Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Backgammon Story

                                                             The Backgammon Story
                                                                      A true story
                                          Written 3/2011 and rewritten 02/04/2016 unedited
                                                                     Howard Yasgar

     In 1976, my company API, was looking to find another product line to get into. We wanted to find some other product line besides our basic business of selling automotive electrical parts. At the time, our customer base was primarily selling in South Florida, but by 1976, we were starting to export parts to the Caribbean as well as South and Central America. Many of our new export customers started asking for us to supply them with electrical parts for Caterpillar Tractors. It appears that Caterpillar earth moving equipment was very popular everywhere in Central and South America and they
Thought that Caterpillar was taking advantage of their overseas customers by charging them outrageous prices for replacement parts.
     So this presented us with the possibility of getting into a business of supplying customers with our own alternative parts for Caterpillar tractors at competitive prices, and that’s when I started spending several hours every day, studying all the aspects of the Caterpillar parts system, and it didn’t take us long before we were selling our own replacements for Caterpillar parts.
     It was late in 1976, when we were first contacted by an export company located on 5th Avenue in New York City, the company was called Equipment Spare Parts or “ESP”, and they were exporting heavy equipment spare parts to South and Central America as well as the Caribbean. The Company was owned by an entrepreneur, named Avi Samuels. Thus our company started doing business with ESP, and soon the owner Avi Samuels came by our office in Miami to visit us.
      When we first met Avi Samuels it was hard not to be impressed by him, he drove a sporty Mercedes Benz Coupe, he was impeccably dressed, he had dark hair, and a pleasing Mid Eastern face. He spoke with just a hint of an Israeli accent and he was also wearing a Rolex watch. Avi told us that he owned a condominium in the exclusive Turnberry Isles resort. Avi Samuels gave the appearance and impression of being a very successful business man.
     Before Avi left our office, he invited my partner Don and myself to come and visit him at his New York City office, which was located right on 5th Avenue. As we had already been planning a business trip to New York anyway, we made an appointment with Avi to visit with him and his company.
      When we arrived at ESP’s prestigious 5th Avenue address in New York City, we were very impressed to find it was located in a large elegant old building. It was a building that not only had business offices in it, but it also had exclusive living apartments as well. Avi explained that you never knew what personality you would be standing next to on the elevator, as the building had quite a few famous movie stars living there.   
      After our afternoon meeting with Avi and all of the ESP staff, he invited us to join him at his private club, which he said was just a walking distance from his office. It sounded like a good idea as neither Don nor I had ever been to a private club before, so we walked the few blocks. Avi told us that
His club was not a regular club, it was a very exclusive Backgammon club, and he, Avi, was an officer there, and he was also a competition Backgammon player. My partner Don and I knew absolutely nothing about the game of Backgammon, other than it was some kind of parlor game played for amusement, so as we all sat at Avi’s club, he attempted to explain to us how to play the game of Backgammon. But unfortunately, because we were unfamiliar with the game, we didn’t have any idea of what the hell he was talking about. But Avi, thinking we were interested in learning how to play Backgammon, told us that we were very fortunate, because on that afternoon the president of the Backgammon club, who was another Israeli, as well as the world champion Backgammon player, was there, and he would sit down with us and show us several Backgammon strategies, and he would do it at no cost to us. So that’s when Avi introduced us to the Backgammon world champion, and we all sat down to about two hours of listening to some very boring and highly technical backgammon strategies. But we were finally rescued by the clubs chef, who announced that dinner was being served.
     The following year, 1977, I received a call from Avi who was now, not only our customer but a good friend as well. Avi asked if we would like to join him, he was putting together a group to go to the 1977 “World Backgammon Championship”. He said that the championship matches were being held that year at the Britannia Beach Hotel on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
     It appeared that Avi, must have thought we were going to become Backgammon enthusiasts just like he was. He obviously didn’t realize that we still knew practically nothing about the game, nor did we have any interest in learning how to play it. My partner Don immediately made up an excuse as to why he couldn’t go, but to me, it sounded like a really novel adventure. I always liked Paradise Island in the Bahamas as I had been there several times, always staying at the Paradise Island Hotel and Casino. I had never stayed at the Britannia Beach Hotel which is where the championship was being held, so I told Avi, that I would be more than happy to attend. Avi said that he had already invited two other backgammon friends, who would be joining us.
