the match the following night, which was Monday. He entered the tournament; I did not. He lost his match and it was game on. I won all the prize money he had won from the weekend tournament, plus some…Frankly, I cleaned his clock. He was never seen again…

That’s the way it is in Backgammon. Former Georgia State Chess Champion Bob Joiner played BG at Gammons. He had the misfortune to win a weekend tournament. I say misfortune because he was not a top player. Winning the tournament made him think he was now a top player. He began to play the best, and began to lose money, then had the wherewithal to stop playing. After retiring Bob came to the Atlanta Chess Center where I was working. I asked him why he had stopped playing Backgammon. He was honest enough to say, “Because I was losing too much.” We had never played Backgammon, but I would visit him at his office when he was a well respected Public Defender where we would have lunch while playing Backgammon.

One of the weekend tournaments I won was named the Georgia Championship. Another was the Atlanta Championship, which made me the only person ever to become the Atlanta Champion in both Backgammon and Chess.

http://pokerdb.thehendonmob.com/player.php?a=r&n=466

X-22 knocks out the Brat

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Weiqi (Go) Versus Chess

“Using a universally relevant metaphor, Zbigniew Brzezinski,

former National Security Adviser to US president Jimmy Carter,

wrote in The Grand Chessboard,

published in 1997 (http://www.takeoverworld.info/Grand_Chessboard.pdf): “Eurasia is the chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played.” China’s New Silk Road strategy certainly integrates the importance of Eurasia but it also neutralizes the US pivot to Asia by enveloping it in a move which is broader both in space and in time: an approach inspired by the intelligence of Weiqi has outwitted the calculation of a chess player.”
“The chronicle by Japanese writer Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972) of an intense intellectual duel, translated in English as The Master of Go,

contributed to the popularity of the game in the West, but Weiqi is a product of the Chinese civilization and spread over time in the educated circles of Northeast Asia. Kawabata, who viewed the Master as one of his favorite creations, knew that for China the game of “abundant spiritual powers encompassed the principles of nature and the universe of human life,” and that the Chinese had named it “the diversion of the immortals.”
(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-gosset/weiqi-versus-chess_b_6974686.html)

Several years ago I contrasted the number of players in the US Chess Open with the number of players in the US Go Congress, posting the findings on the United States Chess Federation forum, and was excoriated for so doing, except for one person, Michael Mulford, who put the nattering nabobs of negativism to shame by congratulating me for “good work.” Basically, the numbers showed Chess losing players while Go had gained enough to have caught up with, and surpassed, Chess. It has continued to the point that if one thinks of it as a graph, with Chess in the top left hand corner; and Go in the bottom left hand corner, an “X” would appear.

I have spent some time recently cogitating about why this has come to pass. Certainly world Chess (FIDE) being administered as a criminal enterprise for at least a quarter of a century has not helped the cause of the Royal game. It has not helped that members of the USCF policy board have stated things like it being better to work within a corrupt system than to leave the corrupt system. See my post, Scott Parker Versus Allen Priest, of November 29, 2017 (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/?s=alan+priest)

Now that the bank account of FIDE, the world governing body of Chess, has been closed I do not foresee anything but further decline for the game of Chess. IM Malcolm Pein,

Mr. Everything tin British Chess, commented for Chessdom, “The statement from the FIDE Treasurer was alarming to say the least, but not totally unexpected. As the statement said, we had been warned. All legal means should be used to remove Ilyumzhinov

from office as soon as possible. Taking away his executive authority has not been good enough for the bank and FIDE will experience difficulty finding another institution to handle it’s accounts and this threatens the viability of the organisation. ((http://www.chessdom.com/trouble-for-chess-as-swiss-bank-account-closed/))

Although both Weiqi (Go in America) and Chess are board games there are major differences between the two. The following encapsulates the drastic difference between the two games:

R. Saxon, Member of a GO club in Tokyo (3k). USCF B rated at chess
Updated Mar 14 2017

From my experience, GO players are far friendlier and more polite than Chess players, who are prone to both trash talk and to gloating after a win. This is especially true for club players and younger players. Chess players may engage in gamesmanship to psych out their opponent. I’ve known quite a few superb Chess players that were real nut cases. More than just a few, actually.

That has not been my experience with GO players. GO players are almost always successful and well-adjusted outside of GO. GO players are willing to say with sincerity that they enjoyed a game that they just lost. I don’t recall a Chess player ever being so gracious.

The nature of the game is a good indicator of the personality of the players that like them. Chess is an attacking game in which you try to control the center. It’s very direct and may be over quickly if a player makes a mistake. The idea of a “Checkmate” is like a home run or a touchdown. It’s a sudden and dramatic moment that appeals to a particular type of person.

Chess appeals to people who like to attack and who savor the win over the process.

