A Coin Toss
by Phil Simborg, 1997
Phil Simborg
Thought you'd enjoy this. I'm playing Jake Jacobs in the semis of our weekly Chicago Bar Point tournament last nite, and it's kind of a big match as both Jake and I are in the top 10 at the club and the points are close; there's about $250 to the winner of the tournament; he and I have a side bet (7 point match, he pays $60 and I pay $50); I have side bets on that match, etc.

I play brilliantly of course, and we get to 5-4, I'm leading, and Jake has a winning position and is thinking about cubing. He spends a long time studying the board, computing match equities, gammons, counting shots and return shots, counting the race, thinking about whether or not I would take or drop, etc. At the same time, I quickly determine I don't have a clue if it's a take or drop and I'm thinking about whether to have the jello or rice pudding that comes with dinner.

Coin toss Finally, he turns the cube. Whereupon I pull out a coin and say, "Heads I take, tails, I drop." The crowd goes crazy, and Jake is of course a visibly perturbed ... no way does he want the outcome of any match to reside so much on luck, and by my action, I ensure that luck plays an even greater part in the action. (That tends to bother any player who believes he is playing an inferior player, by the way!) Anyway, I figured, I didn't know whether to take or drop anyway, so what the hell? I might as well flip a coin, and then, whatever happens, why not have some fun?

It came up tails, I dropped, the match went to 5-5; Jake doubled early in the next game and was crushing me, and of course, my last 3 rolls were doubles, as they had to be, in order for me to win the match.

I have never felt more sorry for my opponent. I love Jake ... one of the sweetest (and most unusual) people I have ever known, and I had beaten him almost entirely by luck. (By the way, my tournament record against Jake is excellent, and I would venture to say that Jake probably thinks I am one of the luckiest players on earth, as he has coached me for years and knows how poorly I play.)

It didn't make Jake feel any better that I was trounced in the finals by a player that Jake would probably beat 9 out of 10 times. And my points for finishing second have put me just ahead of Jake in the standings. Well, you can be sure I will bring that lucky coin with me and use it. Every time I play Jake.

Epilogue: After a few minutes and a couple of beers, Jake was in his usual good cheer and happy to have some new material for a future book. I asked him what kind of book he was planning, and he replied, "It's about a homicide."

Phil Simborg is a fulltime backgammon player and teacher.
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