The course of the years 1987-1990 was not at all as boring as appearances might suggest. I was not capable of true and pure solidity anyway. And my life as an employee also had its peculiarities.
First of all, the pride of getting a job at all, and immediately at that, prevailed. However, I readily admit that it was during these years that the term “software crisis” made the rounds. The term arose from the fact that the capacity of computers, i.e. hardware, increased exponentially compared to the ability to use this capacity, i.e. software. Software was needed. All the big companies hired staff over the years who knew how to program.
Nevertheless, my degree with a grade of “Very Good” had brought me a few promising offers. Without much hesitation and without using my “negotiating skills”, which were non-existent anyway, I decided in favour of those who so kindly and accommodatingly applied for me right away and signed the contract with the Alcatel subsidiary SEL, Standard Elektrik Lorenz. Why the name was immediately familiar to me had a simple explanation: in company chess, where I had been playing since 1974, first at the post office and later at IBM, we met SEL often enough that I even knew the company premises very well.
Just this year, however, I had not yet rejoined IBM’s corporate chess team for the well-known reasons. The SEL chess officials took advantage of this circumstance and after a few days at work, a colleague from the chess department came to my desk and asked me if I, as an employee, would now like to represent the SEL colours on the chess front. I wanted to. And today, 30.12.2008, I have just played the first games of my 22nd season for this company. I’m sure you won’t disagree with me if I call that “loyalty to the club”?
And because I’m so busy “flattering myself”, I can also mention here that we’ve won the Berlin Company Team Championships twice and the Berlin Company Team Cup twice.
Well, uh, what was the title of the chapter again? Oh yes, that wasn’t really the topic here. But the detail I’m telling you now doesn’t belong here either. But my enthusiasm for work was really great and I enjoyed the work a lot. We developed software for the company’s own software developers. That sounds strange? But it was. It was the so-called “tools”, tools that the developers who were at the customer could use. So we only worked in-house. On the other hand, this guaranteed certain freedoms: “Oh, you’re with the tools? You’re good.” That’s how it was. Four of my colleagues were exclusively English speakers. And I was really good in English (all English people please “read away” or at least stifle your laughter for the moment) “and I mean it.” There was a simple reason for this. School itself was, after all, only a necessary and mostly annoying duty. I learned what I enjoyed. And that was in the last five years of school … yes, that’s right, chess.
Chess itself had the advantage that you could really play it alone. In the past, this statement always caused astonishment, I assume that it doesn’t meet with such astonishment in your case? If it does, let me explain: you take a chess book and play the games it contains. But there are also purely textbooks. There are opening books (“ugh, ugh”) and strategy books, endgame books and also biographies. In short, there is regular chess literature. What I could get, I read, studied and even analysed myself. All on my own. But I wasn’t particularly fussy in my choice of books. This had the consequence that finally led to the topic: I also read English books.
And I was gripped by a strange form of ambition: I looked up every word that I didn’t understand individually in my dictionary, which I always had at the ready. It may be that it slowed me down a bit at first when I was studying the book. But in the time that followed, even later in the English advanced course, it earned me the somewhat flattering and far exaggerated nickname “the walking dictionary”. Even my teachers, who had long been sympathetic to me at the time (their professed sympathy was surely hypocrisy), sometimes used me as such.
Would you like to hear another little anecdote? Once again, as is absolutely customary, I showed up at 8:07 a.m. for the first lesson on Saturday, including the English lesson. My teacher, still Mr Baker, didn’t seem that surprised or gruff. On the contrary. He greeted me in an absolutely friendly manner with the words: “Oh, thats progress.” I was first allowed to translate the as yet unfamiliar word to the class as “progress” and I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you any more that I had obviously been a bit more late the weeks before. So I seemed to be on the right track…
So my English was fair. The office language was essentially English. And not enough with my mere “ability”. I just liked the English. That has continued to this day. Humour seems to be in the blood of every Englishman anyway. English football gave me a lot of pleasure. And I was also taken with the English sense of tradition. They had already made ample atonement for the “stolen” 1966 World Cup; I had long since switched sides in later duels. The Germans are lucky, the English the opposite. That made them even more likeable to me.
As for humour, I can give you an example right now: My nearest work colleague was Geoff Portch. We had many things we worked on together. One of them was to be a tester for one of our tools. As a tester, you have the following task: you have to anticipate absurd user errors, so you have to treat the programme badly, if possible, in order to find errors. If you have developed it yourself, such behaviour is repugnant to you. But you get used to it. You want to find errors. These are then meticulously written down (the so-called “error reports”) to be presented at the next team meeting in front of the whole team and to initiate a bug-fixing process.
