Michael "Max" Maxakuli

1944 - 2006

Michael "Max" Maxakuli, long time leader of the Las Vegas Backgammon scene passed away on December 11th, 2006. Max had been in ill health for a number of years and we wish him peace in the next life. Please send us your reflections on Max if you'd like them to be included.

Below is an archive of materials we have on the passing of Max. Even years later, we would be happy to post any memories or tributes you may have about Max.

To see maps, click on the links to the addresses.

Monday, 18 December 2006:

Tuesday, 19 December 2006:

  • 10 a.m. Services at St John's Greek Orthodox Church, 5300 El Camino Road (just west of Hacienda & Jones)
  • Burial at Palm Cemetary, 7600 S Eastern Avenue (between Warm Springs and Windmill)
  • Noon Luncheon at Elk's Lodge, West Charleston Bl (between Valley View Bl and Arville Ave)
  • Noon Luncheon at NEW VENUE FOR THE LUNCHEON: The residence of Alex Yanko (Max's nephew), 9620 Redstar Street, in the neighborhood of Eastern and 215.
  • FINAL CHANGE IN VENUE FOR THE LUNCHEON: Noon at Jackson's Bar and Grill on the northeast corner of Flamingo and Jones. Address and map: 6020 West Flamingo Road, Las Vegas.

Obituary published in the Las Vegas Review Journal on Sunday, 17 December 2006

MICHAEL MAXAKULI Michael "Max" Maxakuli, 62, of Las Vegas, left this world Monday, Dec. 11, 2006. He was born Nov. 13, 1944, in Albania, to Gregory and Elly (nee Pappas) Maxakuli, who preceded him in death. Max grew up in Windsor, Canada, and the family moved to Milwaukee, where he graduated from South Milwaukee High School and attended the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Max was a successful businessman, owner of a night club in Milwaukee, and an entertainment promoter. Known around the world for being a world-class backgammon player, he was a two time first place winner of the Backgammon World Tournament. Max was president of the Las Vegas Backgammon Club. He was founder and editor of the Las Vegas Backgammon Magazine and a world renowned backgammon player for 30 years. He was always involved in organizations, charities and the Greek Orthodox Church. Max was a member of many organizations including Demolay where he served as grand marshall and received a scholarship from the Demolay Scholarship Foundation. He was also a member of the Elks Lodge, Eagles, Jaycees and the Masonic Temple, winning numerous awards for his enthusiastic involvement. Also a hard-core Packer fan, Max always bet with his heart instead of the odds. An avid reader and author, Max was the "go to man" for any and all questions. A Las Vegas icon, Max was known by many and loved by all. Everyone had a "Max story". Max valued friendship above everything. He made friends wherever he went from all corners of the world and nurtured those friendships, never forgetting his friends. Our fabulous, talented, brilliant brother was one of a kind and everyone will miss him. He had charisma that everyone responded to always. Max was loved and respected by so many for his colorful personality and joy of life. Max is survived by his devoted sisters, Vivian Yanko of Las Vegas, and Barbara Maxwell of Milwaukee; and his nephew and niece, who were like his own children, Alexander Yanko, wife, Suzi, and their children, Jessica and Gregory, and Christina Paavilainen, husband, Tony, and their children, Ravi and Paraminder of Milwaukee. Max is also survived by numerous friends and relatives here and in Greece. Visitation will be from 4-7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 18, with a Trisagion at 5 p.m., both at Palm Mortuary, 1600 S. Jones Blvd. Service will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 19, at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 5300 El Camino Road. Graveside services to follow at Palm Valley View Cemetery, 7600 S. Eastern Ave.

A few months ago, Jake Jacobs wrote an article for the Las Vegas Backgammon Club. We invite you to read the article, which is about Max and Las Vegas backgammon.

In addition, another good friend, Ray Fogerlund, has written an article for us about Terror Rate. Ray sent us the article before Max bore off his last checker in life. We now at last publish the article, along with a preface written by Ray after the news of Max's passing reached him. So, at last, thank you, Ray... and here is Ray's article

Also, we invite you to go to the Chicago Point website to see Max's Photo Collection.

