Joe Russell writes:

Paul Magriel has left us. The backgammon community is left with a tremendous hole. I play backgammon because of Paul. I remember reading an article in Sports Illustrated that featured Paul. Backgammon sounded very interesting and I decided to learn to play because of that article. I am sure there are 1000's, if not 10's of 1000's that could say the same. I knew Paul for close to 40 years and found him to be one of the more interesting people I have ever known. He was respectful, intelligent, humorous, humble, and witty, along with several eccentric traits that made him very loveable. His mere presence added prestige to any backgammon tournament. He was an amazing player with dozens of prestigious victories and a former World Champion, but his true love was teaching. Paul's book 'Backgammon' is considered the bible of backgammon. He was, perhaps, the best backgammon teacher who has ever graced the earth, or ever will. He derived great pleasure in helping people increase their love for and skill in backgammon. And his students have done very well, winning hundreds of titles throughout the world. When I played Mika Lidov for the World Championship, she had mowed through the best players in the
world to reach the finals. When I asked her how she had become so strong, she answered; 'I have been taking lessons from Magriel'. I guess we are all students of Magriel and the backgammon community owes more to him than it could ever repay. Thank you Paul for gracing my life with your presence. I will miss you! ️

- March 8, 2018


Robert W Haskell writes:

So sorry about Paul Magriel. I first met him at a summer tournament, in Provincetown Massachusetts, in 1979. Provincetown was his summer home growing up. We crossed paths many times, during my 24 years living in Vegas. I always found Paul to be a humble genius. I recall him at our Tuesday night, Las Vegas Backgammon Club tournaments. Playing someone, who didn't realize at the moment. They were playing, the most famous backgammon player in the world. I use to sit beside him, when he played at the Riviera. During breaks in the match, he would often say to me. Can you believe, he took that double, or I can't believe he double me. He was fascinating to watch play. The last time I ever saw him, was at a club Tuesday night tournament in 09. He was watching my match, and after I made the wrong move. He said to me as he walked away. Thee old Bob, would have never made that move. The world of backgammon, isn't the same without him.

- May 10, 2018


Mike Corbett writes:

He would trap his tongue on one side of his mouth, look briefly away, then swing his head back toward the problem or its presenter. His opinion was rarely doubted, and his approval was valued by any person who assumed they had earned it.

If his lips curled into a smile after a double tongue-switch, most people couldn’t tell friendly forbearance from tacit approval. I could sometimes.

If he turned his head 90 degrees after a double tongue-switch, he was being as close to contentious as his patience would allow. I never heard him argue with a fool.

If he turned his head 90 degrees with no time for a tongue-switch, there was a pretty girl laughing within earshot. How did he know she was pretty? How did he know anything? We mortals will never know how quickly and efficiently that lovely brain processed information.

When asked by a third party about my book, he paid me a two-word compliment I’ll never forget. He answered without reflection or tongue-switch “It’s smart”. My book is just a book.

He was smart!

- March 8, 2018


John O’Hagan writes:

I remember watching Paul play a match in Monte Carlo.  I think it was around the year 2000.  It was the 2nd round of the main event, a 17 point match.  I had just finished my match and walked over to see how Paul’s match was doing.  He was playing Jan Bloxham.
Magriel was ahead 15-5 when I walked over.  He had a big advantage in the game at hand as well and looked like he would win an undoubled gammon and the match.  Paul had just played his roll which left him with a 4-point board with his 1 and 5-points open.  Bloxham had 2 checkers on the roof and basically the starting position.  Bloxham then rolled a fantastic 55 to enter both and point on Paul’s blot on the 3-point.  Paul then danced on the 2-point board and Bloxham went on to win an undoubled gammon to make the score 15-7.
From that point on, all ensuing games all went early double by Jan and easy take by Magriel.  Paul would frequently turn the game around after taking and become at least some kind of favorite only to miss key shots or have Jan roll some joker and win the game.  For example, in one game Jan was down to a crashed 1-3 backgame.  Paul was bearing in with 2 on the 7 and 2 on the 6.  He then rolled a horrible 54, leaving 2 blots.  Both were hit and Jan won that game.  In another game, Paul had a well-timed 2-point game.  Jan had an awkward bearin/bearoff structure and left 2 or 3 probable game-winning shots.  Paul, however missed them all.  Paul lost another game when he had one of Jan’s checkers closed out.  To lose that game, Paul had to roll a missing 3 late in the bearoff then Jan needed the following sequence to win:  certain doubles, no double, double (and that’s what happened).
Jan kept winning and eventually tied the score at 15-15.  It went early double/take in the next game to make it DMP.  Jan gains the advantage in this game.  He’s escaped his back men and is bearing in against Paul’s 22-point game.  Jan clears his outfield points safely.  He then clears his 6 and 5-points as well and has 2 checkers on his 4-point.  Paul had to run one checker off the 22-point so has only 1 checker on the 22-point hoping for a last ditch shot.  Jan rolls and one die lands on a 1 while the other is spinning crazily.  So Paul is now an 8-3 favorite to get a direct shot!  Maybe the dice will finally give him a break, right?  No such luck.  The other die stops spinning and lands with another 1 showing.  This allows Jan to clear the 4-point safely and win the race easily.
After such a brutal loss, virtually all of us would be really steamed.  But not Paul.  He smiled and shook Jan’s hand.  As he was walking away from the table, he just sort of shook his shoulders, smiled and said “I just couldn’t win those last 2 points” to one of his friends.
To be that composed after such a tough loss is almost impossible, but Paul did it.  It’s one of the many things about him that I’ll never forget.
RIP Paul.

