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Not a lot of folks get worked up over the fact that Rotisserie League� Baseball and other sports fantasy leagues—in which participants select rosters of pro players and compete against one another, using the statistics those players amass in real games—can be a form of illegal gambling. It is estimated that more than a million people pay entry fees of as much as a few hundred dollars to take part in such leagues.
Now fantasy leagues are facing greater scrutiny. NHL president John Ziegler recently sent a memo to team officials telling them that the league's antigambling policy forbids them to take part in any fantasy hockey league played for money. While it's farfetched to suggest that a general manager would get so wrapped up in a fantasy league that he would make a real-life trade or tell his coach to play or bench someone just to help his fantasy franchise, it does seem inappropriate for a team official to win or lose money based on the performance of a particular player. So far, no other major league has barred its personnel from joining fantasy leagues.
On Sept. 18 the Austin, Texas, police conducted what may have been the first-ever fantasy league bust. They arrested eight men at a bar for taking part in a football league and charged them with engaging in organized crime, a second-degree felony punishable by 20 years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Police said the men had anted up $250 apiece, and the winner stood to make as much as $3,000 at the end of the season. The men claimed that the winner would get only a trophy, and that the $3,000 would go for a party and league expenses.
Police sergeant Byron Cates said that the wife of one of the men had called to complain that her husband had spent part of the rent money on his entry fee. "I've had civil libertarians say this is a victimless crime," says Cates, "but if a guy is out there betting and losing money so kids have to go without food or shoes, that's not victimless." Cates says that his department isn't mounting an antifantasy league campaign, but "if we get other complaints, we'll act on them."
MAN VS. MACHINE
On Oct. 22 world chess champion Gary Kasparov of the Soviet Union will confront a computer-linked video terminal and possibly an unsettling vision of the future at the New York Academy of Art. Kasparov will take on Deep Thought, the most accomplished computer-chess program ever, in a two-game exhibition. Developed by five graduate students at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Deep Thought can analyze 720,000 potential positions per second. It has already defeated two grand masters and tied for first place in a topflight tournament that included both human and electronic competitors.
In the past, Kasparov has taken a hard line on chess software. "I can't imagine how you put the psychological things into a computer," he said in 1986. "It's psychological, it's fight, it's struggle. Intuition is very important, very important."
When the challenge came from Shelby Lyman, a chess commentator and columnist, Kasparov at first declined, but he eventually changed his mind because he saw the historical significance of the event. Kasparov also bargained for extended playing time to improve his chances against Deep Thought's lightning responses; each of the two games will have a 90-minutes-per-player time limit, instead of the one-hour limit initially proposed.