Some reflections on Max

Wilcox Snellings writes:

I barely knew Max before moving to Las Vegas. Over the past 6-7 years, I spoke to him a great deal. Storytelling is largely a lost art, but Max could tell plenty with color and depth. He possessed quite a sense of humor and I used to call him a "closet nerd" -- he was quite well read and had an insatiable curiousity. Before making a big move to Curacao five months ago, I went with Max to have lunch and visit the Las Vegas Atomic Energy Museum. He called this tribute to part of the state's legacy was "pride in the diabolical". He surely was tortured in some ways and hardly skirted trouble in much of his life, but he was a modern picaro, someone whom I will miss. More than most, Max romanticized the world of backgammon and felt part of a special niche over the years.

My wife and I miss Max already.

Morris Fox writes:

There are very few people in my life, outside of family, that I can say I have known for more than 40 years. Max was one of those friends and I will miss him a great deal. We often disagreed on many subjects and I learned that most of the time he purposely took an opposing stand specifically to invite a challenging discourse. Arguing against "politically correct" viewpoints was his idea of sport, even at the risk of offending friends that he truly loved. Those that have known him for a long time knew what he was up to and appreciated his friendship.

He was truly an icon of the backgammon world and it will never be the same without him.

Steven L. Herman writes:

Michael "Max" Maxakuli and Las Vegas backgammon were synonymous during the past several decades. But Max was more than backgammon. While his closest friends were usually among the world's top players of the game, he had a wider circle of buddies. I was privileged to be among them.

I was, peripherally, part of that backgammon circuit. I had met Max in the 1970's, following a feature I did about a backgammon tournament at which I interviewed Lucille Ball. I had never played the game before but covering that story tweaked my interest. Soon I found myself in the weekly tournaments at Dirty Sally's and a part of Max's world. The fact that I was still a teenager and a rotten player (never winning any of the weekly tournaments in the Open category despite quickly rising out of the novice and intermediate ranks) didn't make me a lesser being in Max's eyes.

Most of the people who Max knew and loved and, those that became long-time friends with him, were not champion backgammon players. Max was a man of the world and his passions and superior knowledge went far beyond the board.

Max was not what you would call a formally educated man. I don't think he ever spent a day in a college classroom, but he could hold forth on subjects from the ancient history to nuclear physics akin to an expert on the subject. He was amazingly well read and, like the fellow Milwaukee lad who also ventured to Las Vegas, in no small part due to Max -- the late Ned Day III -- very street smart.

I learned the things from Max that no formal teacher would ever impart. Thanks to Max's tutelage, little of it a conscious effort on his part -- I became part of a world most tourists and locals of Las Vegas in the 70's could only fantasize.

It's a bit archaic to call it the "jet set" -- but that is the closest common description. Max was a middleman of that world -- bringing together multi-millionaires, powerful politicians and judges, savvy but discreet journalists, some of the world's top numbers whizzes, not a few characters of disreputable backgrounds plus women who were both very brainy and very beautiful.

For a lad still under the legal age of drink it was an irresistible scene.

Anyone who knew his home address found Max's door was literally open at any hour of the clock. You'd walk through that door and there'd be something simmering on the stove to quell the hunger and someone in the living room to strike up a conversation with or eager to accompany you out on the town.

But it was a volatile mix and some in the circle would suffer an Icarus-like fall from the light as greed, drug addiction or other vices singed their wings. I got off lightly -- it only cost me my first marriage.

Max himself would pay dearly for some bad judgment calls and thereafter seemed to have a slight chip on his shoulder that, despite his connections with the rich and the powerful, he could not avoid losing his freedom for a time.

But Max always seemed to bounce back -- be it in backgammon, with relationships, fighting addictions or illnesses. I knew that Max's luck would eventually expire and though it was with great sadness that I learned of his passing, it came not as a total shock. I think I had mentally prepared myself that, one day, I would get such news.

But Max's passing leaves a huge void not only in the backgammon world. No matter who you were or where you were, Max forced his friends to think. He challenged the conventional. He saw through the hypocrisy, long before cynicism became a national mindset. Max drove his friends to excellence and something he would say or do might, at times, enrage or puzzle us, but it could also cause paradigm shifts. Many of us are better, bigger, wiser and richer (in literal and figurative ways) because of Max.

