A few stories worth remembering
There’s a question I’m often asked and love to hear, “What was your biggest win?” Not quite as interesting seems to be the question, “What was your greatest loss?” However, I have a simple explanation for the reluctance to answer this question: diplomacy. One would like to know, also to convince oneself that one has rightly chosen a “solid” profession. However, people ask me about my biggest gain, and simply deduce the orders of magnitude of the gains and the losses.
Now I take the opportunity to tell you about that too. And I remain unsparing, also towards myself. So the bad losses are represented just as much as the high profits.
a) The first and the second time
So my betting career had begun. The 1990 World Cup was the start. The 1990/91 season, as described above, I checked my assessments with the help of theoretical bets at 9 bookmakers. At first, there seemed to be no business to be made with the sales. So it was a case of betting myself. Maybe after a few years or a few successes on my part, one or the other would contact me to ask about my system.
So, in the second half of the 90/91 season, I started betting with cash, regularly and with the intention of making a profit. The available capital was 25000 DM. So I deposited amounts with some bookmakers so that I could play there. Now, success is not to be expected immediately and one must also reckon with losses.
So I meticulously worked out my bets. I placed the bets, at that time mostly by telephone, in England and Austria. All bets were recorded in the computer. They were almost exclusively system bets. Combination bets were more promising than single bets anyway because of the combination of advantages. And they were packed into the system in order to get money, i.e. notable sums, on the selected games as well as to keep the swings somewhat lower. The advantage works out optimally, so to speak.
So at the beginning I had about 6000 DM in use week after week. Now, of course, one is curious to see the results. I had bet games all over Europe. Result services did not yet exist. Video testing already existed, but I had to buy a TV with video testing first (1992). But the results of the foreign matches were not yet shown there anyway. I did everything I could to find out the results somehow. That was also due to the initial excitement.
I sometimes called bookmakers late at night to find out something. Some of them knew me after a while. I got better and better at calling the right man at the right time.
But I still remember how I was kind of disappointed week after week when I heard the results. I used to think “Oh, wrong game too.” Then I set about doing the accounts. And often, to my surprise, I found that I had won anyway. It fluctuated between 300 and 2000 DM per week. Sure, there were also losing weekends, but overall the result was clearly positive. So the system seemed to work, the numbers of the theoretical bets were confirmed by practice.
So it happened that one weekend I had once again placed my bets, as usual. A friend, Andreas, already had teletext and he knew a lot about my bets. So he knew that I had always played the away wins in Switzerland. But I couldn’t find out about them on Saturday (yet) and went to sleep at some point. On Sunday morning, my phone rang at an unusual time. Andreas: “Do you already know the Swiss results?” Me: “No, tell me.” He: “All the away teams have won.”
The night’s rest was abruptly ended. I noted the results and compared them with my bets. And felt the really big excitement for the first time. This looked promising. What was certain was that I had some of the game right. But it’s often about the combination of bets, how they were put together. But it seemed to fit. One bet was already producing a big payout. I even shied away from calculating the payout. The odds are naturally usually higher for away wins, they were after all outsider tips. And high odds produce high payouts.
The Sunday matches were still to come. But in the one bet, three games from Denmark were still open. I spent the day like a child spends a Christmas Eve: killing time. It was hard to find out the Danish results either, not until Monday. However, in the afternoon I had a flash of inspiration: a former colleague of mine was Danish. And I had his phone number. I called him and reached him. A Danish daily newspaper? He wouldn’t know. But I could call his mother in Denmark. She also spoke a little German and could certainly help me. I also reached this woman. She couldn’t help me with the results. But she gave me the phone number of one of the biggest Danish newspapers, Berlingske Tidende.
Shortly before 5 p.m., kick-off was at 3 p.m., I called the newspaper. I spoke English. They wanted to know who or what I was. Journalist? From where? No, football enthusiast. And indeed, one of them took the time to give me the results.
How should I describe my feelings? At most like this: Child on Christmas Eve comes into the room for presents and – nothing under the Christmas tree, not a single present. All three results wrong!
