Jose Alvarez and Jim Pasko
A Study in Contrasts

C.J. Boyer, 1983

From Backgammon Times, Volume 3, Number 1, Winter/Spring 1983.

You won't find Jose Alvarez or Jim Pasko running around with the same circle of friends. That is, unless there's a backgammon tournament like the one held a few months ago at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. Then you're likely to find Alvarez smoking his $20 Havana cigars and Pasko flexing his muscles—each man a contrast in styles and attitudes.

The 35-year-old Alvarez is a wealthy Spanish businessman who drives a Rolls Royce, mingles with the jet set, and surrounds himself with beautiful women.

On the other hand, there's Pasko, a 38-year-old former high school math and physical education teacher, who recently moved from Newark, New Jersey, with his son, Dan, 13. He earns his money strictly by playing backgammon with highrollers and in tournaments. He eyes women with suspicion. Sometimes, confides the divorced muscleman, he wonders if they're more impressed with the fact that he's a well-known backgammon player rather than who he really is inside.

Alvarez isn't concerned with those type of philosophical questions. Nor is he bothered if he loses a backgammon match once in a while. To the handsome playboy, the game is nothing more than a way to break the boredom of his life. And sometimes, he wonders if life wasn't more fun when he was struggling to become successful.

The two things that Alvarez and Pasko do have in common are their attitudes towards women backgammon players and their thorough enjoyment of traveling around the world. Pasko has played in France, England, Mexico, throughout the United States and Canada, Monte Carlo, and the Caribbean. Alvarez has been to all of those places and many more. One thing they've both learned is that most men players around the world do not like to play women unless that have to in a tournament. Pasko explains it this way.

"First of all, I think it's a game with a lot of statistics involved. I don't think they're too mathematical. And I think it's a very tough game. There are some situations where people won't pay. . . .

"There are more women backgammon players in America than in Europe. At least in America, people will play them. In Europe they don't want to play with them, beat them or lose to them. They don't want any part of them."

Alvarez agrees and goes on to explain why he won't play women.

"I never play women. I never like to play with a woman for money. If I beat her it would be uncomfortable, and if I lose to her I'd be more uncomfortable."

When Pasko is not traveling to tournaments he spends practically every night in New York at the popular Mayfair Club looking for high stake games. And while he hates to generalize about European and American players, he says he always prefers to play Mideasterners because they play for more money.

"Here the average is $10 a point," he says. "But the stakes in Europe and the Mideast average from $100 to $200 a point. Then again, I've seen more."

No one takes Pasko's challenges lightly. Rarely does he crack a smile, much less a joke. Backgammon is serious business. When he's between games he spends a lot of his time working out in gyms. Keeping his stamina up and his body in top shape is important to Pasko. That's what makes him almost unbeatable. He knows he can outlast most players.

"A lot of people say they're professional backgammon players, but in reality they're not," he says. "They can go home to their rich parents. It's hard to find professional gamblers who make their money playing the game.

"Being a nuclear scientist would be easier than being a professional backgammon player. I played 120 straight hours in Chicago once. It's imperative to stay in great shape. It also takes self-discipline. And, of course, raw talent. . . . Only the best can do it."

In five years, Pasko says he'll have enough money to open up a first-class body building gym.

"All my money I've won I've put away," he says. "Whatever I decide to do with it I will do it well."

Pasko's cold and calculating attitude has given him somewhat of a controversial and, at times, a less than favorable reputation.

Alvarez doesn't have the same problems. Born in Spain to a middle-class family, he never had to work too hard. Success was never far away. He left home at 17 and ended up in Southern France. He immediately got into the gaming business, saved some money, bought some property and then a restaurant.

Making money came easily and so did everything else. Being 35, rich, and single is nice, he says. Women are always available and no country is too far away or too expensive to visit.

Pasko and Alvarez are only two of the hundreds of professional players who travel to tournaments all over the world. And whatever their style or their past, their objectives are always the same—to win.

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