I once entered a really absurd sequence of key combinations. In this way I actually managed to provoke a crash. I showed this to Geoff, who was sitting next to me. His answer: “What would you like that programme to report: Please, take that monkey off the keyboard?” (What should the error message be: ‘Please, take that monkey off the keyboard’?). However, to this day I am still waiting to get that error message once. Every author is challenged: He would certainly have the laughing success with me. What about you?
The English have it in their blood. They don’t even have to think about it. If I may give you another example, now that I have put you in such a good mood: Much later, we all went out to dinner together at a Subbuteo tournament. Of course, I was sitting next to Simon Goodman, you guessed it, an Englishman. Then two latecomers arrived, but we had all already ordered. Starter, main course. The waitress came very kindly to take the order of the two newcomers as well. Sören (who had obviously already eaten), however, ordered an ice cream sundae while we were waiting for the salad. Simon immediately whispered to me, “Wonder, what he’s gonna have for main course.” He was asking himself the question that just occurred to an Englishman: what would his main course be if his starter was an ice cream sundae? You have to admit: at that moment you ask yourself the same question. British humour. Brilliant. Uncomplicated.
Geoff was, of course, a self-confessed Liverpool fan. And for those who don’t remember that year, the book and film “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby is recommended, the film even in case you ever want to see a well-constructed and acted Subbuteo game. However, Nick Hornby was on the other side in the novel. He was the Arsenal fan. On the last matchday of the 1988/89 English Championship, it came down to Liverpool – Arsenal. And it was the time when Liverpool really dominated the English League. Liverpool were virtually champions. A home game against their rivals, a final if you like, but Liverpool were even allowed to lose the game 1-0 and would still have been champions. The dramatic showdown of the suffering Arsenal fan in front of the home TV: Arsenal actually led 1-0, but the last minutes, seconds were running. Nick Hornby had already stood up in his jacket and full of despair, most likely to get drunk senseless with his mates in the next pub, when they glanced back at their TV on the threshold. Arsenal on the attack, surely the last attack. Then all you see in the film is them falling over each other… the ball was in! 2-0 to Arsenal followed by the final whistle. The first championship since 1971! 18 years of waiting had come to an end. Anyway, the subsequent pub visit and booze-up now had more enjoyable reasons….
So Geoff didn’t have his best the next day. He had my sympathy though…
Back to the plot. I started work in September 1987. The first three months were the trial months. I got through them well and was taken on. In 1988 I had to think about holidays for the first time. It had to be carefully planned. But there was a veritable staccato of tournaments. One after the other, from the beginning of June, there were the backgammon tournaments in Berlin, which was still possible because it was a weekend. Then Hamburg, which cost a maximum of two days’ holiday, followed by St. Tropez, which took 5 days, the tournament including the journey simply took longer, and in July, of course, San Remo and Monte Carlo one after the other, which “cost” 10 days’ holiday.
1) Berlin 1988
Berlin was my “home game”. In those years, the tournament was held regularly at the Palace Hotel at the Europacenter.
The parallel love life with the acquaintances Andrea and Sabine, which normally would only cause me worries, rather inspired me this time. Whereby the term “love life” possibly awakens the wrong associations. Because it was only amorous beginnings, dates, or even dinner and candlelight, romance ok, but no sex please! I always took my time. Well, you will say, certainly inevitably, because what woman would want to…? But I myself was more moved by the thought: Decide, and if sex, then only and exclusively with one.
Nevertheless, there was no room for such “worries” for the duration of the tournament. On the contrary. Sabine was also there, we talked, she played herself and also watched some of my matches. Andrea did not play backgammon and was not interested in it. But as long as I played, I was in another world anyway.
There was also a “treat” at the end of the tournament: all the finals were played in the Spielbank Berlin! The casino had hoped that this would have a certain advertising effect, apart from the fact that some of the participants who had been eliminated from the tournament might still have a few marks to their name…! And for the participants, and even more so for myself, it was of course a reward to be able to play in such an exclusive atmosphere. And I’m sure that even a layman looked over my shoulders, possibly with some admiration. An advertisement for our game as well?
So for me, that increased the motivation even more. But that doesn’t mean that luck will fly to you or anything. But if you concentrate fully, you might be able to tickle out a percentage point here and there. And maybe that will be the deciding factor in the end? The luck of the fittest, so to speak?
In addition, a colleague of mine from work came to watch the game as well. And although I seemed to be gaining a foothold in the world of work, a combination of the two fields of activity was certainly a boon to me. When I spotted colleague Peter Schneider on Monday morning and asked him about his no-show, I received a rather curious answer: he had been banned from entering. The initial astonishment on my part soon gave way to the following realisation: I knew a gambler named Peter Schneider from the gambling scene. And I even remembered that he had imposed a gambling ban on himself, at least for Germany. Without him ever having told me: such an action is definitely lacking in uniqueness and is usually a consequence of all too high and persistent losses. The players do it out of self-protection. So Peter became a victim of a certain frequency of names. Incidentally, he adopted the name “von Oeynhausen” a short time later. This was more than just a “tongue-twister”, especially for our English-speaking colleagues…
But Peter actually missed something: I had reached the final in two events. One was the Consollation, the other was the Superjackpot. There are certainly people who deserve more regret at this point than I do. Because I only got into a deadline stress. The finals were to be played at the same time. The fact that a single player would appear in two finals was not foreseen by the organisers. Apart from that, it was the case at the time that there were no time limits. And it was not only the case that some players liked to take a lot of time over the board when making their moves, no, even going out to eat can sometimes take more than two hours in these illustrious circles.
