Sunday, November 14, 2004

La Toscana, Montecasino, Fourways

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Service: * *
Food: * * *
Ambience: * * *
Babe Count: * * * *

I've just unzipped at the urinal just outside the venue where we'll be playing backgammon in a few minutes. It's 10 in the morning, and fifty of South Africa's hottest backgammon maniacs have each shelled out fifteen hundred bucks to be here. Except me, of course. I won my way into this tournament. And I've told all my friends. Heather is one of them. And she may be coming to watch me play.

There's a closed toilet door, and one of the players has evidently just launched a submarine or something, judging by the size of the sigh he emits.

I'm finishing peeing when the sigh sounds again, not accompanied by a splash. I flush my urinal, and I'm about to walk out when the sigh comes again. And again. And the rhythm is a little too close for this guy to be pressing out coils.

I listen carefully. Yup. Sure enough, there's some dude behind that closed door with a spit-slicked palm, having a pre-match wank. Jeeez.

I leave the loo, and hang around in the foyer outside for a while, hoping to catch a glimpse of the wanker. Should I play him, it would give me a psychological edge over him. I could slip in a sly reference to his onanism at a crucial point in the match. I could say something like, "So... do you come here often?"

Hmmm. Yummy babe. Long black hair tied up in a tight pony tail. Intense eyes. But with a cough. Spells trouble.As it happens, I forget all about the pig tickler, because a babe has just entered the room. I smile at her. She smiles at me. Grrrrrrrowwwwllll. Is she a player? Is she a moll? I'll have to be patient.

Heather phones. She can't make it. "But good luck!" she says.

Peter's here. Sophia's here. Majid is back from Iran. Virgilio is here. Matt's here. We're in an unholy conglomerate, a cartel. We've decided that this is how we'll operate. Whoever wins any cash takes 75% of the prize, and puts the remainder in a kitty to be shared by all of the players. There are several prizes we can earn, and our backgammon club is definitely in the top third in the country in terms of skill. So we should easily get into the money rounds. Being in a cartel just means we're all really motivated to win, and to support each other in our various matches.

Gerald, a rather loud insurance broker, is the organiser. He has no need for a microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen," he bellows, and the silence falls immediately. "We are about to do the draw." And he starts pulling names from a hat, and matching people with their first opponents. I get a name I've never heard before. I look at my fellow cartel members, and they shrug. They haven't heard of this guy either.

"Two matches to thirteen points each," yells Gerald.

And we're off to meet our opponents. Leon Markowitz turns out to be an elderly chap with a teddy-bear beard and a somewhat gloomy countenance. We shake hands and start playing. And I'm playing like a winner. I could easily walk out with my share of the R60 000 first prize, judging by the way I'm playing.

I've sensed from the way Leon's playing that he's highly experienced, and probably better than me. And I can see how rattled he's getting when I just keep beating him. My strategy is to turn the cube JUST before the right time. I want him to take the cube at awkward points, and I want that to undermine his sense of the game. And it's working. I'm 12--3 ahead to 13 points. It's just a matter of me winning this last game.

And I'm really doing just that. I've got three of his men back, two on the bar. This should be a cinch.

The babe I saw earlier walks up to our table. Looks at the score. "You're not allowed to beat Leon," she says, and she hits me with a dazzling pout. "He's my honorary husband," she says. Which is unlikely. She's around 30, and he's around 75. She goes back to her match. Seriously delicious butt. Nice walk.

"We're in the same club in Cape Town," Leon tells me.

He half-heartedly shakes his dice. Throws. Double five! The only perfecto throw! The only one! He's off the bar, and out, hitting me. I throw, and I can't come on. He throws ANOTHER double!!! I throw, and again, I can't enter. Blammo, he throws yet another double, and, what was a dead-cert for me turns into a defeat. He romps home to win a point.

I correctly drop two cubes in a row, and it's 12--6. Then I accept a cube, and he beats me. Now we're on 12--8. And suddenly, in no time at all, from way behind, Leon beats me 13--12.

I'm already out of the main tournament in my first game. Which is all right, I suppose, cos it means I get to play in the plate tournament. There, the first prize is only R12 000, but it's better than nothing.

I wander over to the babe. Amanda. She's playing pretty well. But she also loses to a miraculous set of dice from her opponent. "Well, at least you and I'll get to play in the plate," I say. She smiles.

Lunch is called, and we head for the buffet. It's all included in the entry, along with unlimited free tea and coffee. I buy Amanda a fruit juice. Which is anything but free. It's R15! Jeeeeeez!!! What a ripoff. But I flinch inwardly. Wouldn't wanna ruin my spadework by complaining about the price now, would I?

Not that I'm actually interested in shagging her, though. For one, she's a smoker. For another, she's got a nasty cough. "That's a nasty cough," I say.

"I just can't shake it," she says. "Flu. Been sick for three weeks."

Okay. Well. Thanks for that, Amanda. I'll take it as a sign from the universe that I should just go home on my own later.

A guy comes around selling raffle tickets for a handstitched leather board. It's worth R3800. There are only 25 tickets being sold, and I buy two, for a hundred bucks each. Maybe I'll win SOMEthing today?

The day progresses, and I play my first match for the plate. It's to seven points, and I get comprehensively spanked by some old Greek guy. He does root canal work on me by smashing out my molars 7--0. Yeeks. So I'm out of the money. Turns out, ALL six of the sinister cabal members have been eliminated. We are NOT in the money. Not any of us. The Cape Town dudes are applying our heads to their armpits and using us as deodorant sticks.

The raffle gets drawn. Who wins? Me! So I'm up on the platform accepting my new board. This is a dream! I can't believe it! What an awesome board!

I stick around to watch Amanda get to the final of the plate. She's playing for a first prize of R12000, and a second prize of R5500.

Her opponent is one of the hottest players in the country. And she refuses a settlement. He gets viciously angry with her, and spends the rest of the match swearing at her under his breath with every throw of the dice. Now if you know backgammon, you know that this behaviour is simply not on. He's way outta line. He throws his dice, and says, "I can't fuckin' believe this bitch. I OFFERED her a settlement. There's NO way she'll beat me. FUCK!" And he moves his pieces.

He ends up beating her 13--2. Only at the end does he smile at her and congratulate her. But it's fleeting. He immediately stands up and says, in a sotto voce mutter, "I had to sit through all this shit to win. Why didn't she just take the settlement?" And he stalks off to collect his winnings.

"Well," says Amanda, her ferocious eyelashes clashing against each other, "I was here to play backgammon, not to accept settlements."

"Well played," I say, and I shake her hand.

I take one last look around the room trying to spot the wanker. But they're all wankers, if you ask me.

I go home. Alone. But with my brand new, handstitched, 21 inch leather board.

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