Now I was forced to do the accounting. The profit was still 3000 DM. The disappointment prevailed. And then I added to my pain by calculating the possible winnings, with one, two or three correct numbers. This time, by the way, they were rather favourite tips, i.e. smaller odds. Nevertheless, the winnings increased steadily to over DM 20000 if all three had been correct.
Wounds are relatively easy to inflict, even open ones. But do you have to drill around in them?
But fate continued to be kind to me. Or is there such a thing as “luck of the fittest”? Anyway, it wasn’t that long before I had a similar experience. I just consulted my database and found out: it was the 13th matchday of the 1991/92 Bundesliga season. So then in autumn 1991. On this matchday Bayern(for the last time until today, 12.7.2008) lost a home match against Borussia Dortmund. 0:3. I had bet Dortmund, high odds, over 6.0. I watched the match, as was usual at the time, on Sportschau. Then the next game: HSV – Wattenscheid. I had Wattenscheid. Odds: 8.0. Result: 0:1, Wattenscheid also won. Huge odds, that promises profits. Then came the evening games. I had again bet on the Swiss games, again almost all games on an away win. There was already a results service. I was sitting in the restaurant with my girlfriend Elena, heavily in love. But I had to call the newly installed results service in Bielefeld, after the games were over.
And that’s when the receiver really fell out of my hand: it was a tape announcement that was listened to. And it goes pretty fast, I tried to remember everything. But one thing was certain: in Switzerland, almost all the away teams had won again. I didn’t know who I had where, what the odds were and so on. But I had a few for sure, and the winnings that were already in the offing were bound to be much bigger. But first the potential for the Sunday games! In principle, it is then the case that you are already guaranteed a good profit, but still have (too) high amounts on the remaining games. But that is the whole point of system betting (see chapter “My System”). You get into a state of intoxication. The food tasted good, the wine tasted double and afterwards it can even be sex…
All my bets were of course placed in system bets (see chapter “The betting market”). In one bet, for example, I got 7 out of 9 games right. But the other two still took place on Sunday! The payout was already several thousand DM for sure. But what if another one came up? Or even both? So it looked very favourable in all system bets. But I deliberately did not check the already secured payouts. I also didn’t want to rob myself of this extra tension or increase it artificially. This time, there were also considerably more Sunday matches on which there was still money.
I spent the Sunday afternoon quite relaxed this time. And this time it suited. I was at a friend’s house, still in the understandable state of intoxication, and saw on Sportschau in the summary of the second division (south) that Halle also won at Mainz! Another 7.0 odds. This time, the reckoning was a feast. The results came in, the computer did the calculations, it was already automated. Result: 92,000 DM profit! For me it was only half, the other half went to Abi, but 46,000 DM felt really good for a start. On Monday I went shopping on the Ku-Damm. Suit, shirt, tie, shoes, but only about 1000 DM.
b) The negative highlights
1) Porto – Feyenoord
Unfortunately, the stories with the big negative swings are less spectacular. The problem is simply that you often have a bad run over a longer period of time, so that the effect is that you have “lost a lot”. But that is just the sum over a longer period of time.
Nevertheless, there are of course individual games that have cost a lot of money. Since I promised to do so, I will of course tell at least one story.
Late one evening, the match FC Porto – Feyenoord Rotterdam was on.
European Cup 1993/1994. My computer had advised me to pay a rate of 1.90 on Porto. The reason was relatively simple: although Porto was the better team, the computer thought (not entirely without reason) that there would be few goals. Now the effect when there are few goals is always that the rate on the draw becomes small (the 0:0 danger, but also the 1:1 is still “low-scoring”) and thus the winning odds on both teams increase. Of course, the favourite odds as well. I was still relatively young in the business and trusted my computer.
Today I would perhaps have somewhat greater doubts, but at that time I was prepared to “pay” the rate of 1.90 on the market. It was a second leg, the first leg result was a 0:0. Had my computer not just fantasised about the lack of goals after all?