By the way, the 7-course menu served during the tournament was a serious rival to Monte Carlo. The dinner took place on Friday evening as an introduction and to get to know the participants.
My luck was good in every respect on that day: my opponent in the superjackpot final was Frank Kirschner. Even though my arrogance kept telling me that only a few could take me on: There were hardly more than a handful of players where I discarded this pompous demeanour. Frank was one of them. He was my equal.
And at this point I simply have to tell you another little anecdote about equality, so that you can also assess it correctly: The legendary chess match between Köhnlein and Burletzki in 1908. Burletzki was a feared coffee house player, Köhnlein a recognised master. The match was to be played to 6 winning games. Köhnlein won the first game. To which Burletzki replied: “I made a stupid Fällär.” (You guess which nation Burletzki came from?). The second game went to Köhnlein. Burletzki: “You can’t win all the games.” The third game was won by — Köhnlein. Burletzki: “I am not in form today.” The fourth game with the same, familiar outcome. Burletzki knew, however, “Är is not playing badly.” Strangely enough, Köhnlein won the fifth game. But Burletzki had an explanation: “I underestimated him.” The match was decided after the sixth game when Köhnlein won. And now it was clear to Burletzki what everyone had known for a long time: “I think he is my equal.
So you see what form of equality certainly united me with Frank. But he seemed to be subject to similar misconceptions and was ready to share.
So I preferred the Consollation Finale in terms of time. Possibly I had already agreed to split here as well. In any case, we both played quite quickly, it was long after 1am anyway. Then the match against Frank. The division had long been agreed upon. A total of 33,000 DM was divided. However, we agreed that the loser of the match had to raise 500 DM for a common cash box in a “roulette attack”. Well, the casino closed at 3 o’clock, we played the match in a rush, I was the (irrelevant) loser. We got 16500 DM each. With the DM 500 I just had time to play a plein: All on the 29, of course. The 17 won…
but that was only for dramatic purposes. In retrospect, I asked myself what would have happened if the 29 had come? And in view of the “ridiculous” prize of “only” 17500 DM, which I would have had to share, I didn’t really care. One speaks of “perceived wealth” or does “megalomania” fit better?
Of course, Hamburg also had a fixed place in our diary. As I said, we were in a time when a small “backgammon boom” had started. There were more and more tournaments. The problem that no money prizes could be paid out had been solved by a clever lawyer with a little trick. Only once, in Bad Wiessee, were we prevented from holding a tournament that was already ready to start, even by the police. Was the casino there also worried about the “new generation of losers”? Bavaria just… you thought backwards, but only for that.
Hamburg was my favourite city anyway, right after Freiburg. I had to go there, without question. I don’t have such concrete memories of the tournament itself. Lack of success? But of course I remember the Superjackpot, which was always held in parallel. The term “Superjackpot” came from the amount of the entry fee. And the organisers liked to experiment with that. Short surveys of the participants and then an entry fee was fixed. There were often many small jackpots. That was ideal for new participants. You could then sign up for a 20 DM, a 50 DM or a 100 DM jackpot, which were constantly played out. But there was one big jackpot. The entry fee was simply 1000 DM. Let’s see (after enquiries) who signs up and how many there will be.
In Berlin there was already a field of 64. Of course, it was always best and really fair when there was a field of two participants. No free lots, everyone had to get through the same number of rounds. In Hamburg, there was only a field of 32, but still. With an entry fee of 1000 DM, you could win half as much as in Berlin.
However, as a substitute for my superstition, I had my own and even human mascot with me. Nils, an equally well-known but more poker player at the time, was always with me. And it became a habit that he was allowed to “share” part of my entry fee. So he gave me DM 300 and got a 30% share of the winnings. In return, I was allowed to send him for coffee, water or a snack.
In principle, Nils was allowed to do everything. And a professional like me, he’s not superstitious, no, no. But in the semi-final against the famous Jürgen, an absolutely strange game happened. The game was played to 11 points. I was 0:2 behind. Jürgen had, as always, set up one of his notorious backgames: All his 15 stones were in my home board. When Roland Ekström was once confronted with this game strategy in the “Jürgen” version, he said: “How am I supposed to get into my house?” Well, on the other hand, the destructiveness may discourage the opponent from playing his pieces into the home square and then playing them out. But the goal of the game is to be the first to play all your pieces. And in the backgame, one is far away from this goal.