- March 22, 2018


Wilcox Snellings writes:

We studied a lot of backgammon together in the early 1990s... we were never close, per se, but had a good rapport. He was engaging as well as undeniably brilliant. He read as many serious non-gaming books as anyone I've known other than the most traditional intellectual/professorial types.

Other than backgammon recognition, we shared the quirks of both having mothers who were Queen of Mardi Gras and having our birthdays exactly half a year apart: Feb 1 and July 1.

I'm glad to have known Paul.

- March 8, 2018


Bill Robertie writes:

One night in Boston in 1978, backgammon World Champion Paul Magriel played a match against an unknown-outside-of-Boston former chess player. Best three out of five 7-point matches. They finished at midnight. The chess player won. Afterwards Paul sat down with the chess player and his buddy, another backgammon unknown, and analyzed the entire match with them throughout the night until 10AM the next day.

I was the former chess player and that was the most instructive night of my life. My buddy from that memorable evening - Dan Harrington - agrees. Paul? He just loved talking backgammon ... anytime, anywhere.

There is no way to describe in a few words what Paul Magriel meant to backgammon and to the people who knew him and loved him.

Author of Backgammon, the most influential book on the game ever written, Paul was a great player, winner of countless backgammon and poker tournaments, a marvelous lecturer and a gifted teacher. Generous, kind, a voracious reader and very, very bright ... it doesn't seem like there should be a world without Paul Magriel in it.

- March 8, 2018


Nolan Dalla writes:

Most poker players likely remember Paul from his disheveled appearance and quirky behavior.  At times, it seemed like he was from a different planet.  His nickname was “X-22.”  He often quacked like a duck at the poker table, usually after winning a pot.  When you heard “quack quack,” you knew Paul was in the room. Fittingly, his favorite Hold’em hand was pocket dueces, otherwise known as a pair of ducks.

What most people probably don’t know is the fascinating story of Paul’s life decades before he became a regular poker player...

Read the whole blog post here.

- March 6, 2018


James Vogl writes:

Sadly I found out my good friend, the backgammon legend Paul Magriel also known as X-22 passed away yesterday. Not only did he write the most famous backgammon book of all time, simply titled Backgammon, but he was incredibly sharing with all this knowledge to everyone he encountered.

The last time I saw him, was in Vegas last year and as I was walking off he handed me a copy of his “X-22 genius quiz”.

Sadly, I never got to see him again and hence don’t have the answers for the following questions.

Maybe you all could help me out?

1.      Two prisoners are told they will be separated and each asked to flip a coin. Before they are separated they formulate a strategy to guess what the other one flipped. What is their best strategy and what is the chance both guess correctly?

2.      Same question as 1, but the two prisoners have never met or communicated with each other. They do not know in advance they will be separated and asked to guess each other’s flip. Does this change the answer?

3.      You play single 0 roulette (as Paul often did), and can only bet on red or black. You must flat bet the same amount each spin. You can play for as long or short as you want. If you stop when you are losing, the casino gives you half your money back. What is your best strategy?

4.      Sam's situation as in 3 but you start with 100k but have no limit to your betting amount. What is your best strategy?

5.      One morning, at sunrise, a monk began to climb a mountain, on a narrow path that wound around it. He climbed at varying rates of speed and stopped from time to time to rest or eat. At sunset, he reached the top, where there was a temple and remained there to meditate for several days. Then at sunrise, he started down on the same path again walking at varying rates of speed, though his average speed of descent was somewhat greater than his average speed of ascent. Show that there is a spot along the path that he will occupy on both trips at exactly the same time of day. 

6.      You are given a regular deck of 52 playing cards, randomly shuffled. In the pile you are given, 13 cards are face-up and the rest are face-down. The room is dark so you can’t determine whether a card is face-up or face-down. You take cards off your original deck one by one to create a new pile. How many cards must you take off so that you are 100% certain the new pile has more face-down than face-up?

7.      You have in front of you a bag with 5 balls: 3 black and 2 white. You are permitted to draw one ball at a time without replacement. Each time you draw a white ball you receive a dollar. When you draw a black ball you must pay a dollar. You can stop drawing anytime after the first ball. Would you want to play this game?

8.      A man leaves work randomly between 6am and 9am. Newspaper is delivered randomly between 8am and 10am. What is the probability the man leaves with a newspaper?

I will try and collate the answers you send and reply back when we have found them. 

James or as X used to say, Jamessss!

