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Backgammon Hustler

In the Jet-Set World of Little Ivory Disks, Impeccable Manners are Essential When Separating a Fool and His Money
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
John Travolta, Jan/Feb 99

(continued from page 3)

Not Simon. "If a guy is going to swim up a waterfall to beat me, I congratulate him, and I do it sincerely. I tip my hat to him. Gambling is like hunting. You can't whine if you have a spear in your back."

Not long ago, Simon was particularly flush. He had spent the previous month in Monaco, playing a Kuwaiti sheik who knew he couldn't win but, on the other hand, didn't mind losing $5,000 an hour to his newly discovered friend, as long as the laughs flowed as freely as the first-growth claret. This particular sheik typically spent about $20,000 a day on hookers; the money he lost to Simon was, likewise, cheap entertainment.

With nearly $400,000 of the sheik's petro-dollars to the good, Simon returned to London, where the director of a brokerage firm challenged him to a match for uncommonly high stakes, $3,000 a point. Knowing the man had exactly zero chance of winning--"he couldn't possibly get lucky enough"--Simon readily accepted, not knowing that his opponent's playing stake was the product of an elaborate embezzlement scheme. Which is why Simon was mortified when the brokerage man, down nearly $300,000 and belatedly realizing that he had no hope of recovering the money, dashed for a nearby window ledge and threatened to jump.

"Of course, I immediately offered the man his money back," Simon recalls. "Well, now he really wanted to jump--honor and such. It was a rather tense moment, this man being several stories above Hyde Park. So, instead, I offered to loan him the money. I assured him that he still owed me, that I wasn't letting him out of his debt. That I expected every dime. But that we could consider it a loan."

The brokerage executive begrudgingly agreed--and has been paying Simon $10,000 a month (approximately equivalent to Simon's monthly hotel tab) ever since.

"Looking back on my choice of profession, I could have made more money as a stock trader," Simon figures. "Much more than what I earn playing backgammon. But," he says, sighing contentedly, "I've met a lot of interesting people this way."

Michael Konik, Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist, is the author of The Man with the $100,000 Breasts and Other Gambling Stories.

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