Jürgen waited for his shot, I began to gradually play out my stones according to the rules. The dice had long since been doubled, of course. And in such an artfully constructed backgame, Jürgen had of course “bitten into” the dice, beaming with joy, and thus accepted it. The disadvantage with his strategy in this particular game, where all his checkers were with me, was this time: if he gets a shot and hits it to boot, he is still a world away from winning the game. Because of course he hasn’t built up a position that threatens me with his 15 pieces. My captured piece immediately starts its journey home unhindered. He then has to hit it again and again, and the game may drag on. Very well.
What’s more, in this position he had so many stones on my 1 and 2 point that I almost couldn’t leave a shot at all, at least not a double one where he would have had two chances to hit. But I aided his plan in the sense that I rolled a double 1 in a position shortly before the end with 4 of my own pieces left. I couldn’t roll that at all, he could play enough stones out the back and I let the double shot he was longing for (if you can hit a stone with two different numbers, according to Adam Riese, the chance of hitting it increases from 11/36 to 20/36. We check this: if only the 1 hits, the rolls 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5 and 1-6. 1-1 is only one combination, because both dice have to show the 1. The others all show up twice. Which die shows the 1 and which shows the 2 is irrelevant. So there are 52 = 10 combinations. 10 + 1 = 11. The total number of throws is and remains 36. It is 11/36. If the 2 hits, then only the combinations 2-2, 2-3, 2-4, 2-5, 2-6 are added. 2-2 is one, the others are two each, 42 = 8, 8 + 1 = 9. So 9 throws are added. So to roll a 1 or a 2 is a number of 20 out of the total 36 combinations of throws. That makes 20/36, which is already more than 50%). So Jürgen had the 1 and the 2 as hits, and he scored.
The game started to get long. There was (still) no trace of tension. The hit stone is placed, starts its journey home and, God willing, is met again on the way back, the patrols are on their way. At some point, I even managed to advance my other two remaining stones to the 1, so that it could not be hit under any circumstances. But Jürgen’s strategy worked in so far as he could actually slowly build up his ponderous prime and move it forward. Now, even if he managed to actually capture the stone completely, close his home board and start to dice out, even then my chances of winning would still be 85% (I eagerly await reader letters on this figure).
He actually succeeded. It may just be poetic exaggeration, but to the best of my recollection it was starting to get light outside again…. The dice began to roll. He kept taking stones out of the middle, completely missing, which left me with shots. That itself is not directly the problem. The problem comes in the follow-up roll. You can’t close the gap again. For Jürgen, such considerations didn’t matter. Either it goes well, or it doesn’t go well, This time it went well. He took out stone after stone. Due to the bad strategy, my chance of winning was never less than 50%, despite catastrophically bad rolls. Finally, when he had already played out a lot of stones, I came in after all. Without a hit, of course. My stone “crawled” around the board, the standard throw was probably 2-1, the smallest possible. Before his last throw, Jürgen actually had a redouble!
I can still see the position in front of me. A short calculation, however, resulted in the only correct decision: it was a take, I clearly had to accept the cube. One smiles a little, but rather inwardly. The tabletop survived the whole thing only because of my subsequent intervention: Jürgen rolled a double 5. With this roll, he was able to roll all his remaining 4 stones at once. The question of the odds was clearly answered: Jürgen had won the 4 points, was now leading 6:0. I saved the table top that Nils wanted to bite into by sending Nils off the table. I don’t need anyone to spread negative vibes.
The match then ended undramatically with an 11:6 victory for me. I was somehow a monster. Even if it was only a lucky monster. So I put the biggest unlucky match of my life into a match, which I subsequently won, hands down. All because Nils wasn’t there, the sourpuss…. Or are you looking for a moral? Luck can’t be measured and when you have it, you don’t appreciate it or something?
The final was reached. My opponent? Frank Kirschner. It was really late by now. And we were still friends. “Do you guys wanna split?” “Sure, we split.” About DM 8,000 each.
On a day like that, you could have made a spelling mistake. That is, if you were asked: “Do you actually know how to spell ‘Pech’?” Did you find a mistake?
That was really one of the most beautiful tournaments I have ever played. But that was less due to the tournament itself and more to the feeling of being in St.Tropez. This time there were four of us. Nils and Micha had been with us practically all the time over the years, and Roland had also come along to this tournament. As I said, the game was booming and was constantly gaining new players, including newcomers. Roland was usually a croupier, but then almost inevitably learned the game as well.
Somehow one of us had heard that you could rent a house for the duration of the tournament week and that it was even cheaper than a hotel. The person had the right connections and we decided on this form of accommodation. And that was quite a decision! The owner of the house was probably away on a trip and one has to ask oneself in all seriousness, which place in this world could he ever prefer to this dreamlike property?