- March 9, 2018


Rhonda Monro writes:

Joe and I had known Paul for over 40 years and although Joe may have more interesting backgammon stories I have two that have as pecial place in my heart.

We were in Vermont at a tournament and my oldest son Ben who was about 13 at the time saw Paul and to my horror went up and asked him to play a game with him. Without a flinch Paul said sure and played one game with him which I thought was an incredible act of kindness.

About 20 years later I ran into him in Vegas at the Poker room where Joe was also playing, he came up and asked me if I wanted tickets to 0 which was I think at the Bellagio. They were great seats and I took my mother with me.

I really liked Paul but ask Joe he used to play in the 9 man chouette on Friday nights and the Mayfair in New York. Joe’s email is they were very good friends. His name was Moncznik in the 70s but we combined are named to Monro in 76.

- April 4, 2018


Bill Riles writes:

We are all the legacy of Paul Magriel. He gave so much to the game -- in fact, in certain respects, he gave us the game.

As Mike Svobodny said in accepting Paul's Hall of Fame plaque at his induction into the American Backgammon Hall of Fame: "Paul Magriel means backgammon."

The next time we each play, we should reflect on his gift to us.

Thank you, Paul. RIP

- March 9, 2018


Raymond Fogerlund writes:

Sorry to hear that Paul Magriel passed away yesterday here in Las Vegas. I recently shared a flight with Paul to the Los Angeles tournament I believe.. He had a small backgammon board with magnetic checkers and challenged me to a 10 move game for small stakes. The winner to be the player with the lowest error rate. Midway through the game, Paul was so excited he dropped the board and I had to crawl around to find the checkers. We never finished that game. When we got to LA Paul realized he had lost his phone... Paul was truly an absent minded professor. RIP Paul Magriel

- March 9, 2018


Phil Simborg writes:

A very sad day for backgammon. The great Paul Magriel passed away yesterday. He was a personal friend and fellow BLC teacher and I have had the great honor of knowing him, learning from him, and working with him. Paul was a genius and visionary and loved the game and studying the game until the end. He will be missed.

- March 9, 2018


Steve Sax writes:

Here is my favorite Magriel story I was involved in. We were playing a five-point match in the last chance in Vegas or Reno maybe 30 years ago. We each had a checker on the bar and it was Paul's roll.

He stopped to consider whether to double me or not and took a good four or five minutes thinking about it. It was interesting watching his facial expressions as he was presumably doing some number crunching that a former math professor might be doing.

After he had made his decision he finally decided to roll. To my relief he stayed out, but then to my disappointment I also stayed out.

He quickly rolled again but danced a second time. But to my misfortune I also danced again.

Then, quickly as a rattlesnake, he picked up the cube and slammed it down on the table with the two facing up.

Everyone watching the match burst out laughing but that was not unusual for the great "X-22" to pull a surprise like that.

I did take the cube but have no idea who won the game or the match.

It was great to have known him not only for his generous sharing of knowledge but to witness funny scenes like this one.

I also saw him almost get barred from a craps table in downtown Las Vegas for betting on double two's and incessantly crying, "Quack-Quack-----Quack-Quack". This really happened as well.

- March 9, 2018


Alan Martin writes:

Paul and I were fierce rivals throughout the 1970's. He on the E.coast and me on the W. Coast. I once played "X-22" $100 a point where Paul wore a blindfold and had a spotter. If he could not find all 30 checkers he would lose that game. Paul ruled backgammon from his base at the Mayfair club in NYC. He was our celebrity and we all admired how this former math teacher taught us all the game of backgammon with his amazing insights. His book "Backgammon" was wonderful and taught a great deal of players. "X" normally wore a suit and tie and was very generous when it came to sharing his knowledge of our game. He was a great ambassador of backgammon over his entire life even when he switched primarily to poker. He created a far different persona in poker than he had in backgammon. He wanted to be tough to figure out. We reunited a year ago at the LA tournament after so many
years and had so many memories to share. When Lucille Ball asked Paul who she should ask for lessons in Los Angeles, without hesitation he recommended me. I never knew that until Paul told me that last year..That opened up a lot of doors for me for sure. Thank you Paul. RIP

- March 9, 2018


James Vogl writes:

I can’t stop thinking about X since finding out he died yesterday. I read all the heartfelt beautiful posts about him on FB and it’s clear all my other backgammon friends feel the same.

But none of the posts mention any of his flaws, yet Paul’s many imperfections are what made him the Paul that was so loved.

His passion for games and his infectious enthusiasm for sharing with others in many ways trumped his tragic self-destructive life.

Was he too intelligent for his own mind that drove him to drugs? Why did he only ever publish one book when every time I saw him over the last decade he was always working on further ones that he never put down on paper? Why was his backgammon only great not world-class in his later years? Why was he always stone cold broke? (Yet never ever asked me for money).

Starting out on the bg circuit in 98, I was astonished when X used to come up and ask me what I would play in certain positions. I wasn’t that good but the most famous player in the world was so inclusive and for some reason cared what I thought. How many other people at the top of any field behave like this?

