Michael Maxakuli: 11/14/1944 - 12/11/2006

A backgammon icon since the 70s

Michael Maxakuli in 1980. All photographs were scanned from old Las Vegas Backgammon Magazines.
Michael “Max” Maxakuli, backgammon publisher, club director, and expert player is dead. He was 62.

Born in Albania, Max grew up in Windsor, Canada before his family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There he attended high school and some college at the University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee). He later owned a nightclub while working as an entertainment promoter. But in the early 1970s, Max craved a larger stage and moved to Las Vegas just prior to the backgammon boom. Soon, he was directing the Las Vegas Backgammon Club which met on the strip at Dirty Sally’s Discotheque.

Maxakuli began printing the Las Vegas Backgammon Club Newsletter in 1974. The publication went to magazine size in March 1978 and by September 1978, the issue was full glossy with a new name: Las Vegas Backgammon Magazine. In 1980, worldwide circulation was stated as 20,000. Maxakuli remained the sole publisher until December 1980 when he partnered with financier Joel Rettew. His girlfriend Linda Kruegel (also from Milwaukee) was the editor in charge of layout and design.

Las Vegas BG Club Logo
"Dirty Sally's" became "Sally's" in the early 1980s.
Max with Las Vegas Magazine editor Linda Kruegel in 1978.
Beginning in late 1978, Maxakuli used the LVBM to network backgammon clubs throughout the world. By 1982 his “American Association of Backgammon Clubs” had attained a zenith of 80 associate clubs in 30 states and six countries making him a very powerful figure.

LVBM continued regular publication until the Spring of 1982 with numerous celebrities of the era gracing the cover playing backgammon such as Charlie Callas, Connie Stevens, Tina Turner, Liberace, James Daren, and Don Adams.

From left, LVBM co-publisher Joel Rettew, Joe Dwek, Joe Suzyn and Max at the 1981 Monte Carlo World Championship.
1981 was the best backgammon year of Michael Maxakuli’s life. His magazine was riding high, he was in a close relationship with Linda, and he won over $100,000 in three major tournaments (Turnberry Isle runner-up, Desert Inn Invitational winner, Las Vegas Holiday winner). At the conclusion of the year, Les Levi wrote this about Maxakuli in the Backgammon Times newspaper:

“Animated and articulate, Max has a good many opinions on a good many subjects and throughout, he engages in the unusual habit of punctuating sentences with a squirt of green breath mint. Once in a while, he pulls a long, thin cigar out of a tin container stuck in his boot. He seems bent on winning, although he is reluctant to be optimistic.”

Director Lewis Deyong (R) awards Max $64,000 for his 1981 Desert Inn victory.
Things started to unravel for Max in 1982. His magazine lost financing and ended publication in Spring 1982, his girlfriend left him, and he was abusing alcohol and drugs leading to an eventual run-in with the law.

But Max came back and continued to make his mark on the backgammon scene winning the Las Vegas Open in 1996. And in April 2006, he won the $1000 Limited Jackpot event at the Nevada State Championship. In 2002, Maxakuli collaborated with chicagopoint.com to post a number of his old photographs from backgammon’s golden age. (They are permanently posted at www.chicagopoint.com/maxpix.html) Additionally, he remained the figurehead of the current Las Vegas Backgammon Club until his passing.

Max’s last tournament appearance was at the Las Vegas Open in November 2006. Flint BackgammoNews editor Carol Joy Cole commented that he seemed quite energetic. “We knew he wasn’t in the best of health, but this happened sooner than I expected.”

In fact, Max had not been doing so well for a few weeks. When Las Vegas Club player Dick McCall (who had been in close touch) couldn’t get a hold of him for a couple of days the second week of December, he went over to Maxakuli’s apartment and had the building manager use a pass key to enter the premises. Max had died on his couch with the television still playing.

Max and Linda in the best of times - 1981.
Michael Maxakuli is survived by two sisters, Vivian Yanko and Barbara Maxwell. The backgammon world will long remember Max who made incredible contributions to our game. His colorful personality will definitely be missed.—Bill Davis