First of all, the house itself was a dream with its Mediterranean décor. It may be that all the houses there are furnished like this, but I had never seen anything like it before, let alone up close. In addition, the house had so many rooms that we each had our own. Well, but in St.Tropez in early summer, you only stay indoors at bedtime or when the sun is too hot.
But the view from the house and its huge garden over the bay of St.Tropez made the stay inside seem even less palatable. It was simply gigantic. The 200 m walk to the beach would have been easy if it hadn’t been for the swimming pool right in front of the house. So there was plenty of time to cool down at any time of day. And I, at least, made ample use of it. It simply doesn’t get any nicer than this.
But if you think: It all sounds great, but compared to a hotel, if you live in a house, you have to clean up every day, go shopping, maybe even cook yourself or something? Far from it. There were a few house servants, obviously included in the price, who really took care of all these tasks. But they were not just simple employees, they were beautiful young ladies who even provided you with a bottle of champagne almost without being asked to do so, in addition to the already bombastic breakfast. In this mood and condition, we gratefully accepted this offer. It was simply part of the “savoir vivre”.
So the mornings were really pure holiday enjoyment in this way. The late afternoons were of course reserved for the tournament. But backgammon players, unlike chess players, usually have peace of mind. They know how to live, they have money, they don’t talk about it. And playing, even the tournament itself, is just a sometimes welcome diversion. That means that there are no fixed starting times. You arrive at the tournament hall at some point, you look for your opponent and if you don’t find him, then perhaps after half an hour you ask the tournament management to please call out his name. Then there are two possibilities: The person answers the call. The match can begin. Or he does not answer the call. Then the match cannot begin. No drama, the tournament management also has a calming effect on the person waiting: “He will surely come soon.
If someone then refuses to show up, the tournament management will start to award 5-minute penalty points at some point, but only at the request of the person waiting. This means that if the non-participant shows up after another half an hour, he or she will be 0:5 behind in the worst case. This is not seen as a drama either. It is also possible, see above, to be down 0:6 in another way and after a much longer time (and still win the match).
As already mentioned, the tournament itself was only part of the action that attracted players to such events. Those who had a “good game” might have devoted themselves exclusively to that game and foregone the tournament altogether. They just met among players. And there was gambling. By the way, we played a lot of Rommeé at the same time during this tournament. And if you’re interested, who was usually ahead? That’s right, one of the players wasn’t called “Rommeé-Micha” for nothing. But Micha always knew how to make the game so entertaining that you just had to play along. Due to my lack of skill in this game, I had to organise other forms of financing this pastime.
And for me, those were the jackpots. At least that’s how it worked out. I also won the biggest jackpot in St.Tropez. With an entry fee of 3000 FF, this was comparable to the one in Hamburg with 32 participants. But the organiser even managed to set up another jackpot with 2000 FF. The winner was somehow already predetermined?
Well, the mornings are described above. The afternoons and evenings were played. It can’t be pure coincidence that the saying was invented: “Food and drink keep body and soul together. So at some point in the evening, it was time to go out for dinner. There was absolutely no fixed time. It was simply that at some point the tournament hall noticeably adapted its condition to that of the stomachs: It became empty(er). Then it was decided that it was time to go out for a meal. “Where are you going today?” “Oh, we found a little restaurant by the harbour. Are you going?” “Yes, well, wait, I’ll tell the others.” So every evening the tribe of our four found themselves at some restaurant with a small group of other players. It wasn’t until the evening before last that Micha and I agreed on a kind of “regular restaurant”. The hospitality, food quality and view were simply the best there. The others followed our example. Even the payment was nothing to worry about: you simply ordered what you wanted to eat or drink, no matter who was there. In the case of champagne or wine, there might be a short vote, this one or that one. Otherwise, everyone “al gusto.” Even the staff knew our form of “communism” by now. At the end, a bill was served. This was divided by the number of pimples on the face, no, nonsense, by the number of fellow diners, and the result was the sum that one had to pay oneself. Should I call it macho behaviour or the behaviour of true gentlemen that the number of ladies did not appear in the quotient?
The inevitable “icing on the cake” for the staff was provided by the odd 20 or 50 that was added, in francs of course.
What could have surpassed the feeling of being alive? And: Can you imagine sitting at a desk in an industrial area in the smog of Berlin for a monthly wage of about 3000 DM net one or two days later? Maybe you can’t, but you did…
4) Monte Carlo
Our small travel group set off again at the end of June/beginning of July. We drove with Michael’s Mercedes 560 SEC. Nils was with us, Roland was not this time. Micha had already had quite a successful playing career before we met and he always managed well. And Nils had me for the last few weeks. I still remember that this time I set off with about 12,000 DM in my pocket.