     On the appointed day, we all met at Miami International Airport, for the short flight to Nassau. Avi introduced me to his two other friends who, like Avi, were also avid Backgammon players. From our conversation it appeared that Avi as well as his friends, traveled all over the world to attend and or play in high stakes Backgammon matches. It became apparent, to me that I was the only one who didn't know anything about what was going on regarding playing Backgammon.
     As we talked on the flight to the Bahamas, I learned that Avi's two friends had accompanied him to the last Backgammon Championship which had been held in Monte Carlo, and they said that Avi had made several hundred thousand dollars there, winning that tournament. I couldn’t believe it, and here I was thinking Backgammon was a parlor game for amusement only.
     They both told me that Avi was quite the personality in the world of Backgammon, a game which I was beginning to see was a lot bigger and more complicated than what I thought it was.
      Once we were in Nassau, we took a Cab over the bridge to Paradise Island, where the Paradise Island Hotel and Casino and the exclusive Britannia Beach Hotel were located. Once we were at the hotel, Avi went to begin checking us in at the front desk, so I thought I would take a walk around. I had walked through the Britannia Hotel lobby before, but I had never realized that there was a giant underground banquet hall, and also many large meeting rooms all located below ground, it appeared that the Britannia Beach hotel was much larger than I had ever thought.
     As I walked, all around me, were hundreds of people just arriving, they were all shaking hands, and hugging each other. I couldn’t help but hear a few of their conversations, and it was all about Backgammon.  It appeared that most of these people had traveled here to Nassau from all over the world, and they were here to either watch, play, or gamble on Backgammon, so as I listened that was all they talked about.
      I was very glad I didn’t meet anyone I knew, as I would have had nothing to say to them. So I returned to the lobby and the hotels front desk, where I could hear Avi, in a heated conversation with the desk clerk, it appears they had no record of our reservations. But to me, that was business as usual in the Bahamas, I had had it happen to me many times before. The Britannia Hotel ended up putting us in a complementary smaller hotel that was down the road but within walking distance from them. They said they would move us into the main building as soon as they found room.
      After we checked into the smaller hotel, Avi said we should all meet at back at the Britannia Hotel
restaurant at exactly 6 PM. He said, it was important that we meet not later than 6 PM, as the opening ceremonies of the Backgammon championship started at exactly 7 PM. sharp, and we all had to be there.
      As it was early afternoon and I had time to kill, I decided to walk over to the Casino next door to try my luck at the slot machines. I had brought about $1500.00 in cash which I felt was adequate to cover any expenses I would incur for the weekend.
      I changed a $100.00 into $1.00 slot machine coins, and started playing several different slot machines. By about 5 PM, I had played most all of the dollar slot machines in the Casino, winning and losing with few winnings to show for it. I then ended up at a row of slot machines that put my back to the front door of the Casino, it was a lucky move for me, as I quickly won a $100.00 jack pot, then I won another jackpot, and another. I started putting coins into the slot machines on my right and on my left and I was winning on all of them. Soon I was winning so many dollar coins that I had filled up the several of the red plastic $100.00 money trays they had laying around. Eventually there were so many of the red $100.00 money trays filled that I started stacking my winnings on top of the slot machines as well as on both of the chairs next to me. It seems as if I couldn’t lose. That’s when I felt Avi's two friends put their hands on my shoulders to tell me we were late for our restaurant appointment. They had walked in the front door of the casino, but I had not seen them, as my back was to the front door.
      As I continued playing, they were making me very nervous, every time I put coins in any of the slot machines, I was still winning, and these guys were now pressuring me to leave the casino. So, when they both saw I was not leaving so quick, they started taking my trays of coins and putting all my winnings in every slot machine they could reach. On one hand I wanted to stop them, but I didn’t want to appear to be a cheap skate, so I didn’t say anything and in about fifteen minutes they had lost all my winnings, then we all went to the restaurant to meet Avi.