In any case, the kick-off times in Portugal are often quite late anyway (time difference; Portugal is in the extreme west of Europe, but who am I telling). The swing on the game for me was 30000 DM. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the teletext. But there was a complete recording of the game on Eurosport, albeit time-delayed. So I waited until 11 p.m. and then I could watch the whole game. The game was a bit slow. No action, actually no suspense, if it wasn’t for…
In the second half, a Feyenoord player was sent off. Oh, what a fright! A little later, however, one for Porto as well. Score unchanged, 0-0. The ref didn’t seem to have anything against me either, it seemed. There couldn’t really be any more goals. There wasn’t even a chance to score. Then the injury time finally came. It wasn’t shown at that time. But it couldn’t be much longer. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd minute of injury time passed. There was still no sign of the final whistle, but also no sign of a goal. The 4th minute was over. Now he has to blow the whistle. As I said, it was boring for the neutral spectators. Without any goal chances. I have noticed that the referees like to blow the whistle earlier for such “extended” scores. Because: the players have to play (probably; and I use this word here) 30 minutes longer.
So 6 minutes were up. I walked back and forth in the room (interesting, by the way, my further feelings here; because: the result had already been decided. So it wasn’t identical to a live game after all). Now he has to blow the whistle. He has to. The 7th minute was over. Neither a chance to score nor the final whistle. You know what happened: Suddenly, in the 8th minute of injury time, Porto had another chance, and … in it, 1:0, final whistle.
It cost me (in the swing) DM 30,000 plus a bed plus my foot, which was still healthy until then. Because: When the ball was in, I kicked my bed with all my might. It collapsed and my foot was also ruined…
As I found out much later, it was the game with the longest injury time in the history of the European Cup (until then)…
c) Werder Bremen – RSC Anderlecht
It seems to me that whenever history is written, I am at the “receiving end”. Sure, I took the exact date from the internet again. So it was not so much the date as the event that was historical. It was 8.12.1993. I had a lot of money on Anderlecht not losing the game. The first half was in a way a one-way street. Because: only RSC Anderlecht scored goals. And three in total. Well, a 3:0 lead at the break sounds quite comfortable, doesn’t it?
The first 21 minutes of the second half also went in Anderlecht’s favour. It was still 3-0 and then history was written. Another chapter, at least. And one from the category “Werder’s legendary European Cup performances”.
66th minute 1:3 Wynton Rufer, 72nd minute 2:3 Rune Bratseth, 80th minute 3:3 Bernd Hobsch, 83rd minute 4:3 Marco Bode and 89th minute 5:3 again by Wynton Rufer. Cost for me? Approx. 40000 DM (in swing). Of course, nobody (in Germany) is interested in the fact that Luc Nilis missed a great chance to make it 4:4 shortly before the 3:5. When the German tanks start rolling…
The fact that I had to experience the second half “on the side” during a family reunion between my brothers and my mother, and that I didn’t want to or didn’t have to let on anything at all at the time, has by no means changed my feelings for the better. It was sheer horror. And all of Germany still raves today when Werder play in the European Cup again. Did I lay the foundation for that? “Will there be another one of Werder’s legendary performances today?” The announcers always say in a voice full of meaning.
d) Bayern Munich – Manchester United
Who doesn’t remember that memorable, dramatic, incredible 1999 Champions League final? And whenever it comes to mind, I begin to philosophise: Will I win a game like that in reverse? I imagine my team being behind until injury time and still scoring 2 goals. But that alone would not be enough. There would also have to be 25,000 DM at stake.
In any case, it was a game I had been thinking about for a long time. I remember too well how I went over the game with my good friend and colleague Robert Rabiega, chess grandmaster, even before the final pairing was decided. They were two of the big favourites. And we went through the game player by player, position by position, as the BILD often does nowadays with big games. And we came to the conclusion: this game is absolutely even. If Bayern doesn’t even have minimal advantages. But that was my exclusive opinion. When ManU then turned around the second leg at Juventus in the semi-final after trailing 0:2 to win 3:2, the betting market shifted in ManU’s favour. Such a one-off performance is rewarded, sure. But in my opinion, it was overdone.