The drive to Monte Carlo is beautiful, Austria, Switzerland and later the Cote d’Azur with really beautiful views along the coastal road. But still, the journey can’t be done in one day without stress. We had not imposed any time pressure on ourselves. And we still had a would-be card counter and blackjack player with us. So our journey led us “by chance” via Constance. This form of coincidence only deserves the inverted commas because there was a casino in Constance and thus a kind of magnetic effect. Stopover. Of course, the other two had long known about my calculations and also about the possibility of beating the casino with the game. So why not try…?
I remember our performance very well. But that only concerns the memory itself. The term “worst” would be more accurate for the content itself. We each changed 3000 DM at the table. Then a whirlwind swept over us and within half an hour the stock was more than halved. Michael and Nils left me alone for a short while “to go to the toilet” in the casino, which was crowded but not overly so in the early evening. I had done the card counting anyway and also had to make the important decisions on their two boxes (by eye contact or also announcement). The two of them were certainly very unhappy with the way things were going and did not hurry to return.
What I learned from them a short time later: they had changed 400 DM without further ado and bet at roulette. I am dependent on their reports, as I had to “hold together” our meagre remaining group at the same time, but I have no reason to doubt their accounts. And they were like this:
The 400 DM were set to black. This was only logical insofar as Nils had not been given the nickname “the black man” for no reason at all. His clothes were composed exclusively of this “non-colour”. Hair, eyes and complexion were uniform in this sense. As for the underwear, however, I lack detailed knowledge. The ball came to rest in a black field. The stake was paid out but not collected. So 800 DM remained on black for the next coup (that’s the name of a game). Black again. This amount was also duly paid. 1600 DM were now on the table. A quick flash of inspiration from Micha, Nils gave his ok, but turned away from the table for the next roll, because Micha placed the entire set over on red. Micha has already given proof of his prophetic abilities elsewhere (see chapter “A true prophet”). No doubt, red was coming. Well, a short visit to the toilet and a net profit of 2800 DM sounds good, doesn’t it?
But the two were not yet satisfied. The entire 3200 DM were placed back on the lucky colour black. And I ask you very briefly: What would come in the bad film and what in the good film? In a sense, it was a bad film. Black came!
After all, Micha owed his “wealth” not only to his playing skills. It was also otherwise not easy to read his temporary sensitivities on his face, which may well be a “guarantee of success” in gambling. Poker face is more than just a term. Nils, on the other hand, was quite different. Even with the greatest of effort (did he?), he was unable to suppress his emotions, which were boiling high. This applied to both positive and negative ones (you remember the tabletop I saved?). The one or other dice cup, however, became a victim of his recognisably quite great powers in other places. He simply crushed it when it refused to come up with the right numbers for him.
When he won, Nils became tame and lamblike, well-behaved. But even then he couldn’t hold back the broad grin on his face with the greatest of effort. So I would have found out anyway that something special had happened, so the two of them didn’t even bother to keep it a secret. They had just won 6000 DM, 3000 DM each.
Although I myself am naturally devoid of all feelings of envy and resentment (did you hear a throat clearing just now?), it was not so easy in this situation. I exposed myself to the combined misfortune at the gambling table with the noble intention of making a few bucks for us with an advantage game, and the two of them steal away, leave me alone in my misery, slam huge sums on such a sh…game like roulette and are also rewarded for such disgusting behaviour! Me, begrudgingly?
Is the choice of words possibly treasonous as to my true feelings about the evening? The Black Jack game ended immediately, of course. My loss was almost DM 2000, the two “got away” with a profit of over DM 1000 each. The hurricane had only wreaked havoc on one side….
So we spent the night there and the only thing standing in my way of continuing the journey the next day was insomnia and depression. Luckily I didn’t have to steer the car and Micha guided us unerringly to San Remo.
San Remo doesn’t just sound Italian. The hotel was just as fantastically situated opposite the beach. Here, too, the need for seawater was covered by the hotel’s own pool to the extent that it also provided cooling and the swim did not take so much time. The tournament took place in the same hotel. The memories of it are rather vague. But a few events outside the tournament were worth remembering. Back to Italy: Micha’s car was parked in the hotel’s own garage. Well, a 560 SEC was not exactly a standard car. So it was only parked there for one night.
Which or how many hotel employees had their fingers in the pie is not known to me. Nor do I know how many cancellations were made the following night. But the parking time had probably expired sometime during the night. Many weeks later, Interpol rediscovered the car on a ship in Amsterdam shortly before it was to be transported to a distant country. The insurance company, of course, immediately provided us with a replacement vehicle. So we remained “authorised”.
