Quack-quack is nevermore. RIP Paul Magriel. The Princeton-educated mathematician turned backgammon guru turned poker pro had his own catchphrase -- "Quack quack!" -- which he uttered at the tables when he raised pots. Magriel passed away in his sleep last night according to a tweet from Erik Seidel, “Woke up to the sad news that backgammon legend Paul Magriel (X-22) has passed away. He changed the game w his book, was a generous & enthusiastic teacher, he changed my life & the lives of many others.”
Magriel got the nickname X-22 from his backgammon days. X-22 was supposedly the terminator when it came to backgammon. Wikipedia claims he “won more tournaments than anyone in the world.”
Magriel a.k.a. X-22 was the topic of a classic essay in the New Yorker magazine published in 1977. Magriel (paying blindfolded) once crushed celebrity-author George Plimpton at backgammon. Magriel was dubbed the Human Computer by his peers. According to the essay, Plimpton's wife taught Magriel, a chess whiz at the time, how to play backgammon and the rest was history. Plimpton explained their heads-up match... "Paul is a noted mathematician who specializes in probabilities. He began playing chess at the age of five, and he played all through Exeter and was a whiz. While he was a graduate student at Princeton on a National Science Foundation fellowship, he switched to serious backgammon. That was seven years ago, when he was twenty-three. Incidentally, it was my wife, Freddy, who taught him backgammon. I wish she were playing him today instead of me. Oh, well, I have nothing at stake except the honor of my psyche. My tactics are going to be to talk as much as possible, ply him with drinks, and do everything else I can to befuddle him. If he loses track of a single piece on the board, I win."
The New Yorker piece reveals how Magriel got his X-22 moniker. Apparently, he played a March Madness-like tournament against himself involving 64 entries. The entry marked X-22 won his tournament and his numerical nickname was spawned.
Magriel penned many books on backgammon and was well-respected mentor in both the backgammon community and chess world before he migrated to poker. There was never any money in backgammon or chess, especially trying to hustle cash matches because if you're halfway decent, no one will want to play you for highstakes. Magriel took a shot at poker and that's where many of us came across X-22 at the tables.
In 2003 during the inaugural season of the World Poker Tour, Paul Magriel made the final table of the WPT Reno. Magriel finished in fourth place in an event that was won by Ron Rose. Jen Harman bubbled the final TV table and T.J. Cloutier took sixth place. Magriel only cashed for $29K that night, but he got famous for his catch phrase "Quack quack!" Yup, the early days of the WPT and the poker boom gave Magriel his 15 minutes of fame.
According to Hendon Mob, Magriel won $527K in poker tournaments. Magriel's biggest score to date occurred in 1985 when he won the Grand Prix of Poker at the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas for a $79K score.
On a personal note, I once played low-limit poker on the Strip with Benjo and Paul Magriel. I was pretty stoned at the time so the exact details are fuzzy, but Benjo tilted Magriel with Ace-Jack after he got felted.