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The Chicken Challenge17 December 2002
LAS VEGAS--I had crossed the pedestrian bridge from the MGM Grand and was about to enter the Tropicana, when a man thrust a card into my hand.
"Do you want to challenge our chicken?"
Why not? It was free, and that's even less than chicken feed. And there was $10,000 to gain if I could win a simple game of tic-tac-toe. I had to chick it out.
The downside? This white leghorn was obviously no birdbrain. The Trop had been running the promotion since May, and the chicken hadn't yet been coated in any special blend of herbs and spices. It obviously wasn't in the habit of letting the 10 grand fly the coop.
There were three players in line ahead of me as I handed my entry card to the woman in charge. I asked the question that was on everyone's minds: How often has the chicken lost?
"Once," she replied. "On Aug. 13."
The entrants and the small crowd of spectators laughed. Everyone knew not to count a single dollar before it hatched. Anyone who was counting on the cash was simply a dumb cluck.
I watched the other players, hoping to pick up a tip that just might ruffle some feathers. The chicken was in a glass-fronted booth. On one wall was a device that the bird pecked to choose its space on the game grid. To the right of the booth was the grid itself, that lighted up with an "O" each time the chicken chose. Facing that was a panel with buttons the challengers touched to light up the "X" squares.
The first player was finishing up as I took it all in. The game ended in a draw, the player walked away shaking his head, the spectators cackled. The second player, a woman in her 30s, stepped up. The chicken chose first, marking an O in the top left corner. This was a setback. Played perfectly, tic-tac-toe should always end in a draw, and there was no prize for a draw. Not only that: If the chicken always went first, with a set opening move, it would limit the opportunities for mistakes. If there was an entry fee, I might have cried fowl. But this was a freebie, so the contestants just had to be able to stand a little roasting from their companions.
Naturally enough, the woman responded to the chicken's opening by marking an X in the middle. The chicken went straight for the gullet, marking an O in the bottom left square. Now, the contestant had no choice. She had to place her X in the left center square, or give the chicken the opportunity for three in a row.
She made the necessary move. Now she had the chance to win if the chicken failed to spot that the right center square would win for X. The chicken didn't miss. The contestant marked center top; the chicken placed an O center bottom for the block. There was no way left for the woman to win. She marked an X bottom right to block the chicken and salvage a draw.
A middle-aged man followed. After the chicken again opened with the top left square, the challenger marked bottom right. That's a risky play--if the second player doesn't grab center square, the first player has an easy path to victory. That's just what happened. The chicken got three in a row, the challenger walked away with egg on his face.
It was my turn. If I was to pluck this bird, my opponent would have to make a mistake. Not likely, but still, the only mistake-proof chicken I knew of involved a full head of garlic. I decided that if the solid play of the first contestant didn't work, and the reckless play of the second failed to throw the chicken off its game, maybe I could psych the chicken out.
The chicken made its move, and I took center square. Then I moved a step to my left, and stared directly into the booth. The chicken didn't play right away. It clawed the bottom of the booth. It pecked at the straw. It looked directly at me, cocking its head first one way, then the other.
Then it marked the bottom left square, and I was in the same position as the woman found herself earlier. I had to take center left for the block, and hope the chicken then missed on my chance to win at center right.
I returned to staredown position. The chicken strutted, pecked, eyed me with head cocked one way, then the other, then back again. It started toward its panel, looked back at me once more, then pecked the O at center right, dashing my hopes.
We played out the draw, and I had to admit this was one tough bird. I gave it my best shot, but you know my prize.
A big goose egg.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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