In addition, I remember the casino of San Remo, which of course also exists and is even famous (Sean Connery alias James Bond was once there). San Remo really is an ancient and venerable casino. I could confirm the “old” at least in the form of the audible creaking of the floorboards. Otherwise, the dress code was rather lenient. Let’s say there was practically none. Anyone who felt like it went in and out of there. That only makes it less interesting for me in that it means it’s usually well to very well filled. Too good, in other words. It’s crowded and noisy. But the atmosphere itself is not quite as homely as we were used to in other casinos.
The Black Jack offered there was interesting in terms of the rules. But I had a problem with the conversion. You always had several million lire in front of you. In addition, we could play several boxes. I really don’t remember the maximum bet, but it was probably around 50,000 lire. But I know one thing for sure: we got away relatively unscathed this time. And I fought off the insecurity when we sat down, as well as the not so great pleasure of staying: we only went there twice, and rather briefly at that.
San Remo was also just a prelude to the actual big event, because that was the World Championships and they took place in
5) Monte Carlo
In Monte Carlo, everything is simply at least one size bigger. After all, the organisers even managed to give their tournament the title “World Championship”. And that is also recognised.
So this is how it works in Monte Carlo: Officially, it is the World Championship in Backgammon. But there is no qualification for it, everyone can play who is willing to pay the entry fee. The winner of the championship flight is crowned world champion. And somehow it sounds quite good: Backgammon World Champion. So quite a few players from near and far are attracted to chase this title. The entry fee, however, is not quite insignificant: formerly 6000 FF, the equivalent of about 2000 DM, nowadays 1000 Euro. But still: for many players, it can even be considered a small amount. For a proverb is true in the world of the rich and beautiful: You don’t talk about money. You have money.
But the entry fee is not automatically lost when it is paid. On the contrary. It is paid out 100 %. In addition, you pay a little something to the organiser. After all, the organiser wants to make a living. So every participant dreams not only of fame and glory, but also of big winnings. As a tournament winner, one can not only call oneself backgammon world champion (even if only for one year; the world champion has never defended his title), but also, at least temporarily, “wealthy”. Depending on the number of participants, of course, this fluctuates. But 100,000 DM was not uncommon as a first prize in the past. This year, 2008, there were 199 participants. There were a little less than in earlier years. Nowadays there is a poker boom and the World Poker Championship takes place every year in Las Vegas. That’s where the gamblers are.
Well, there is a lot of side action. Heaps of “gambler” in one place, many of them wealthy to very wealthy. They want to gamble. You can go to the casino. But you’re also there to play backgammon. So there are jackpots. Daily, constantly running. You can play backgammon day and night. Of course, you can also play for money, as usual, or for jackpots. For the players who got knocked out of the main tournament, for example. You are never “out”.
The mini-jackpots run practically around the clock. Entry fees fluctuate, there is something for everyone. But there is one super jackpot. That’s where the entry fee is highest, even higher than in the tournament. The last time I played seriously, in 1988, there was only one super jackpot (today there are other big jackpots; you can buy your way back in once you’re out and so on). The number of participants was limited to 64, and the entry fee was FF 8,000. But I didn’t pay it all myself. I kept 50% of it, the other 50% I divided among three others, one, as always, Nils. And even Abi, who was also there that year, got a share. He wanted to like it and he was allowed to. A third was really a loyal fan and I gave him 10% too.
The tournament started. 1st round I had one of the Behrend brothers. They always appeared with cowboy hat and cigar. Surely they had not made their fortune with backgammon. Their move selection was rather emotionally (I almost said randomly) controlled. Nevertheless, such opponents are often dangerous(er). They are carefree and fearless. And my experience, more a kind of feeling tells me that they are also capable of developing more luck.
Nevertheless, I wrestled the opponent down, it was a contested match all the same. Second round I met Gerd Schiesser. He had already been my opponent in the final in Hamburg, in the first tournament I won, in 1984. The golden dice. And Gerd was not necessarily everyone’s friend. He was the one who looked into the cup during the match to try to make his luck a little in his favour. The referee who was called in stopped all attempts. Gerd behaved decently. Very decently, in fact. He lost the match.
In round 3, I had to play Michael Svobodny. The first American. And also ex-world champion. Mike has a legendary reputation as a gambler. But still, Mike, don’t be angry with me, I never saw your backgammon at the highest level. I was also able to defeat Mike. By the way, the advantage of not paying the whole entry fee is that you usually have spectators, even fans, at the board. And apart from the fact that it’s a psychological help, you also acquire the right to say: please a cup of coffee, please a water or a sandwich. And it is brought what one asks for.
However, time was running out. The tournament had to go on. I had just won the game among the last 16, the one against Michael. My next opponent, Nack Ballard, had given me his room number. I was to call him (if I won) after the match. He would then come down to play. Now it was already after 3am. I called Nack anyway. He was ready to play. He came to the tournament hall. Disadvantage: This time I was really alone. My fans were asleep.