But you have to know that I have absolutely no inclination in favour of German teams. It’s rather the opposite, but not out of dislike. It’s more because the market usually has a little too much respect for German teams. I often find it a bit more difficult to make an objective assessment than for other games, admittedly. Is it the abundance of information that one inevitably gets via the media, is it bias or just another confirmation of the saying “the prophet counts for nothing in his own country”?
But objectivity is always called for. And here the result was clear: ManU is not favourite. But it was quite clear on the market: ManU was traded as the clear favourite. So it was clear: I had to play Bayern. Of course, there is no compulsion to play such a game expensively. But nevertheless, there are a few criteria that justify it. These are a) the absolute certainty that I cannot make a mistake in my judgement and b) the certainty that such a game cannot be manipulated under any circumstances.
I also made another fatal mistake: this game was so clearly and unambiguously in Bayern’s favour and ManU were not in the game. The missed chances, and there were at least two crystal-clear ones (including Effenberg’s shot from the crossbar), were hardly relevant. All that was left was to blow the whistle. And I sat down at my computer, in my boundless naivety and stupidity, to settle the bets, when suddenly… the ball hit the net after a corner. Cost: 15,000 DM (swing). I couldn’t look any more. And when the ball actually hit the net again in the last second of injury time (first goal: Scholes, second goal: Sheringham) another 10000 DM were gone.
Well, what do you do in such moments? I spared my bed and my foot this time. This time I fell into apathy. Then I lay down on my bed and began to philosophise. The musings then look something like this: There are so many people who have really bad fates. Some are no longer with us, others have serious illnesses, one is missing an arm, another a leg. No, my fate, although it feels like it at the moment, is not the worst in the world.
So you have to pick yourself up again, move on. And not in panicked actionism to get back the lost money, but the same work as the day before.
But the tragedy of Champions League finals is that it is often the last game of the season. Or should I chalk that up to a happy circumstance? No chance to do any more stupid things? Anyway, you don’t have a chance to make up for it any time soon, to win again. You have to have patience. And discipline. And a thick skin. And if possible, enough money to still be able to go on holiday.
e) France – Italy
It may be that this game has faded a little in the general memory, unless you are Italian. And I am Italian, so to speak. In any case, it was the Euro 2000 final, with France as the favourite. But I had already picked Italy and bet on them to win the tournament, before the tournament. Because in my opinion they were underestimated at that time. But in the final I had no choice: although I had Italy anyway because of the previous bets, I still had to replay them. A miscalculation is a miscalculation and a profession is a profession.
So it was again a matter of 25,000 DM. And Italy was good, Italy was better, although underdogs. Italy also took the lead. And now it is almost proverbial bad all over the world and for every team to fall behind against an Italian team of all teams. That’s what happened to the French. They were strong, they had a few chances. But they didn’t manage to equalise. But even if they did equalise, I still wouldn’t have lost.
Then again: the injury time. This one was also almost over. Then there was a scene that I’m sure hardly anyone but me noticed in that form: An Italian, according to my recollection Delvecchio, stopped in the opponent’s half after an intercepted Italian attack. He pulled up his socks, exhaustion? Anyway, I practically shouted at him to run back or leave the field (he was standing near the line-out). But he stayed inside. Italy, for their part, intercepted the French attack. An Italian kicked the ball forward, as one does in such situations. The referee’s decision was clear and correct: offside. The man was standing inside the field, regardless of whether he interfered with play at that moment. France gained possession of the ball. 2:30 over time, the last attack, the last shot on goal, in, 1:1.
Extra time. What had to happen (is that what I should say?). Anyway, the score was 2-1 and France were European champions. Another black day. And, deserved or not. Who wants to argue about that? The money was gone, that was all that mattered, at least to me.
f) Borussia Mönchengladbach – Werder Bremen
Another example from the recent past. In this summary, I try to mention only those matches where something absolutely extraordinary happened. And, I like to give you a little insight into “gambler’s lingo” every now and then. This is also the case here: When someone believes the win is already certain and, regardless of whether or not he still has an influence on the outcome. One then likes to say: “He has already been shopping with the money.”
