cee lo

During high school I started a gambling epidemic and was nearly suspended. The game was called Cee-lo. For those innocent  readers…the game involves 3 dice, currency tossed recklessly on the ground, a steady hand, and valor.

Cee-Lo derives from the Chinese words: Si-Wu-Liu (4-5-6) and has many variations and names (Chinchirorin, Dice, Sanliu Baozi, etc.)

No, the game was not invented by the maestro CeeLo Green:

clo cat

c e lo bowser

Nor was it created by one of my artistic idols: Biggie Smalls

biggie cee lo

It was brought over to the U.S. by Chinese immigrants “who played it with their colleagues.” Then it was heartily adopted by the urban, black, impoverished community “who played it with their homies:”

cee lo gif

The game was introduced to me during a cross-country-team bus ride by Max Alinko, who learned it while playing at basketball camps in the ghetto of Syracuse, NY. Gambling courses strongly through J.W. Kash’s veins. I fell in love at 4-5-6 (the best, automatically winning roll).

After Max taught me the game, I became obsessed. I played on the bus, in the library, in the locker room, in the parking lot, during class, after xc practice. And being a natural and sympathetic teacher, I taught everyone who was willing to learn. I took many a novice under my greedy, fidgeting wing. This all happened when text messaging was beginning to blow up. “Bathroom near the cafeteria. 1:45pm Five of us. Cee-lo.” Kids were cutting class, playing against lunch trays, tossing under the cover of textbooks, against shoes…there came a point when it was so bad that when I went the bathroom during class I was surprised not to find guys rolling dice. And through it all I was considered somewhat of a ringleader because I never turned down a game…

I have a distinct memory of my first $10 match. It was with Jaquan in the bathroom nearest the auditorium. It was only the two of us…he had challenged me to play for this ridiculous sum two hours prior. My hands were trembling. My lips were dry. The dice ricocheted off of the hard, blue tiles with a SMACK CRACKITY SMACK SMACK SMACK crackity smack. We seemed to play for half an hour, each of us staring desperately at the results of each roll, whispering incoherent incantations under our breath…the crumpled Hamiltons waiting to be grasped…

The unexperienced reader may be wondering what it is about this particular gambling pursuit which makes it so enticing…

1.) The power is in your hands. You’re not waiting for a card to be dealt, for a machine to click, for a team to score…you’re deciding your fate with a your own shake and toss…perhaps if you think or shake harder you might roll 4-5-6…

2.) After researching this game I learned that exactly 50% of the dice permutations are meaningless. Despite learning this for the first time today, it makes a lot of sense. I’ve played thousands upon thousands of Cee-lo games and I always wondered  why each roll seemed so on-the-edge…so exciting…I felt it intuitively, but now I know statistically that for each roll you have an equal chance of scoring. It’s like you’re flipping a coin and trying to get heads…if you get tails fives times in a row you expect heads the next time (even though this is an illusion, i.e. the gambler’s fallacy…independent trial of a random process) so each roll seems to ratchet up the intensity. Tails again! Tails again! Tails again! GOD DAMN IT GIVE ME 4-5-6!

3.) There’s something else…something wild….about the result being determined for a split second before you know exactly what it is…when the dice are done rolling you frantically glance at each one…4!….5!…1! GOD DAMN IT. Then you roll again. Then you hope.

(Note: I beat Jaquan for the $10 that day and walked back to my stupid English class throbbing and glowing with glory and pride.)

Another fond memory I have of Cee-Lo is being at a football game, bored out of my mind, and leaving during the third quarter with my friend Landon Neese to play against Jimmy Pitts and his younger brother. We snuck into the school, found a  bathroom, and played with my own, personal, steel dice which I carried with me to most public outings. Jimmy was a pro and would do this thing where he would yell what he rolled (TRIP SIXES) and quickly grab the dice off the ground. Landon and I wouldn’t let this technique slide though, and ended up leaving $5 and $3 up.

clo guns

(Jimmy Pitts was a basketball star, but ended up transferring to the most ghetto school in Syracuse (Fowler) the next year. Then he got caught up in the wrong crowd, was arrested for breaking and entering, and spent a couple of years in prison.)

So how did I almost get suspended?

The Colosseum of high school Cee-lo was located in the “Band Auditorium” in the back corner…where the drummers loitered, napped, and played calculator games. I was a drummer and frequently orchestrated large matches. It really became “out of hand.” Kids were skipping class all over the school to sneak into the back of “Band Auditorium” to flirt with lady luck. The band teacher had been around for 30 years and didn’t do anything about it…at first.

One day the vice principle arrived at Band practice unannounced.

“Excuse me? J.W. Kash? Will you please follow me.” He led me to the principles office. I was told to sit in a chair.

(Note: During high school I was constantly being punished for various transgressions…so when I sat in the chair my mind started racing and preparing to cope with the judiciary onslaught).

The principle, Mr. Gasperini, a bald man with beady eyes…began the interrogation.
“Teachers have been informing me…J.W….that you’ve been organizing…gambling games.”
“Really?” He put his hand on his red chair:

Thanks Internet

“Yes. Would you…empty your pockets for me?”
“Sure.” I emptied my pockets. There was one die.
“Now…would you empty your backpack for me?”
“Of course.” One more die emerged. Both of these die were unexpected.
“Hmmm. What about the front pocket?”
“I don’t usually put anything in the-”
“Please empty the front pocket.” I opened the front pocket and pulled another die. Damn. “It takes 3 die to play this gambling game…doesn’t it, JW?”
“This is bad, JW, this is real bad, it looks like I’m going to have to suspend you from school…and you won’t be able to race in the Sectional championships this afternoon.”

My cross country coach was contacted, my parents were called. Mr Gasperini’s punishment was clearly ridiculously harsh…and since I was #2 on the cross country team with a chance of making it to states (I ended up missing it by one person that day…who passed me in the last 1/4 mile of the 5k…missed qualifying by 14 seconds…I often wondered how this incident affected my race) and since my parents assured Mr. Gasperini that I would be reprimanded at home…I was let off with a couple of after-school detentions.


Yesterday, at my restaurant, a man walked in with a date and ordered drinks. The bartender was staring off into space at something very interesting so I brought the drinks to the couple. When I set them down I saw 3 dice in front of the man.

“Are those for…Cee-lo?” I asked
“Hahah. Yes. How did you know?”
“C’mon man. 3 dice.” He turned to the girl.
“That’s crazy. I can’t believe he knows about Cee-lo.” He turned back to me, “Do you play?”
“I…I used to.”
“It’s so fun.”
“Yes. Wanna roll right now? For a dollar?” He laughed.
“Sure.” We placed the bills on the bar. He rolled the dice against a menu. Eventually, he scored a 4 (the box). I rolled Trip 5s. The man laughed again. “Nice! Here’s your dollar.”
“No. You keep it.”
“Really? Why not? You won it fair and square.” I pushed the dollar back to the couple and started to walk away.
“I don’t gamble when I’m on the job.”


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