This man was a mass of contradictions. He could be so damn serious but convey a humor so dark and multi-layered. Depth. That's the way I'd sum it up. This was a deep man. I found it hard to convey these complications and complexities when I once tried to portray him a semi-fictional character in a novel. It didn't work. He was larger than life and no words on paper can do justice to bringing such a person to life.

I hope for all of his friends our collective memories of Max keep him alive in that sense and we continue to regard him as the sage he was.

Steven L. Herman
Broadcast network correspondent
Tokyo, Japan

Tom Elgas writes:

I remember looking at the room wondering why would a group of people who play backgammon meet here? It was loud, smokey and had a smell that could have been anything. As I entered and turned left I was met by a man with a briefcase holding a martini and a cigarette in the same hand. A very warm gentleman and if you looked into his eyes you would have noticed a real sense of gentleman who had seen alot. Can I help you? Are you here for the Backgammon Club? These were the first questions from a man who soon became my good and dear friend. The room was the top of the Jockey Club and the man (who turned out to be a great friend) was Max.

There is alot of things I remember about Max. One thing in particular was that he ALWAYS made you feel as if you were important. When he finished with you, he was on to the next person to do the same. I called him a social butterfly, he was amused. Max had a unique way of making everyone in his life seem important and he often would boast of one friends triumphs to another. He was always amused by a short story or joke. He'd often ask me to tell him one, which I would always do. Max was often the first one there with a birthday cake/card or a phone call to check up on you in case he had not heard from you in a few days.

The last week of his life was different from anything I had known about him. The Tuesday before his death I remember coming into Jackson's and Max grabbing me and saying "where have you been?" He practically tore my shirt off! He was not sober. I was amd at him for ripping my shirt and making a fool of himself in front of everyone. I took him aside and tried to tell him to behave, but he would hear not of that. It was if he felt he could let loose and not worry about what anyone thought or said to him. On Wednesday I went over to his house, he wasn't feeling good and need some one to stay with him. I asked a friend to come over and stay with him for a couple of days. She made him sandwiches and soup. He later told me she was a great help. On Friday he seemed to be looking and feeling better. A very dear friend to him, Tracey, was there. We chatted for a bit. Mostly he asked me about the incident at Jackson's the past Tuesday. I told him he was out of line, he said he didn't care and it didn't matter but that he was sorry. I told him I loved him and would always be my friend, he thanked me and laid down on the couch and asked if I would go get him some water. You see it was my thing to always have a bottled water from Max whenever I would go see him. Max, always the social butterfly, would always offer to get you some wine, soda or water during your visit. It made him happy to do this and even happier if you would stay and eat a lite lunch or a tasty dinner. Did I mention that my friend Max LOVED to cook? Max would always have something on the stove cooking or the counter ready to cook.

On the Saturday or Sunday before his death (I can't remember and don't really want to), I went over to see Max. He said that he was hurting. I asked him if he wanted me to take him to a doctor. "NO!" was his quick and terse reply. "All I want is for you to get me the sheet off my bed so I can sit here on my couch, please." I complied, we chatted briefly and I was on my way. Little did I know that would be the last time I saw my friend alive.

That Tuesday I went to backgammon. I didn't see my friend there. Others made the same observation. It was noticeably quite and the was a sense by everyone that knew him something wasn't right. Surely he would have called Tony, Dick, Greg or I to come get him. I was asked if I heard from him. I called his house hoping that my friend would answer the phone, but just the answering machine telling me that I had reached Max's house, leave a message and he would call me back.

On Wednesday I received a call from Tony, as he began to speak, I felt sadness I knew he was calling to tell me that Dick and the Manager found him dead on the couch with a sheet.

Generally, I don't go to weddings or funerals, they both signify the end of something to me. For my friend, I went to his viewing. It was the way he would have wanted it. I could not go to the funeral, I'm sorry for that. But I can just imagine my friend Max, getting to the gates of Heaven, seeing his maker and saying to him "Hello, can I help you? I am here for the Backgammon Club"

Good bye my friend Goodbye! You will be missed.