So one is no longer concerned with current events. In your mind, you’ve already gone shopping. Wow, so much money. What can I buy with it?
So I have already been “shopping” in all these cases. Or is it just a catchphrase? But I really had no means of control. Does that change anything? Or was I just not aware of them?
It was towards the end of the 2006/2007 season. Borussia Mönchengladbach was already as good as relegated. Only a miracle could still save them. But if the miracle was to happen, Werder Bremen had to be defeated on that match day. But I had played Werder to win. Werder had the game under control the whole time and were leading. It went into the final phase. I had long since switched to the conference on premiere to keep up with the other games.
Werder was not my only bet, but (only) by far the most expensive. Anyway, shortly before the end the reporter called out: “Goal in Mönchengladbach, goal in Mönchengladbach.” I got a fright and just thought, “Please don’t.” It would have been better to say “Final whistle in Gladbach.” Because then I would have won. But the fade-in came. It was a goal, but it was a goal for Werder. 3:1. I didn’t listen any more, moved (once again) towards the computer, which I always do at the end anyway. Because the results have to be entered, the bets settled and so on.
In this case, unlike the CL final, there were other matches that had already finished.
All right, the other results were not favourable, but the Werder victory meant that everything was in order. Guaranteed win, that was clear. But suddenly, all the games were finished, and I won’t forget this hysterical scream so soon, the voice rolled over this time: “Goal in Gladbach, Toooor in Gladbach, Goal Goal!!!!” At first I think: “Well, what’s he shouting about? If it’s a goal, it’s 2:3 or 1:4, but why all the hysteria?” But then the shock: “2:2. Unbelievable. 94:30 over time. There were only 4 minutes on the clock. But we had to add something to it. Nando Rafael to make it 2-2. And at the same time, the final whistle.”
What had escaped me was that Werder’s goal (which, by the way, was later proven to be absolutely correct) was not given, so it was still 2-1. And it didn’t help Gladbach anyway, they were hopelessly relegated. My money was gone.
Difference for me: 15000 Euro.
g) USA – Colombia
World Cup 1994. And there was a surprise even before the World Cup: A qualifying match between Argentina and Colombia ended 0:5. Carlos Valderrama was the playmaker, Adolfo Valencia the goal scorer. “El Tren” had played for Bayern Munich since 1993. And then Pele said a sentence before the World Cup: “My secret tip for this World Cup is Colombia.”
You can imagine the consequences for me. After a few days, the secret tip was no longer so secret. On the contrary. All the weathermen who thought they were worth a damn played Colombia. But most of them played it regardless of the course. Because Pele has spoken. And that is comparable to Winnetou.
Further consequence: price collapse on the market. Indispensable then for every professional gambler: count the money, pull your wits together and find the correct amount. The betting formulation is also clear: All against Colombia. That’s just how business works.
Of course, the amounts were spread over various events. Colombia should score as few goals as possible. Colombia should score as few points as possible in the preliminary round. Colombia should be eliminated as early as possible, and so on. But also quite specifically in individual matches they should not win, better still lose.
And then came the game: USA – Colombia. Colombia had already lost to Romania (curious story here by the way: I was supposed to play in the German championship in Subbuteo, a little-known table football game, but where I was allowed to play in two World and two European championships. My club chairman, Marcus Tilgner, was determined to persuade me. But it was the World Cup. I agreed on one condition: He had to take his video recorder with him and record the games taking place at the same time. He promised. And, one man, one word: he did. So we played the German championship together, team, returned to the hotel late in the evening, waited for the final whistle of all the games and then watched the recorded games all night long. Among others, Colombia – Romania. Result: 1:3).
So the second game was very important for Colombia, they had to win it. They had to. And whoever was responsible for it or how it came about: The final result was 2-1 for USA. The final result was sealed by an own goal by the Colombian Pablo Escobar. And I quote here verbatim what I just found on the internet about it:
“In the preliminary round match against the USA team on 22 June 1994, Escobar scored an own goal; Colombia lost 1:2 and was eliminated from the tournament. A few days later, on 2 July 1994, Andrés Escobar was killed with 12 shots outside a bar in Medellín.