I will never forget I went to Vegas alone in 2000 and sat in the Bellagio card room day after day playing $3/$6 limit poker trying to learn the game. One night X spotted me and said “Jamesss” with such enthusiasm in a way that only the way Paul could... “come over and play $15/$30 limit with me and I’ll teach you”. I had only started poker the week before so it was quite high stakes for back then but we played every afternoon, evening and night for a month and sat over breakfast at 4am each morning analysing all the hands and the theory. And I won over the month even as a novice thanks to him! He may not have been the greatest player himself but he had an amazing way of explaining all the theory”.

I lost a last 16 marathon match in Monaco to him some time in 2005ish. We had the match recorded and spend 4 hours going though it in a hotel room after. Because to X, the beauty of the game and learning was more important than winning or losing.

So X, thanks for being such an amazing guy to know and have the privilege of hanging out with, despite the sadness and tragedy in your life. To be honest, it is a miracle you made it to 71 and I smiled when I saw Mochy’s post showing you were playing on games grid just this week.

Will miss you and can all learn from your perfections and imperfections.

Quack quack.

- March 9, 2018


Robert Wachtel writes:

The heartfelt grief that so many in our community have expressed at Paul Magriel’s death is testament to how deeply he was loved. I would like here to do my part-not in mourning him, but in explaining just who I think he was.

When asked, late in life, the secret of his astonishing genius, Isaac Newton answered with a vision as beautiful as the laws of nature he had conceived: “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Magriel was backgammon’s Newton. His 1976 book brought order to the cosmos of dice, checkers, and cube; and to enter New York City’s Mayfair Club, where he taught and theorized, was like being allowed to sit in on an exquisitely stimulating PhD-level backgammon seminar. Though they abandoned the game for other pursuits earlier rather than later, his proteges-Billy Horan; Eric Seidel; Roger Low; and Jason Lester-were each scintillatingly brilliant and daringly competitive players. To them, the sensei was not “Paul,” not “Magriel,” not even “X-22,” but “X.” Just “X.” So let’s use that honorific.

In an earlier life, X had been a math professor. Then he discovered the  backgammon universe and strayed from academia to explore its marvels. For a while he prospered. But no matter how learned the backgammon scholar, there exist no distinguished Lucasian professorships to cocoon and sustain him while he pursues the truth. X loved to teach, and never lacked for students, but the scientific mind is not always a practical one. His game had leaks. He neglected his health, had bad habits and was a bad gambler. But even so, his luck held: there were generous souls-they know who they are-who recognized his value. They cared for him.

Like Newton, X remained childish throughout his life. His essential trait was playfulness. We are told that there are “old souls” born into this world, but his was a very young one. His spirit was light, and I cannot remember ever seeing him, whatever setback he faced, petulant or cranky. Nor did he promote himself, demand attention, or exhibit the petty jealousies that taint so many lives. Curious about a thousand topics and inexhaustibly enthusiastic, you would always find him happily chasing down the solution to this or that backgammon puzzle or poker strategy.

These are character traits and attitudes so admirable that most of us can only wonder at them; but to him they came naturally. Perhaps, even more than his lessons and gaming achievements, they reflected his highest talents.

- March 9, 2018


Martha Tessy Ghio writes:

Dallas, Texas. 1979. The height of the glorious, glamorous days of backgammon. Paul Magriel was the reigning Backgammon World Champion. His book was selling like wildfire. He had very recently head-lined a 60-Minutes segment, and had been covered in a multi-paged spread in Sports Illustrated. On a little out-of-town-from-New Orleans trip, I walked into this bar with my boyfriend ('cause we'd heard they played BG there). Then, completely unexpectedly, there HE was. Totally star-struck, I shyly went up to him (clad in cowboy boots and hat--it was the 70's) to say hello. He says "Would you like to play a game?" I couldn't believe it! That was Paul. Next night, he joined us for a party. Somehow I knew, right then, that we would be friends for life. And we were. I still have the doubling cube that my dear boyfriend bought for me that night and, later, this (always-treasured) backgammon board. Many of us in the BG world have a broken-heart tonight. But, we also got to share so many laughs, and joy, and knowledge (and not just on backgammon) from this wonderful, amazing, generous soul. And backgammon, forever, will be an even richer game than it ever was before because of him. Rest in peace, my friend.

- March 9, 2018


Thorsten Hoyer writes:

Paul was one of the persons with the most impact on my life. I met him in the early 90s in Monte Carlo, playing Backgammon. He was so polite and friendly and it was an honour and pleasure to talk to him and see him playing in his very special manner, his body language, his fast calculation and things he knows, far beyond “his” backgammon. As he asked me, where I am from, I said Lübeck .... and just wanted to explain (Germany near Hamburg) ... that was not necessary ... immediately he answered: of course I know, Thomas Mann (German writer) - Buddenbrooks. Never in my life I would’ve thought that an American genius of mathematics and backgammon would have known this. I will never forget him. Thx for your outstanding book and work on the game and the way you were! So sad.

