The poker, backgammon and chess worlds were stunned earlier this week when it became known that noted gamesman Paul “X-22” Magriel had passed away at the age of 71.
The news apparently first came from Poker Hall of Famer Erik Seidel, who noted Magriel’s passing to his Twitter followers. “Woke up to the sad news that backgammon legend Paul Magriel had passed away,” Seidel Tweeted on Tuesday. “He changed the game with his book, was a generous champion and an enthusiastic teacher. He changed my life and the lives of many others.”
Magriel’s exploits in the gaming arena – not just poker – extend back to his life as a young man. Decades before his exploits in poker during its “boom period” made him a semi-household name, Magriel was a notable chess player. According to Nolan Dalla (who also knew Magriel well), Magriel was the New York State Junior Chess Champion only a couple of years after a player by the name of Bobby Fischer had claimed the title. Magriel would put those talents to good use, hustling other chess players through the chess “scene” of New York City and eventually landing at the legendary Mayfair Club.
Along with his chess exploits, Magriel put his prodigious mind towards the game of backgammon. He played high stakes backgammon for up to $1000 a point – an unheard-of wager in the game – and won the 1978 World Championship of Backgammon. There are stories of a legendary match (told by Dalla) of a 17-hour match that Magriel won against the European champion at that time, Joe Dwek, that is still talked about today.
While not playing backgammon, Magriel always had his thoughts in the game. Magriel’s book Backgammon is considered a seminal tome on strategies for the game and he wrote a backgammon column for the New York Times for a lengthy period. In fact, his nickname – “X-22” – came from a time when Magriel set up several backgammon boards to simulate a backgammon tournament of 64 players and each board was given a name (“X-1,” “X-2,” etc.). In his simulation, “X-22” was the champion and it would also become Magriel’s nickname.
Magriel dabbled in poker at first, his first cash in a poker tournament coming in a victory in a $1000 No Limit Hold’em tournament at the Grand Prix of Poker in Las Vegas in 1985. He would play in the World Series of Poker that year and make a final table ($1000 Limit Hold’em), but it would be another five years before the poker world would hear from him again. In 1990, Magriel reemerged on the poker scene in winning at the European Poker Championships and, after another four-year absence, in London at the 1994 Festival of Poker with outstanding final table efforts in Pot Limit Omaha.
Magriel’s celebrity in the world of poker didn’t really take off until the birth of the World Poker Tour and his further success at the WSOP. Televised poker and its audience took to Magriel (and his idiosyncrasies) like…well, a duck to water, as Magriel plied his game. Magriel would often open the betting action by uttering “quack-quack” as his chips hit the pot, adding further legend to the “X-22” nickname (pocket deuces are known as “ducks”). Although he would never win a WSOP bracelet nor a WPT event, his entry into any tournament ensured it would be entertaining.
If his exploits in the world of gaming weren’t enough, Magriel was also a mathematics professor who worked in the field of probability. That work saw him earn an award as a National Science Foundation fellow, one of the top academic honors in not only the U. S. but also the world. He graduated from Princeton University and taught at the Newark College of Engineering (now the New Jersey Institute of Technology) for four years.
Over the course of his poker career, Magriel cashed in 71 tournaments and earned over $527,000. His last cash came in the 2017 WSOP, where he finished 304th in the “Crazy Eights” event. But it is arguable that he made more from his career as a high stakes backgammon player and hustling chess than his poker earnings.
According to Magriel’s Wikipedia page, he is survived by his second wife, Martine Oules, and their son Louis Magriel. Poker News Daily passes along our condolences to the Magriel family on the passing of their loved one.