The perpetrator, Humberto Muñoz Castro, may have been acting as a disappointed, angry fan, or as a contract killer for the Colombian betting mafia. In any case, it is suspected that the reason for Escobar’s murder was that own goal. Muñoz Castro was initially sentenced to 43 years in prison in June 1995, but was released in 2005 for good behaviour.”
As tragic as this goal was for Colombia and even more so for this man: it brought me a profit of about 50000 DM at that moment. Colombia was out, Colombia had lost the game. And I didn’t yet know about the later misfortune.
But my guess was similar: someone had probably lost a little too much.
Did the match now deserve to be included in this chapter?
h) Brazil – France
I have really good memories of the whole 1998 World Cup. But the final best of all. And once again I used a famous gambler’s saying myself: “Up in the run.” The World Cup went well, in every respect. Spain was going to be out, that was the most important thing. And Spain is out. With a 0-0 draw against Paraguay in the preliminary round on the last matchday. A win would have been enough to progress, but it remained 0-0.
Then Holland – Brazil. Bergkamp scored 1:1 in the 86th minute. Although Holland was eliminated after extra time (advancing would have been even better), the goal was worth its weight in gold and at that moment I was amazed at my jumping power, which I had never noticed in football: I easily reached my ceiling with the jubilant jump, but only this once.
Then came the final. And in most cases so far I have been able to interpret market developments and movements. In the case of this game, it remains a mystery to me to this day. Why was Brazil the clear market favourite? The individual players, well, here Ronaldo in top form, but there Zidane, couldn’t be that? And on top of that, a home game for France? And then Ronaldo was also questionable on match day. So it was a lot, a very lot. 8,000 DM, that was the swing. But still: 3:0 for France, Zidane scored twice with his head (!!), won almost without sweating. It remains memorable.
Admission here only for this reason: How did the market assessment come about? Why should Brazil be favourites in this match? Inexplicable. But: I was proved right.
i) Real Madrid – Odense, our bench
In the blissful days when individual bookmakers exposed themselves with their odds offers and thus in some cases forced turnover, there were far more attractive bets even for the professional gambler. A single vain provider, who was convinced that his odds were “correct” and would secure him long-term success, was happy to take higher bets as long as the money lasted. Maybe he got rich in the process, that may be. But for me it was an El Dorado. The dissemination of the odds of other providers via the internet did not yet exist and anyone who was self-respecting and played manfully trusted his odds. Even if, as proven by my winnings, not every odds was “right”.
Anyway, there was once a bet offer on Odense at Real Madrid in the European Cup of 20.0. And weighing up all the pros and cons – this rate had to be too high. Especially as it was the second leg and Real Madrid had already won the first leg 2-1. So according to European Cup arithmetic, even a 0:1 would be enough for Real to advance. I just checked the database on my computer: The match took place on 7.12.1994. My computer did indeed see Odense as a gross underdog. But the fair odds were 11.30. After all, with a pay rate of 20.0, one can speak of a substantial advantage. But first the assessment has to be right, and if it is, the game still has to end that way.
But of course, if you play a lot of games, one will come up more often, even and especially one with high odds.
Anyway, we thought about how we could make the most of the advantage. After all, the provider had a combination obligation, i.e. at least three games had to be combined. For this purpose, we came up with a very special “system”: We chose the biggest outsiders as “bank plays”. Anyone who has ever made a bet with a bank will surely shake their head now. “Bank plays” are usually the plays that are considered the safest. So a lot of players who bench games naturally had Real Madrid as their bench in such a game – excuse me, against Odense of course. But our bet was set up with Odense as the bench.
The point of it was this: This was the only way we could place enough money on Odense. We were quite comfortable that if Odense did not win, we would be left completely empty-handed. It was the only way to take advantage with reasonably high stakes.
Now, of course, a few games in the system were combined with this bank. And the course of the bet was then like this: games in Spain are often kicked off a little later. As a result, some results were already fixed. The course of the overall bet was rather favourable. But now we were waiting for the result from Odense. Everything would be for naught if Odense didn’t….