- March 9, 2018


Olivier Lafon writes:

Sad news about Monsieur Paul Magriel..The only thing i could say ( talking my generation) ; we’re all his students and every serious player had to pass threw his book. I believe, his name will stay for long..Easy to see he was a very special man, player, champion! His book had been translated in french and as a tip; any friend who was interested to play backgammon more seriously and had a low level was sent by me to buy his book and come back to me after read it ! I know he started a 2nd one that Hanna Nielsen had a copy...

- March 9, 2018


Nick Ballard writes:

Shortly after I learned how to play backgammon and had read the book Backgammon (widely hailed as the bible of the game), I happened to be in Manhattan and once visited the Mayfair, where Paul Magriel kindly schooled me for $5 a point. It was the first of countless times over the decades that Paul greatly impressed me with his vast knowledge and natural ability to articulate.

Fast forward to last decade, when he consented to write the foreword to the book Backgammon Openings. Paul Weaver and I will be eternally grateful.

Paul Magriel had a well-established talent for many games. An anagrammist might say in this regard that he had a PLURAL IMAGE.

- March 9, 2018


Larry Shiller (Voice of Backgammon) writes:

Paul's gift was to make the world a better place, and not just by bringing backgammon excellence to the masses.  Something about Paul, the way he talked, the twinkle in his eye, made me want to be a better person, not just a better backgammon player.

For Paul, it was never about Paul. After my first few tournaments as Voice of Backgammon, Paul wrote me to say how much he appreciated what I brought to the game. Can you imagine? But that was Paul. He made me want to make the world a better place, too. There is no higher compliment to pay, nor legacy to leave.

- March 10, 2018


Neville Eber writes:

To whom it may concern.  I became friendly with Paul many years ago when he was a regular in MonteCarlo.  I used to enjoy watching him, listening to his commentaries, and his company. We had many things in common outside of Bg. We were both dedicated bridge players, poker players and I related to his ability at go and chess.. we exchanged many ideas about games theory etc . I wanted to become a world class backgammon player and I invited him to come to South Africa, stay at my house and teach me back gammon. The big day arrived and he spent a week with us. I really worked him very hard we were at it 15 hours a day doing rollouts by computer while we slept and analyzing the results while awake  Paul saw johannesburg but wasn't keen to go elsewhere. He loved the food and the accommodation, and said he would like to come back again sometime. I am pleased to say his lessons helped me enormously and I went on to win a few tournaments at the world championships and other international tournaments. I am so sad he is no longer with us, he was a very special person. And he remains as my number one hero. Adios my mentor/friend.

- March 9, 2018


Tapio Palmroth writes:

Long time ago in Istanbuk when i knew nobody i went to Kent Goulding and started to talk sokething and he was kind enough to talk back and introduced me to Paul on guys. Paul was also very nice as when we met afterwards he stopped and said hi and we had some small chats every now and then. So i got to know many of the guys .

Once i talke with Paul in Copenhagen and some kind of interviewed him. I amybe have them notes somewhere or not ( haven't found anything ) but i remember that he said that the toughest dice to play are small doubles as there one can make biggest blunders as also best plays.

At Helsinki Open we had Paul there as commentator and he had also a seminar.. When he was commentating the final ( it was very lousy play from both finalists ) he was lauging many times that a player should do this but as seen many times he is consider to do that which is the worst ever play and he would bet that player will do the worst play. And the player did , numerous times. Paul could hardly sit in his chair as he was laughing so heavily. He also said that he would recommend to his high stake friends should come to Finland to play as this is a paradise if the finlalists are the best there is..

Not very spectacular what i remember but always he was a nice person and always we met at least he said hi

In Cigar Afficionado magazine they was a story about Monte Carlo and Paul too involved there ( some pictures also )

In german Playboy there were an article of Istanbul (?) or high stakers and something about Paul too ( pictures too ).

May the luck be on your side !

- March 14, 1988


Chris Bray writes:

Last Monday (5th March 2018) one of the founding fathers of modern backgammon, Paul Magriel, passed away at his home in Las Vegas at the age 71. I had known Paul for thirty-five years and this article is written in tribute to him and all that he did for the game of backgammon.

Paul was the son of Paul Magriel Sr. (1906–1990), an art collector and author, and Christine Fairchild Magriel. He leaves a son, Louis Fairchild Magriel whom he had with his third wife, French poker player, Martine Oulés.

Paul was a mathematics professor at the Newark College of Engineering (now New Jersey Institute of Technology) between 1969 and 1973 but his passion was always games. He became New York State Junior Chess Champion at the age of 19 but he abandoned chess when he became fascinated with backgammon in the 1970s as the game began a surge of popularity. This was nearly certainly initiated by Russian émigré, Prince Alexis Obolensky, who is credited with creating the international backgammon tournament circuit. While still in Russia, Obolensky had been taught the game by his gardener, so you could say the true father of modern backgammon is an unknown Russian gardener!

Unlike chess, backgammon theory was relatively undeveloped in the 1970s and so it was fruitful ground for Magriel and his peers (Bill Robertie, Kent Goulding, Roger Lowe, Mike Senkiewicz, Eric Seidel, Jason Lester to name but a few) to explore. Magriel was the leader of the pack.