GO, on the hand, is a slower game which starts at the corners and edges and only gradually moves to the center. It’s extremely complicated, but in a subtle way. GO strategy is indirect. It’s a game of influence and efficiency more than a game of capture. The best players are those that know how to sacrifice pieces for territory elsewhere or to take the initiative. Making tradeoffs are key. There’s usually no “checkmate” type moment or fast victory.

GO is a game of patience and position. It appeals to very bright people who don’t expect to win quickly but who are willing to earn success one small step at a time. GO players enjoy the process as much as the win.
(https://www.quora.com/What-do-chess-players-think-of-Go-and-Go-players)

There are many Chess players involved with Go. Natasha Regan,

a Woman Chess International Master who has represented the English women’s team at both Chess and Go, says: “When I learnt Go I was fascinated. It has a similar mix of strategy and tactics that you find in Chess and, with just a few simple rules, Go uncovers a whole new world of possibilities and creativity. Chess players may also find that they can use their Chess experience to improve in Go very quickly. I highly recommend learning this ancient but ever new game!” (https://www.britgo.org/learners/chessgo.html)

Consider, for example, this by Mike Klein: “Many cultures have nationally popular strategy games, but rarely do top chess players “cross the streams” and take other games seriously. That is not the case with GMs Tiger Hillarp Persson and Alexander Morozevich,

who long ago claimed the top title in chess, and who both now take go somewhat seriously.” (https://www.chess.com/news/view/chess-go-chess-go-morozevich-beats-tiger-in-dizzying-match-2272) Check out Tiger’s website and you will see annotated Go games along with Chess games (https://tiger.bagofcats.net/). Chess Grandmaster Alexander Morozevich

plays in Go tournaments,

and holds Go classes.

(https://chess24.com/en/read/news/morozevich-on-go-computers-and-cheating)

AlphaGo has done for the game of Go in America what Bobby Fischer did for the game of Chess when he defeated the World Chess Champion, Boris Spassky, in 1972.

The number of people playing Go has increased dramatically in the past few years. After the world-wide release of a new movie about Go, The Surrounding Game,

the number of people playing Go will increase exponentially. In a very short period of time the game of Go will be unrivaled, leaving all other board games in its wake.

Sometime around 1980 a place named Gammons opened in the Peachtree Piedmont shopping center located in the section of Atlanta called Buckhead, the “high-end” district of Atlanta. In was a restaurant/bar, which contained tables with inlaid Backgammon boards.

I quit my job at a bookstore and began punching the proverbial time clock at Gammons, which closed at four am. The Backgammon craze burned brightly for a short period of time, as do most fads, such as putt-putt. Few remember the time when putt-putt was so popular it was on television, and the professional putters earned as much, if not more, that professional golfers.
(http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/24/magazine/putting-for-the-fences.html)

Although quite popular for centuries, Chess lost its luster after the human World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov, was defeated by a computer program known as Deep Blue,

a product of the IBM corporation. The defeat by AlphaGo, a computer program from Google’s Deep Mind project, of first Lee Sedol,

one of the all-time great Go players, and then Ke Jie,

currently the top human Go player in the world, has, unlike Chess, been a tremendous boon for the ancient game of Go, which is riding a crest of popularity, while interest in Chess has waned.

I have wondered about the situation in the world considering the rise of China and the decline of the USA.

For example, consider these headlines:

China’s Rise, America’s Fall by Tyler Durden (https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-10-25/chinas-rise-americas-fall)

China’s rise didn’t have to mean America’s fall. Then came Trump. By Zachary Karabell(https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/11/15/chinas-rise-didnt-have-to-mean-americas-fall-then-came-trump/?utm_term=.59f66290ffff)

Is China’s Rise America’s Fall? by Glenn Luk (https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/01/03/is-chinas-rise-americas-fall/#41bd7a0d1e5f)

Also to be considered is the stark difference between the two games. It could be that the people of the planet are moving away from the brutal, war like, mindset of a war like game such as Chess and toward a more cerebral game such as Go.

“While in chess or in Chinese chess (xiangqi)


http://georgiachessnews.com/2018/01/09/why-you-need-to-learn-xiangqi-for-playing-better-chess/

the pieces with a certain preordained constraint of movement are on the board when the game begins, the grid is empty at the opening of the Weiqi game. During a chess game, one subtracts pieces; in Weiqi, one adds stones to the surface of the board. In the Classic of Weiqi, the author remarks that “since ancient times, one has never seen two identical Weiqi games.”

“In Written in a Dream, the polymath and statesman Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072), a magister ludi, captures the depth and mystery of Weiqi: “The Weiqi game comes to an end, one is unaware that in the meantime the world has changed.”
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-gosset/weiqi-versus-chess_b_6974686.html