Max Banner

In 360 years of championship backgammon no player smelled more like mayonnaise than Bertha McKay. And that’s too bad, because nobody could stand to play against her. She would show up for tournaments and everybody would run away so she’d win by default.

I was there in 1989, when she won her third championship. That was in Madison, Wisconsin. She won the second one in Lubbock, Texas, in 1991. That was another thing about Bertha – she refused to win the championships in the right order. “First, third, fourth, second, fifth” she’d say and then laugh milk out her nose. The league officials got all mad and it cost her endorsement contracts from Parker Brothers but she didn’t care.

Most of the time I was there at the Madison tournament I talked with this guy from Canada or South Carolina who was all polite. “Sir,” he’d say, “this is a matter of utmost importance.” Or “my good fellow, that is a perfectly wonderful necktie.” Or “I must insist that you pay your half of this tab, old chap.” I couldn’t figure it out until I saw this book called “The Queen’s English.” I looked up “old chap” and then I hit him with the book and ran off. The security guy at the hotel said “hey” but I think he was talking to someone else.

Politeness and backgammon championships don’t always go together, though. In 1874 the world champion was “Nasty” Nardo, the pride of British Portugal. His trademark was to chew off the legs of his opponents, sometimes weeks before a competition. He’d have been better off chewing off their hands, since playing backgammon without legs is still easy! Maybe he’d have been better off playing soccer. In soccer you use your legs, but biting someone’s leg off could earn a yellow card.

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