And, sure, I wouldn’t be telling the story if it wasn’t…. Anyway, Odense actually took the lead. It was 0:1. The game went into the final stages. And for this case we were “secured”, so to speak. Because: Now Real would certainly not risk anything to get the equaliser. They would rather try to “hold” the 0:1. After all, they were in the next round despite the “embarrassment”.
That was just the additional advantage that we had just taken into account with the character of the game. But do you know what happened now? The Englishman likes to describe it with the saying: “they didn’t read the script.” Odense had indeed not read the script, so had not resigned themselves to their predetermined fate and in injury time … scored the 0:2 – Real was out, Odense was on. And we were about 65000 DM richer after the reckoning…
j) The Superjackpot
Nowadays, the betting business has shifted a lot. All the nice system bets no longer exist. The odds offered by the normal bookmakers are no longer competitive. Besides, you simply can’t get enough money on the games with the traditional bookmakers. The amounts are limited.
So most of the betting business is done by Asian bookmakers or betting exchanges (chapter “The Betting Market”). And there is also a shift in turnover to live betting. If you are not quite sure about an assessment or have only bet a smaller amount at first, you can still replay something live if the performance of the team you want to play convinces you from the start. As I said, however, you have to be quick with that. The others see the same thing.
Nevertheless, the chance of winning a jackpot or even a superjackpot remains. But while it used to look like this, for example, you play a system bet 3 out of 9, even with a few higher odds, and all 9 come in (chapter “My system”). Then, even with the traditional bookmakers, where you could not play the bet expensively (in fact, there used to be payout limits often. This sometimes meant that one had to play the bet in such a way that, if possible, the payout limit could not be exceeded. This inevitably meant that you could not play too high). But it could still happen that you got paid out 20,000 DM on a bet with a stake of 500 DM.
That used to be the jackpot.
Today the dream course is like this: For example, you play an underdog. At some point, the underdog takes the lead. That’s what you hoped. But one would already win if the team did not lose. Now the clock is ticking. The opponent presses, is superior. Then, 20 minutes before the end, you make an insurance bet. Partly out of concern and partly out of conviction. The insurance bet goes like this: I bet that there will be (at least) one more goal. But if there is one goal, you only get half profit. That is usually the case when you play the “over”, i.e. on goals, 20 minutes before the end.
Now what you feared happens: The favourite scores the equaliser, 75th minute. But: The starting position is still not so bad. You would still win with a bet on the underdog. This bet completely. The other bet on “over” has already been won, but only half. Now you decide, again partly as insurance, partly out of conviction, to place another bet on “over”. But the line has now changed. Now you already win the bet completely if another goal is scored, the line is “over 0.5”, translated, from the time of the bet, so any goal is enough to win completely.
Then the miracle happens: the underdog scores the winning goal, 2:1, and you have won all the bets you placed before and during the game. That is a modern super jackpot. Why do I never hit it?
After this little digression, I will now tell you the story of the real superjackpot. But this one, contrary to what you might think, was actually a superjackpot. It was a backgammon tournament in Monte Carlo in 1988.
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. 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: in the past it was 6000 FF, the equivalent of about 2000 DM, nowadays it is 1000 Euros. 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 is held in Las Vegas every year. 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.
But there is a super jackpot. The entry fee is even higher than in the tournament. And it is constantly being expanded, there are new options. Those who are eliminated can buy in again and so on. But the last time I played seriously, in 1988, there was only one Superjackpot. Participants were limited to 64. Entry fee 8000 FF. But I didn’t pay it all myself. I paid in 50% of it. The other 50% I distributed among companions who were happy to do so. Because: I wasn’t all bad.
The tournament began. In the first round I had one of the Behrend brothers. They always appeared with cowboy hats and cigars. Surely they had not made their fortune with backgammon. Their move selection was rather emotionally 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 by yourself is that you usually have spectators, even downright 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’s brought what you ask 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. I still fought Nack until 6am. And I won that match too.
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” (already a legend during his lifetime).
Of course I was already a legend. Only: Nack didn’t know about it yet. I also kept it to myself. Nack was better, quite honestly, I still won.
