Kim Scheinberg was five years old when she first played backgammon for money at the Mayfair Club in Manhattan. Her opponent was Oswald Jacoby, the 1972 World Backgammon Champion. They bet a quarter.
A five-year-old who gets a game at the most elite bridge and backgammon club in New York must have connections.
Scheinberg says she grew up around “gamblers of various stripes,” including her father, who was a professional bridge player. He came home from work every day, took a nap, and arrived at his evening game just before midnight. He played bridge to supplement his income as a management consultant specializing in computer systems. In 1970, he designed the first computerized daily-double and exacta betting systems for the Aqueduct Race Track in New York. He also computerized election returns for CBS and commodities trading for the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Raised in a world where placing bets was a fearless way of embracing the uncertainties of life, Scheinberg became a card player herself. In 2005, she edited Tales from the Tiltboys, a collection of anecdotes about her weekly poker games with a group of guys in Palo Alto. In the book, she reports that her second son’s bris ceremony was performed on a poker table in her home. There were “cards in the air” fifteen minutes after it was finished.
Scheinberg says she looks at poker a little differently now that her sons are growing up. To succeed in poker, she says, you have to actively seek out people you would otherwise avoid. “I woke up one day not interested anymore. You have to either have a capacity for boredom or the ability to pay attention constantly to what’s going on. I did not have that focus.”
It’s a question of deciding where you want to play the odds, but the one thing that Scheinberg consistently bets on is people.