Among the profusion of activities invented by man to amuse himself, there are undoubtedly some games that are not gambles intelligence games like athletics, in which chance plays little or no part. Just as surely, there are some gambles that are not usually thought of as games.  But, as I have said before, life itself is a gamble; and it has often enough been called a game.  So no one should mind if I begin this chapter with a look at some accepted features of modern life in which chance operates as much as it does in many actual games.

Speculation, for instance.  Playing the market in stocks and shares may not seem to be a gambling activity, for it is necessary in all capitalist economies.  And gambling is best defined as “an unnecessary conflict with chance, symbolized by the placing of a wager on the outcome of an uncertain even.” But speculation is still gambling, in spite of its economic necessity- for speculators engage in it by their own choice.  They may define speculation as self-sacrifice in the cause of the national economy, but this won’t prevent them from being classed as gamblers.  Even a millionaire who evades the routine of actually playing the market cannot plead that his successes are engineered for him by his agents solely for the economic good of his country. Not without raising a few eyebrows.

      In this business like game, (Keno, baseball,billards,horseracing)not all the players are successful and (as with most forms of gambling) not all are honest.  Ivar Kreuger, the Swedish match king, was an unhappy example of dishonesty and failure.  He was also a glaring example of the gambler whose masochistic compulsion to lose is as strong as the death wish in a moth.  In fact, Kreuger’s compulsion itself could be called a death-wish.

Children at Play, a painting by the 16th-century Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel.  Many children’s games (like many adult gambles) demand both skill and luck. Note the two kinds of bowling games near the wall, and the chancy game (center) in which a boy must strike a metal pot without being struck in turn by his blindfolded opponent.

One of $ 39,200,000 worth of Italian treasury bills forged by Ivar Kreuger in 1931.   The signatures were proved false by handwriting experts about a month after Kreuger’s suicide in 1932.


Kreuger as he appeared at the height of his career.

Kreuger’s gambles with money began in a big way in 1917, when he bought devalued American dollars with Swedish kronor, waited till postwar prosperity restored the value of the dollars, then sold them for more than twice what he had paid for them.  With that profit (it was about $ 3,000,000) he began to build his industrial empire, through maneuvers that were based on lending money to war impoverished nations in exchange for match-manufacturing monopolies.  His control became world-wide and he was renowned for paying fabulous dividends.  Statesmen and bankers of the highest integrity deferred to his financial genius, and after his death The Times of London included in his obituary the well-intentioned but somewhat innocent statement that his dealings had always been beyond reproach.

Not so.  He was a swindler and a forger, and he mercilessly cheated millions of people all over the world.  (In America alone, investors parted with over a quarter of a billion dollars.)  By cooking the books of his own companies, forging bonds with the signatures of heads of state on them, and not only inventing assets but inventing nonexistent banks to keep them in, he managed to keep going an organization whose balance sheets (drawn up by himself) were under the constant surveillance of incorruptible examiners.  And he kept it going for nearly 25 years.

The investigations following the collapse of the Kreuger empire (after his death ) revealed that poker play playing the stock market was apparently too simple a gamble for him.  a solitary, secretive man, Kreuger needed greater risks than straightforward speculation, plus embezzlement to recoup his losses, to satisfy his compulsion toward disaster.  Gambling against  discovery of his colossal defalcations and embezzlements offered just such a risk.  He increased it by employing a number of undercover agents to operate some of his swindles (thereby laying as much information as his accountants and directors needed to support  his fictions without seeing through them.

As the risks piled up, and more collateral was invented to secure more loans from increasingly suspicious banks, Kreuger must have felt the fulfillment of his compulsion approaching.  At one time, when he was virtually held prisoner in New York while some preliminary investigations into his operations were going on, he appeared to have gone quite insane.  He neither slept nor ate, and displayed all the symptoms of the gambler working up to his payoff.

The payoff came in Paris.  In his flat at 5 Avenue Victor Emmanuel III, on March 12, 1932, Kreuger shot himself through the heart.  His last gamble, a pathetic attempt to get New York to believe that some bonds supposed to be in a Berlin bank were actually there, had failed.  He has no more tricks left to play.  He apparently shot himself with composure, as if his 52 years of life had pleased him. 

And undoubtedly they had.  Kreuger had always played his impeccable appearance ad his marvelously accurate memory (indispensable for instantly visualizing falsified books) against the faith in printed figures that the speculative gambler must show.  An innocent question (raised by one of his own company directors) about an item in a balance sheet had kicked the cornerstone away from his house of cards.  “I have made such a mess of things,” he said in his conventional suicide note, “that I believe that this is the best solution for all displayed an intricate genius.  He had twisted the laws of probability far longer than most gamblers do, and he had no reason (except a moral one) to be ashamed of his enterprise, even though it failed.  Until then, his system has proved to be as nearly invincible as any system can ever be against the armory of chance.