“The Backgammon Book” (1970) by Oswald Jacoby and John Crawford was the first quality backgammon book to be published for nearly forty years and to the best of my knowledge it was the first place anybody wrote down the basic 25% rule for accepting doubles. It is also the first book to contain a definition of the term “beaver”.

I don’t know when or why Paul decided to produce his magnum opus, “Backgammon” in 1976 but I suspect that a significant driving force was his first wife, Renée. As I learnt in later life, Paul was not the most organised of individuals and I think that without Renée the book would never have seen the light of day.

All backgammon books until “Backgammon” had explained how to play the game but Magriel went much deeper and explored the ‘why’ rather than just the ‘how’. Nowadays we take for granted concepts such as bold versus safe play, but Paul was the first to set down the reasoning in print. It is remarkable that the book has stood the test of time and it remains the bible of the game. Is it perfect? Of course not, because it was written before the advent of computers and serious students of the game will also have to hand a copy of Jeremy Bagai’s “Classic Backgammon Revisited” so they can understand the errors that Magriel made.

At some point Paul decided to learn more about the game by creating a fictitious 64 player tournament where he played the part of all 64 players. In the final X-22 defeated X-34 and so he took X-22 as his soubriquet. That stuck with him for the rest of his life and in fact, it was quite often abbreviated simply to “X”.

His tournament victories were many and in 1978 he won the Backgammon World Championship in the Bahamas. In a field of 242 players (quite possibly the largest ever entry for the World Championship) he narrowly defeated Kent Goulding in the semi-finals and then crushed Kal Robinson 25-4 in the final.

Paul was undoubtedly a great player and also a great theorist but more than anything else he was a great teacher. He had a huge passion for teaching which stayed with him throughout his life. In the early 1990s he lived in London for a few months. I was lucky enough, along with Barry ‘Bigplay” McAdam, to have a series of lessons with him. He charged only nominal rates, for which we were very grateful, and our games became much stronger because of those lessons.

We spent hours studying his 1991 Monte-Carlo quarter-final match against Michael Meyburg (who went on to become World Champion that year) and the depth of his analysis was truly amazing. However, that match was played just before the advent of neural net backgammon programs (bots) with TD-Gammon being the forerunner. Because of that it was one of the last matches to be played when much of the analysis was subjective and rollouts were still being done by hand. It was also played before the bots started to change our understanding of modern backgammon theory.

How well did Magriel and Meyburg play in 1991 by modern standards? I have run the match through Extreme Gammon and the Performance Ratings are Magriel: 6.26, Meyburg: 7.74. However, Meyburg’s Luck Rating is 8.6 which is incredibly high for a 21-point match, so it is no surprise that he won. Those PR ratings are very reasonable given that the two players were applying backgammon theory that was about to be radically updated by the bots, and that match play doubling theory was really still in its infancy if you look at where we are today.

After the bots arrived Paul was never quite the same force in tournaments as he was at the height of his powers. This was due to a number of reasons: the average player was now much stronger because of the bots; Paul was slow to adopt the teachings of the bots and change his playing style; his personal lifestyle became a significant influence as he abused his body with substances that he should have stayed well away from, but which he was unable to resist.

As well as his superb teaching he was also a brilliant commentator. He usually covered the World Championship final, bringing both technical insights and humour to the occasion. In 2005 he was the lead commentator at Monte Carlo, ably assisted by the UK’s John Clark, and the whole event was recorded and televised by Andy Bell in his brilliant documentary “High Stakes Backgammon”. I highly recommend watching it if you have not done so and you will get some idea of just how good a commentator Paul was.

Despite trying he never managed to publish another book, although he was the backgammon columnist for the New York Times for many years. He started many different books and even managed to leave the only copy of one book on an aeroplane at a time when everything was still being done by hand. In 2014 he very kindly asked me to collaborate with him on writing “Backgammon 2” as he wanted to explain some of his newer concepts to the backgammon community. He knew then that his health was not great, and he wanted to publish something before he died. Unfortunately, I then learnt first-hand how difficult it was to work with Paul on a practical basis. The eight-hour time difference was a problem but ultimately it was his inability to stick to any sort of schedule that killed the project. I still have all the notes and a few hundred XG positions that he sent me and given time I will see if it is practical to produce something from them, even without Paul there to guide me.

I originally met Paul in the USA in 1982 and we remained friends for over 35 years. I only ever played him competitively twice. At Monte Carlo in 2000 I beat him 17-14 in the first round of the World Championship. I was very lucky, and my cause was helped by winning three gammons with the cube on 2. At Double Match Point (the cube is on 4) we reached the position at the head of this article.

From there play continued as follows. CB (Black) 44: 5/1(3), 4/off, X-22 (White) 64: bar/21*/15; CB 54: fans, X-22 42: 16/12, 8/6, CB: 21: fans, X-22 53: 15/7, CB 64: bar/19*/15 (phew!), X-22 61: bar/19, 12/11, CB 31: 15/14*/11, X-22 53: bar/20, 7/4, CB 65: 11/5*/off and it was all over.

