Forum Archive : Books

Munchkin: Gambling Wizards

From:   Chuck Bower
Date:   21 August 2003
Subject:   Book Review: GAMBLING WIZARDS
Forum:   GammOnLine

Raccoon's comment about being away from the game for several months
and having a lot to catch up on made me think of a book I just
finished reading: Gambling Wizards: Conversations with the World's
Greatest Gamblers by Richard W. Munchkin. (~300 pages, midsized
softcover format, $20 + shipping, available from CJC's store)

Munchkin is Jake Jacobs's brother (I don't know why the name
difference, probably a story in itself) and a backgammon player going
back in the 70's, although (I think) exclusively West of the
Mississippi. He interviews eight successful pro gamblers who discuss
their many (some wild) experiences in blackjack, poker, backgammon,
horse betting, sports betting, slots (yes, you can be a favorite), and
their lives both before and since achieving success. Anyone who enjoys
any of these games, and particularly anyone who ever thought s/he
might want to make gambling a profession will like this book.

Munchkin is an excellent writer. He explains the terminology (and
there's a lot of it) as the words are introduced, has footnotes at the
end of each chapter (a "chapter" is an interview of a single person
and covers from 20 to 40 pages) where he goes into detail on some
points, particularly detailing lives of some secondary characters
(e.g. Magriel) and also explaining some of the finer points for those
who are unfamiliar with some of the details of how these games are

I particularly like the amount of BG stories in this book. (It's rare
to find much written about backgammon people.) There is a chapter on
Mike Svobodny and another on Stan Tomchin (top BG pro back in the 70's
and early 80's), and he asks other players (e.g. poker pro Chip Reese)
about their BG experiences as well, although most of the backgammon is
in the Svobo and Tomchin chapters.

In general, these people really open up and you get a good feel for
what kind of people they are (e.g. integrity) and what kind of
qualities it takes to be a success. IMO there's quite a bit of general
knowledge you can get from reading this book.

A couple things from the Svobodny chapter are worth detailing here.
One is a question about how to stay on top of the game. Svobo talks
about how a particular individual (who name isn't revealed) was one of
the top players before computers came along but now isn't because he's
failed to take advantage of all the new information available. You
also see this kind of thing discussed in other parts of the book,
particularly in regards to poker.

Most of these people come across as pretty 'straight-laced' outside of
their primary fields, but the Svobodny chapter has some pretty
outrageous stuff. In one case he experiments (actually the
idea/hypothesis was his friends) about how one's BG performance can be
affected by outside influences. He plays backgammon while having sex
(his BG opponent is NOT his sex partner). Don't try this at home!
(Well, OK, if you're going to try it at all, better that it be at
home.) His mind is actually so distracted that he moves the checkers
backward without even realizing it.
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