Rolling the Dice in Paradise

High-stakes backgammon players flock to Monte Carlo to pit themselves against the competition and soak in the opulence

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But even Nahmad, a man who could easily weather any backgammon loss, has his limits. He remembers playing once at the Monte Carlo Beach Club, gambling for $500 a point. The doubling cube was at 16 and he was concluding a set of games, preparing to roll dice with a likely outcome that would leave him ahead by 98 points or down by 48 points. "It was 50 percent either way, and a $75,000 swing," he recounts. "Plus, I was playing with a German who is always lucky against me. I don't know why, but he always seems to win. So I decided to settle—in a deal that was not in my favor—against somebody who uncannily beats me. Sometimes you get superstitious."
I can't help but wonder if Nahmad tossed the dice anyway, just to see what numbers would have hit. He shakes his head in the negative, squints into the morning sun and checks an incoming cell phone call. Rolling for fun, he explains, would not have been the same as rolling for real; he would have rolled the dice differently and the outcome would have been completely different. Then, before taking the call, he adds one other lesson that crosses over from backgammon to life: "Sometimes you have to hold back and not be so curious."
Michael Kaplan is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.
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