Both my play of the initial 44 and Paul’s 61 are errors, but those mistakes were not picked up in post-match analysis as we didn’t have a computer with us. It was only years later that I realised we had both made mistakes, mine being the much more obvious one. My 44 should have been played, 5/1(2), 4/off(2). No modern expert would make my error.

Paul got his revenge in the semi-final of the second consolation where he crushed me. Despite being a huge favourite, he still did a 200 euro saver with me - he was forever generous to weaker players.

In conclusion, I am deeply grateful to have known and occasionally worked with Paul during my backgammon career. The term genius is overused but I would say that the term correctly describes Paul. Like many people with his sort of mind, he occasionally had trouble coping with the real world but without him the modern game of backgammon would not be what it is today. He enriched the lives of not only those of us who were privileged to know him but also thousands of others who merely knew him through his seminal work, “Backgammon”. I will miss him and if I can make anything of the material he has left behind then I will do so.

RIP, X-22.

- March 10, 2018


Malcolm Davis writes:

I first met Paul Magriel in April of 1975, at a backgammon tournament in St. Maarten, Netherland Antilles. The tournament, located at the Mullet Bay Beach Hotel, was organized by Prince Alexis Obolensky and attended by exactly 99 participants. I had been playing, or at least trying to play, for less than a year. It was my second major tournament.

In a state of continuous of learning frustration, I approached Alfred Sheinwold, the tournament director and asked him if he knew of any way I could learn to play this diabolical game? He said there was a young guy there who was in the process of writing a book, and that I might get his thoughts.

Paul graciously loaned me a copy of his then “a work in progress” manuscript to read while I was at the tournament. As hard as I tried, I could not finish it in the allotted time, much less retain its wealth of knowledge. Paul, great teacher that he was and friend that he was to become, allowed me to take it with me back to Dallas with the proviso that I keep it confidential – I still have it. Were it not for Paul, I doubt that I would be playing backgammon today.

Incidentally, Paul sold for $3500, the top price in the Calcutta auction - which included 11 individual seeds. I was the bottom player in field “N”, which included the usual 4 lesser players and sold for $3200.

Paul was a dear friend and advisor. He was a brilliant individual and a compulsive teacher - surely no better teacher at any level on any subject ever existed.

Several years ago, at the Coterie Club in New York, an “outsider” who had joined the chouette – in a transparent attempt to “fit in” -asked Paul what he thought about a play. He addressed Paul by calling him “X”, a nickname adopted by Paul’s close friends. Jason Lester, a young backgammon prodigy and member of the chouette, immediately interjected, “He is “Mr. 22” to you.” “X 22” was the original complete nickname.

In a sense, Paul was “Mr. 22” to all of us – a devastating loss to his huge number of friends, and in actuality, to the world.

- March 22, 2018


Mary Hickey writes:

Claude Landry and I played a doubles match vs. Paul and his partner in NYC in 2008, and even though we won it, later that night he cheerfully transcribed Claude's video of it into Snowie and discussed many plays with us. He didn't know either of us well at the time, but his love for the game and its players was evident as he clearly explained what Snowie could only tell us. Backgammon has lost a magnificent teacher as well as a great player and author.

- March 22, 2018


Linda George writes:

I was so upset reading about Paul, please let me know when the stories are posted.

My fun story was back in the early 80's at a tournament in Orlando, Florida, Paul and I were chatting regarding the odds of a Pro vs a Novice. We agreed on a 7 point match for $100.00 with 2 to 1 odds.  Considering I am usually "lucky", I accepted the challenged and won $200.00. He wanted a rematch and of course I refused, my bragging rights were priceless!

- March 22, 2018


Robert Bieder writes:

It was back in 1976 at Kevin Brandts Bar Point club where I first starting playing backgammon.

In the wee hours of the morning I was playing for $2.00 a point when Paul walked in and started watching.

My opponent whose name I don't recall had to make a move and Paul asked me if he could make a suggestion.

I told him if he was willing to give us a lesson he could.

Paul spent the next two hours giving us a free lesson.

Since then I would see him regularly for several years to come.

His kindness and generosity was something I found over the years to be a great source of joy.

He would always take the time to help lesser skilled players like me analyze positions.

I learned a great deal from X-22 and will always be grateful to him.

I was matched against him at the Vegas tournament years later. With crowds of spectators all around us I had one the greatest thrills of my backgammon career beating my hero. Of course, to Paul it was no big deal he simply congratulated me with a smile.

- March 22, 2018


Phil Simborg

March 6 at 10:18am · 

A very sad day for backgammon. The great Paul Magriel passed away yesterday. He was a personal friend and fellow BLC teacher and I have had the great honor of knowing him, learning from him, and working with him. Paul was a genius and visionary and loved the game and studying the game until the end. He will be missed.

Ralph Byrns Watching his persona and his plays at a WSOP event was always fun.