Then finally sleep, but not too much. Restlessness, excitement, one was gripped by the usual adrenaline rush. Sleep until noon, some food, then to the beach, a bit of relaxation and exercise. In the afternoon, the semi-final against Crespi was on the agenda. At least there was already some money to be had as a semi-finalist, that was for sure. 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. There was already a stone of his there, so he only had to close the point if not…. I needed a 2 very badly, otherwise the match was over. I threw the dice, no 2s. 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 throw brings. I wonder if it was at that moment that I remembered the saying from Barclay Cook’s backgammon book: “There’s always God on the next roll”.
So I rolled, the dice rolled, they came to rest. Crespi was also an experienced player and didn’t let on when my roll put all the checkers on the bar. 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, but they didn’t play so well themselves. 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 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 provoke a mistake. 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 with the realisation of 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 game for money or for “unimportant” decisions. But suddenly they didn’t anymore when there was a lot of money at stake. Then the players always became very “tight”, firm, afraid and then thought “Nah, that’s too dangerous for me. Afterwards he’ll hit me and I’ll lose. I’d rather not risk it.”
So it came to exactly such a game situation. I decided that it was right to let the shot go now. 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. That was also the justification for not leaving the shot early. Who knows if I’d even have to leave one on the next roll? The term that came up again was “calculated risk”. Calculated risk. There is always a chance. Weighing up the chances is always the most sensible thing to do. When are they best? But the book was also from the 60s. So I decided to take the “men’s train”. Now to take the calculated risk and not to trust in God in the next throw.
So I bravely left one stone open. Eric needed a 4. If he hits, he is favourite. 3-1 would also do. But, as usual, I didn’t look at his roll, he moved and didn’t hit the stone… that probably meant: he had 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 wouldn’t have been enough, that’s for sure….
k) Almost broke the bank
It was 1999, the beginning of summer. But the UI Cup was already on. And that was all you could find on the betting slip at the time of year, at least in terms of football matches. Ok, some Scandinavians were playing through, true. But otherwise? Pickles.
Still, as usual, my computer spat out a few games for me to bet on. I gave these to my partner, Christian Plenz, he is to this day, by phone. Christian, make something of it. He placed the bets and told me the bets. All right. Only, as luck would have it, one game came after the other. And on top of that, we had hit some really high odds. It was going so to speak. Then, on Sunday afternoon, HSV played Basel at home. We had bet Basel, odds 8.0. Well, if that game comes now too? The maximum payout was quickly calculated. But suddenly the phone rang. Christian. “Yes, I forgot to tell you something.” “What’s the matter?” “I played all the games again for myself in a small combo as Superheinz. Very small though, really.” “Aha, why is that? You can’t do that.”
We settled the bets at that time in a ratio of 2:1, so he had one third of the bets, I had two thirds. We quickly calculated what would happen if…. The result was as follows: If Basel wins the game, the betting office can still pay out the bet in full. We had played at William Hill in England. There the maximum payout was DM 250,000. The payout if Basel won would have been DM 180,000. But after that there was still one game open: Tampere in Finland. They had an away game. Odds: 5.0. What if they also won?
Well, that was the next problem. But first we wanted Basel to win. I watched the game, but already somewhat excited. Because Basel took the lead. HSV pressed. Time was running out. And indeed: HSV didn’t manage to score any more goals. Final result 0:1.
Now negotiations had to start immediately. Because: if Tampere still won the game, the bank would be broken. Now we had to agree on how to divide the money. Because the payout would only not have been possible because Christian had made this extra bet. And if I had then claimed the full part on the other bet, he would have won much less. Nevertheless, we quickly came to an agreement. I don’t remember how, but agreement is agreement. The theoretical value of the dispute, I still remember: it was about 60000 DM, the ownership of which would not have been clear if Tampere had won.
Shall we thank fate now? Tampere played 1:1, we “only” won the DM 180,000, which we divided, like everything else, in the ratio two thirds / one third.
Since then, Christian has had a scene, I think the final whistle, of the HSV – Basel game as a background picture on his computer…