      The opening ceremonies of the Backgammon tournament, was located in a large banquet room under the Britannia hotel, there were quite a few round tables set up, with most tables having 10 to 15 people sitting at them. Avi, had one of the tables but it was just for the four of us. We appeared to be the only table in the room with just four people sitting there. Besides from the tables, there were many people sitting along the sides of the room, some were standing as well.
     At the front of the banquet hall, a stage was set up with a podium, and hanging behind the podium were big charts with lots of people’s names on it.
     Avi leaned over to me and said that this was an auction and they were now auctioning off the Backgammon teams. He went on to explain that if you bid and owned a winning team you got to share a percentage of the prize with them. I thought this sounded reasonable, until I heard one of the tables bid $10,000.00 for a team, and worse than that, I saw Avi was also raising his hand in the bidding, and that’s when I got a cold sweat. I was thinking that my share of a $10,000.00 bid would be $2,500.00 which I didn't have. Fortunately for me, Avi was out bid on all the teams, until it came to the last one, which I couldn’t believe he won for only $1200.00, it was the cheapest bid of all of them. My share was costing me only $300.00, I was very relieved, that I didn’t have to wire home for more money.
      Personally, I didn’t understand what the bidding was all about and Avi said that the official top prize for the winning Backgammon tournament was only $3000.00, but the unofficial prizes were hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said that Backgammon gamblers from all around the world were there, standing in that room and at that very moment they all were making or taking side bets, and he said that most of the people sitting and standing were either bookies or multi-millionaire high rollers, and he said he knew almost every one of them. He said that the bookmakers were just now setting the odds, for the millions of dollars that would be bet on tomorrows Backgammon matches. Until that moment I had no idea how serious this all was. Millions of dollars were being bet on a game that I never even heard of before.
      The next day I started watching the individual Backgammon matches, which I found way too complicated for me, I soon gave up trying to figure what was going on. People were watching every move the players made, some were recording it on pads, and some people appeared to be memorizing the moves. Then as each move in a match was played. I heard people recalling moves that were made in some match 20 years ago. There were even officials calling out each move as they were made, and there were official score keepers recording. I tried listened to some of the private side conversations, as they were all talking very seriously about each player’s moves, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, as some of the moves the people were discussing they said had been made many years ago at other tournaments, in other Countries.
    It was all way over my head, so to look like I belonged there, I started followed Avi around. As we walked from table to table, Avi, seemed to know everyone, and they all would shake his hand, like they were old friends. Avi told me that the team we had bid on for $1200.00, was considered the worst team playing in the tournament, which is just as I had suspected, but Avi said, anything could happen in a Backgammon tournament.
      The next day we all went for lunch in the Britannia restaurant, Avi had invited an elderly gentleman from New York that he knew from the Backgammon circuit. As we all sat down, Avi then introduced me to him, because we were sitting next to each other, so acting like I knew what I was doing, I started talking to him. He told me he was a book publisher from New York City, and he followed, and bet heavily on the backgammon championships, he said he attended tournaments all over the world. As he spoke, Avi asked him “How do you feel after having lost $39,000.00 gambling this morning”. The book publisher’s reply was, “I didn't like it a bit, he said, but it won't change my lifestyle”, and to this day, I have never forgot what he said.
     At the end of the day, Avi told us, with a huge grin, that believe it or not, our team came in the money and our share of the win was about $1300.00 which covered the cost of what we had spent on buying the team, so I didn’t lose any money.
      About a year later I asked Avi how his Publisher friend from New York was doing, the guy that we had lunch with that had lost the $39,000.00. Avi said, unfortunately the fellow had died of pneumonia that winter. It appears they had raised the rent on where he parked his Mercedes in New York, so to save his money, he moved his car down the street, and he caught pneumonia walking to his car in the winter. And this was the guy that lost $39,000.00 in one morning, and said it wouldn’t change his life style. He had died to save a couple of bucks parking his car.
      It was quite a few years later after I had attended that Backgammon championship in the Bahamas with Avi. Avi called me to tell me there was going to be a backgammon championship at Turnberry in Miami, and he was going to be in it.
      I attended the tournament with my wife, but this time I parked my car nearby and we left quickly, before Avi had a chance to get me to bid on a team with him.
      I now proudly own a Backgammon game board, but I still don’t understand or know how to play the game.


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