Jens Lauridsen Would never had played if not for x-22 book

Phil Simborg Tonight is our weekly backgammon club meeting at The Chicago Bar Point Club. I will request a minute of silence to honor Paul’s life. I humbly request that clubs and tournaments around the world do the same the next time they meet.

Candace Mayeron replied · 2 Replies

Micke MiMo Moberg Beklagar sorgen

Jacob Atie He was a great teacher and writer. R.I.P. Will be missed.

Conchita Minguell Zanuy Was my teacher!

Brenda Weiser Cohen So sad to hear this. He was truly a Backgammon Great. Glad I got to see him at a few tournaments. He will be missed. 😪

Eleni Chambers How sad..

Nicholas Check Paul was the only player I was ever shy meeting. He will always be the legend

Ian Shaw My love of the game was kicked off when I found Backgammon going cheap in a Sheffield bookshop. It must be one of my best purchases ever.

Michael Valliere Very sad news, may he Rest In Peace.

Craig Guthrie So sad. A legend of our game. Thank you Paul for all your many contributions. 

A curiosity question, since many here knew him well, what was his reason for wearing a watch on both arms?

Ed Collins Darn. VERY sorry to hear this. He was one of my heroes and I'm sorry I never got a chance to meet him in person. LOVE his book. I should re-read chapter or two tonight, in his memory.

Hernan Cortes A sad day indeed

Tolga Akbaytuğ R.İ.P

Majken Johansen RIP

Martin Veltmann Rip

John Sveta Hedge

Ettore Tedeschi A true legend of the game has left us. Rest In Peace.

Tim Line I was lucky to be able to play him a couple of times in Cyprus last November. Both matches were very entertaining and fun. He seemed to be in fine form and his passion for the game was still very apparent and he was playing jackpots constantly. A true legend!

Kamil Karaali Rest in peace

Colin Saunders Phil Simborg I have a second hand copy of the book “Backgammon” with a note written inside by Paul to a friend or fan. I bought the book because Peter Benet said it was the best book about backgammon ever written.
For me, what Paul wrote about when to be bold and when to be safe- I am still learning.
And those noughts and crosses diagrams....See More

Jason Briggs RIP

Mahmut Berkant Bilgi R.I.P Mr. Legend

Karen Margrethe Skovgaard Hansen RIP Paul :(

Arsagov Atsamaz RIP

Rory Pascar LEGEND!!!

Fred Kinder RIP Paul!

Phil Simborg Steve Sax gave me permission to share what he sent me in an email about Paul this morning: Here is my favorite Magriel story I was involved in.

We were playing a five-point match in the last chance in Vegas or Reno maybe 30 years ago. We each had a ...See More

Masayuki Mochizuki replied · 1 Reply

Phil Simborg The two Greats met in Cyprus last year...Mochy and PaulManage

Chris Trencher Great story shared by Steve Sax. The penchant for "Quack quack" was apparently appreciated in the poker world as well .... watch the following.

Phil Hellmuth Blowup #185 @ the 2005 WSOP

Candace Mayeron replied · 2 Replies

Greg King Very sad.

Mario Madrigal I heard he said because one is broken.

Steve Mellen Big loss for backgammon. An amazing life for sure. RIP

Frank Frigo At Edj Analytics we host an employee poker tournament each year with the winner receiving an entry into the WSOP main event. Two years ago we hired Paul to tutor some of the new players over the phone. One of them won the tournament and went on to take additional lessons in Las Vegas before bowing out on day 3. Great teacher and great guy.

Anthony Bittman He was a legend!!

Katie Scalamandre We were friends since we were kids!

Mike Murton My teacher and such a loss to the Backgammon community...I saw him on line just a day or two sad RIP and respect to a true “Giant” of the heart goes out to his mother and family 😢

Craig Guthrie May I ask, was Mr. Magriel ill?

Takeshi Inuzuka It was an honor I could play with him at Monaco. RIP.

Steve Somers Very sad, yes. I played Paul while he was living in London in the late 80s at the "Double Five" club on Exhibition Row. He was in London "sheltering" some of his winnings from the IRS! That was only ever in the evening's 7 point tourney - I knew not to...See More

MX Backgammon Rodolfo Really sorry. RIPip

Brian Mizok Paul was willing to sleep on somebody else's couch and spend his last dime to keep the great game of backgammon alive. #THETRUTH

Chris Bray doug

Thorsten Hoyer Paul was one of the persons with the most impact on my life. I met him in the early 90s in Monte Carlo, playing Backgammon. He was so polite and friendly and it was an honour and pleasure to talk to him and see him playing in his very special manner, h...See More

Gündüz Güneş RIP

Perry Gartner Paul was a beloved friend for more than 35 years. I was inspired by him. I learned from him. I worked with him. I had fun with him. 

My heartfelt condolences to his son Louis and his ex-wife Martine.

Treena Bouque He was a Friend of mine and to all of backgammon..will miss him.

Darcey B Wade Hi Treena , yep he was a friend to many. I loved my time with him. We had some great times. I still have my TShirt "I beat Magriel". Sad.

Nick Rigos Can