But Nack was not just any player. He was the best opponent I ever had. I had read his book shortly before the tournament: “Reno 1986”. Absolutely fantastic. Really recommendable (at least at the time). I absorbed everything. And you always had to answer questions there about how you were going to play certain moves. When it was solved, you got points depending on the quality of the chosen move or the otherwise given answer. There were even deductions for gross mistakes. The classification after completing all the tasks looked something like this: 0-150 points: Beginner, needs study (beginners, practice a lot). 150-300 points: Average player. 300-450 points: Advanced player. 450-600 points: “Ready to compete in big tournaments” (can play in big tournaments, with chances of success). And then the top category, over 600 points: “Legend in his own time”.
And now I was allowed and had to play against this legend, an idol, in person! Nack had also already made me a legend without his knowledge. But I preferred not to tell him even after the match. Nack was better, honestly. But being better does not guarantee a win.
Afterwards we analysed an important position from the match. And there he presented me with his thoughts. That was really another level. But I still won. How nice that there are dice in backgammon!
Then finally sleep, but not too much. The semi-final against Crespi was coming up. After all, there was already some money to be had as a semi-finalist. But now the stakes were really high. The match went back and forth. But I was just ahead. Then came the decisive game: I was leading 15:13 in the match to 17. The doubler may still be served by both sides. But: If he doubles, I have a “dead die”. Because: He does not have to fear the return. He only has to fear that I will win this game. But he has chances until the end. I can never “double him out”, no matter how superior my position is. He doubled. Early. I took the double. But I got into gammon danger (gammon is a game where one side has rolled all the checkers and the other has not yet rolled any). If I lose Gammon, the match is over. He would get 2*2, so 4 points and would have won 17:15. I stood on the bar with 2 or 3 stones. They have to be thrown in. But his home field was almost closed. Only the two-point was still open. But there was already one of his stones there, so the point was “half made”. I urgently needed a 2, otherwise the match was over. I threw the dice, but I didn’t get a 2. Stay cool, pick up the dice, calm, Axel, it’s on. If he makes a 3 now, the last point is closed. Then it’s over and done with. He threw. I didn’t look, but not like a football coach at a penalty kick for his own team, but because it was my trick anyway (see chapter “Backgammon”).
He started thinking after his throw. Aha, no 3s there. Then draw something, I need a 2 anyway.
Now there are players who shake the dice cup particularly violently on important rolls. Others throw rather calmly. I tried to ignore all thoughts. Roll the dice and see what the roll brings. So I threw, the dice rolled, they came to rest. Crespi was also an experienced player and didn’t let on when I used all the stones on the bar with my throw. It was a double 2! The most valuable throw of my whole life. But that was mainly because of the small chance and the gigantic swing it triggered.
The game turned around. I immediately got the advantage and won the game and the match. FINALE!!!
In the final, I played Eric Seidel. Another top American player. But I was also in great shape. He had several of the other top American players around him. They wanted to beat me together. I had, and even in the final only partially, just a few fans around me. Otherwise, the tournament was over. The final was one of the last matches of the whole event. Anyway, I was also in the lead. The decisive game came, the so-called “double match point”. Eric had the “Crawford game”, which is the game in which one of the two players is just one point away from winning the match (so the score was 16:14 for me, the game was played to 17. In the game, the player behind is not allowed to double for one game. This was considered “unfair” at some point and the “Crawford rule” was introduced accordingly). But my opponent had won the Crawford game, so the score was 16:15. So the score was 16:15 and he was allowed to double again.
He even took time out before the game to consult with his friends on how he should approach the game. But I knew what he had in mind. He wanted to delay the doubles to set a trap for me. But his strategy didn’t work. He had to double and I still got the advantage.
Then came the decisive situation. I only had a small problem in exploiting the advantage. And I had read Barclay Cooke’s book carefully. It said, “Leave the shot early.” So you should leave the shot early. I have always followed this rule. With others, it seemed to me that they knew the rule and also applied it, but only in the normal money game, not in the tournament. And especially not when it became very important. Then the players always became very “tight”, firm, anxious.
So it came to exactly such a game situation. I decided that it was right to let the shot go. Because: If he hits it now, the game is not yet finally decided. If I have to let him off later, it might be decided immediately when he scores. But Barclay Cooke had the right saying for that, too, but this time it was a Turkish one, loosely translated as “There is always God on the next roll.” So on the next roll, maybe God will help you. But as I said, it was Turkish…
So I bravely left a stone open. Eric needed a 4. If he hits, he’s favourite. 3-1, so the sum of 4, would also work. But not double 2, the 2 was blocked. But he… he missed. The game and the match were decided, even the tournament. In tennis, such a point is called a “tournament point”.
Then I was honoured as the winner and had to go to the casino to receive the money. Fortunately, I had a few helpers to carry it. Because: 216,000 FF in 500 notes? My pockets would not have been enough, that’s for sure…