Monday, April 26, 2010

Backgammon update and a mea culpa

In my previous blog post, I outed a backgammon player (Pigeon from my previous posts), who had done a dick thing by running up a large debt and then skipping out. I exposed his name and a bit about his background because I thought by shaming him publicly, he might feel badly about himself and make good by paying up. Well, it turns out that I have had to redact my story at the request of the game organizer and I have to relay that I may not have had all the information available to make my charge.

The blogger's dilemma.

Here's what happened from my point of view. I have been playing Backgammon on and off at 60 Wall Street from some time now and I've gotten to know the players pretty well. They all know me as a small time player who will normally play $2 or $3 a point, and sometimes venture as high as $5, but never beyond that. The experienced players are always begging me to play them, knowing their skill level far outstrips mine, but I almost always decline and play Mr. Hustle, mostly because he is amenable to playing me for my $2 or $3 a point stakes. Also, Mr. Hustle is more than happy to instruct me on how to play properly and we have spent many hours debating the benefits of various moves on particular dice rolls and board situations. This is the cost of my education; my tuition, so to speak.

But a few months ago, Pigeon came to roost at 60 Wall and Mr. Hustle stopped playing me and started playing him. The stakes started at $5 a point and Pigeon was losing badly. 10, 15, 20, 30 points a session! Pigeon was very polite and would pay promptly when he lost, always coming back for more in a day or two. I knew Mr. Hustle depended on his Backgammon winnings for his livelihood, so when a particularly bad player like Pigeon was willing to play him for stakes that might result in a real payday, I didn't object when my game with him dried up. For his part, Pigeon refused to believe that he was as bad as people thought. He kept upping the stakes. First, from $5 to $10 a point. He continued to lose. Again, he would be down $200-$300 a session and would pay promptly when he lost. Then, he upped the stakes again. This time to $25 a point. When I witnessed this happening, I was astounded. Isn't it the definition of insanity when you do the same thing over and over and keep expecting a different result? But then again, perhaps Pigeon had this in mind after all. Maybe he was the biggest hustler out there and wanted to lose 100 points at low stakes so he could get it all back with interest at higher stakes.

Mr. Hustle, who gambles for a living, knew that $25 was above his bankroll, even if it seemed like easy money. He stuck to $10 a point and got another player to back the other $15 a point. During that first session, Pigeon broke even. Then $25 became the defacto betting amount for him. For each session, Mr. Hustle would put up his own money for $10 a point and then find someone to put up the other $15. He had no shortage of customers. Based on Pigeon's previous drubbings, it seemed like easy money. I did a few sessions with him myself, at $15 a point, and came away with a solid $250 profit after paying the house rake. But I noticed a disturbing trend around this time. Pigeon started getting frustrated with his losses and he would leave, almost without notice, and wave goodbye saying, "See you tomorrow". Mr. Hustle was understandably upset when Pigeon would leave without settling up, as is customary in any game played for money. But Pigeon would always return a day or two later, settle from the previous session, and continue on.

I warned Mr. Hustle to be wary of this behavior. I told him he should have Pigeon put 20 points worth of money in escrow with the game organizer, a trusted party, and then settle against the escrow amount after each session. But Mr. Hustle ignored my advice. Perhaps he thought that ruffling Pigeon's feathers would piss him off enough to drive him away. Or perhaps he just wasn't interested in confrontation. Either way, Pigeon kept playing his games and upping the stakes. Towards the end, he was playing for $50 a point, with more than one person taking a piece on the other side. After a particularly egregious loss, he left and never returned.

This is where the story gets murky. I came to 60 Wall one day to play and Mr. Hustle said Pigeon had left without paying and he wasn't coming back. He told me that Pigeon had called the game organizer, said he was in over his head and wasn't going to return, nor pay. It was a few days after that information that I made my blog post outing him.

But one day after I posted, the game organizer called me on my cell and asked me to take down the blog post with Pigeon's personal information. He said that Pigeon had always intended to pay and that the payment was supposed to come in a few weeks time. I asked if that had been the situation all along and he said it was. So I felt like an idiot. I had publicly outed this guy based on false information that I had. Don't get me wrong, he still did a dick thing by not paying his debts immediately, but I didn't know that he was negotiating with the participants after the fact. Mostly because I was told a different story from Mr. Hustle!

So I did a good thing for the community and tried to get a welsher to pay, but in reality I probably should have kept my nose out of it. After telling the story to Ali, she asked why I would even bother in the first place. It's not like Pigeon owed *me* money, after all. I replied that I felt that anybody who plays a cash game without the intention of paying, ends up degrading the gambling experience for everyone else. I was doing an altruistic thing by forcing this guy into the light and making the community I was a part of a little bit clearer and cleaner. But I wasn't totally in the right here, given the bad information I received. And for that, I apologize. I don't feel sorry for outing Pigeon, but for acting without the consent of the people whose main business this whole affair was. I should have gotten the permission of Mr. Hustle before I splashed his dealings out in public in this way.

Blogging is a hard thing to do.

The upside is that a day after my blog post and my redaction, Pigeon made good on his obligation. I saw him a day after that, playing Backgammon in Bryant Park (something I'd recommend for everyone on a nice afternoon). We exchanged knowing glances but no words as we each played different opponents. My previously amicable relationship with him is probably broken (not the first time I've burned a bridge to be sure) but I'm much much happier about it knowing that Mr. Hustle is getting his due.

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