He played backgammon and so did his doctoral-candidate friends.
The thing about backgammon is, it's based on mathematical probabilities. Luck, in other words. But the trick is to reduce the bad luck. That's where the math comes in.

One of my housemate's friends was getting his doctorate in a mathematical field known as probability. Probability is a very scary discipline if the person studying it happens to play backgammon and you are his opponent. The guy never lost. Never.

He taught me how to play.

"The first two games are free," he said, looking across at me in the sallow light. "The third, we use the doubling cube."

The cube allows the contestants to double the stakes, back and forth, throughout the game. A game that begins at a dollar can easily make it to \$32 or \$64, or sometimes even \$128 and higher. Given that backgammon players routinely play for hours on end, a person can lose or win a small fortune over the course of one sitting.

I lost so much pizza money to the probability guy that you'd have to be a numbers theorist to fathom the otherwise incalculable losses. Eventually, though, I began to learn the game. I learned it well enough to become something of a backgammon shark, and my winnings helped pay my way through school. Too bad I was too busy playing backgammon to go to class.

But I learned something. And it was this: Probabilities may have to do with math, but they also have to do with endurance. If over the course of a night you can handle your intoxicants better than the other guy, chances are you will best him. I may not have known math like the others, but I knew how to - and I'm going to use some technical jargon here, so stay with me - ride my buzz.