I have two distinct lives. One in the trenches of low-budget film and television, the other in professional gambling. Because of the feast-or-famine nature of show business I need a reliable income... gambling. So here you will read about both worlds. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mr. Marty

In 1986 I got a phone call from a friend named Alan. He told me there was a really great blackjack game at Walker Hill casino in Seoul, S. Korea. I forget all the rules, but the game had early surrender vs. 10, and 6 cards was an automatic 1/2 win. All in all the player had an edge off the top without any counting of cards.
Alan recommended I stay at an inexpensive locals hotel called the Kaya, and get in touch with an American card counter named Marty Itzkowitz. Marty was an ex-New York cop, who had moved to Vegas, dealt craps, became a craps boss at Sam's Town, discovered card counting, quit his job, and somehow ended up in Korea. Marty had the answers. He knew where to change money on the black market, where the illegal underground casinos were, which ones cheated, and where the girls who liked Americans hung out.

I made a few phone calls, and heard rumor that Marty might be staying in the same hotel. I went to the front desk, and asked if Marty Itzkowitz was staying there. The front desk clerk took a step back and I saw fear in his eyes. "Oh, Mr. Marty is in 302." You see, Marty was the quintessential "ugly American." The first thing you noticed was his bulging eyes.

Imagine a 300 pound, loud, frothing, Marty Feldman. He hated everything, and everybody. But he said things that were so outrageously over the top that it was hard to take him seriously. He claimed to hate Korea, and Koreans, yet he managed to marry at least a couple, and spent years living there. Then at some point he changed from blackjack to poker, and from Korea to the Philippines, at which point he switched his loathing to all thing Filipino. Any blackjack player who spent time in Korea in the late 80s will have some Mr. Marty stories.

Well now there is a new mystery by Jake Jacobs, The Battered Butterfly. It takes place in Manilla, and the lead character is a professional gambler named Lefty Markowitz. "Lefty, an ex-New York cop turned professional gambler, is two hundred and eighty pounds of misanthropy on the prowl in Manila. All he wants is to be left alone." The dedication is to Marty, so this isn't all a coincidence.

Lefty finds himself the prime suspect in a murder. It seems a bar girl was murdered after Lefty spent the night with her. (Marty was fond of bar girls.) At the same time Marty is much more interested in tracking down a German named Carl that ripped him off in a poker game.

I read a lot of mysteries, and one of the things that separates the good from the bad is a sense of place. Here is the opening paragraph of the book.

"The rain came, and should have washed down the streets. Falling, it should have captured the particles of dust, the fog of auto exhaust, the reek from stray fires smoldering in piles of garbage, tackled them all, and dragged them to earth. It should have washed the grime and peeling paint down the walls of the buildings. It should have swept all the discarded newspapers and crushed cigarette butts and rotting banana peels from the sidewalks, swept everything into the gutter, so the city was clean and fresh, renewed. Instead, the rain came too fast. The streets filled with water faster than the antiquated sewers could cope. They backed up like a plugged toilet, so that pedestrians could expect wet tissue paper and dog turds plastered to their calves. In Manila, even the rain didn't work right."

Jake is a former professional blackjack player (played on the Hyland team among others) and a perennial on the Giant 32, a list of the 32 best backgammon players in the world. He has written two other book, both on backgammon, and contributes a monthly column to Gammon Village. We plan to have him on Gambling With an Edge in a few weeks to talk about the book, Marty, and some of his crazier gambling exploits. Here is his book on Amazon.   The Battered Butterfly


ZenMaster_Flash said...

Not only is Itskowitz (sic) a rare surname; it is my deceased mother's maiden name. "It runneth in mine blood."

ZenMaster_Flash said...

Upon conducting a thorough search I was not surprised to find that there are only a few person's named Marty Itskowitz in the U.S.A.

Incidentally, my Dad was named Martin, but only responded to Marty. Family chatter had it that he was named after one of a pair of twin forebears who were skillful smugglers who dressed identically and used identical wagons drawn by indistinguishable black steeds as they exchanged their purloined goods (and salt) at remote border crossings in the late 19th century.

Oh, needless to say, I know Jake Jacobs, having played backgammon against him in the 80's and 90's.

One of his backgammon books has my real name immortalized on its back covert.

Anonymous said...

I knew Marty intimately from 1986 to 1990 while I was stationed in Seoul. I met him in Walker Hill Casino playing blackjack nicking them for a few hundred. I am waiting to read the Battered Butterfly.