Brothers don’t shake hands…brothers gotta hug!

November 30, 2008

I was split on whether to write this week’s article about another current event  I’ve been reading about, or to go the holiday route and talk about something that came up this past weekend during our annual Thanksgiving celebration.

            And although both are timely, I’ll leave the current event article for a future date, as I’m sure it’ll still be debated and relevant in the weeks to come.

            All right, so….Thanksgiving.

            I smoked a turkey…yeah, it was awesome.  We did have 24 people here, ballooning over the last few weeks to include people I’ve never even met before.  However, the ones I had met were fans of poker, and while it’s not a holiday tradition by any means, from time to time we’ll carve out an hour or two and clear off the leftover corn kernels from the tablecloth so we can get a game going.

            Now this brings me to my dilemma, or more accurately my awkward observation…which is I’m actually uncomfortable playing cards with my family.

            I can’t take money from them.

            It has nothing to do with their financial status…has nothing to do with how much we’re playing for, either, or that it’s the holiday season and I should somehow allow that to affect my judgment and “nice” bone.

            I don’t have a nice bone anyway.  I have a naughty bone, but that’s definitely a different article, one I’ll never write on this Web site.

            Anyway, I think the reason is it just doesn’t feel right wagering anything among family members.

            It’s a weird and out-of-character experience for me, since I’ve never had trouble matching stakes against my best of friends.  I’ll gladly take their money or contribute to their videogame fund with a sigh or a smile.

            But for some reason it’s different with family.   Especially my wife’s family.  They’re such good people, and really know the meaning of family.  The coming together just to see everybody, and all that storybook crap.

            Strike a chord in ya, don’t it?  Well, enough of one in me to have to start thinking about backing out of games.

            And it’s not like we’re playing for gas money here.  Sometimes we’re not even playing for pennies, it’s marshmallows and chocolate truffles this year. 

            But hell, it’s their marshmallows and chocolate truffles…and who am I to let a few boats come between my brother in law and his dessert, right?

            For Christmas, I’ll have to do a better job of pre-planning activities to fill the extra time instead of gambling.  Guitar Hero and Rock Band are always strong fallbacks…and since there’s kids around, those do-it-yourself gingerbread houses are a sure hit, as well.

            And, the wise decision would most likely be not giving any decks of cards as gifts from St. Nick….

            ….or Hannukah Harry.

Poker Home Games: Man of the House

November 23, 2008

Do you ever find yourself playing cards for hours one night, and you just get bored with what you’re playing?  You could be cycling through 20 different games and it wouldn’t matter.  If you’ve played them once, you’ve played them enough, and you’re looking for something new….or at least something tweaked.
And this is how new, and sometimes ridiculous, home games come about.  I know it’s how a few variations came into existence for me over the years. 
And it doesn’t have to be a new game, although we’ve come up with some super retarded new games – sober mind you.  Sometimes you can take an existing game and tweak the hell out of it.  Baseball is a personal favorite of mine as a “base” for experimenting.
But sometimes a few other games lend themselves to changing the rules…even ones that already have enough rules to keep track of. 
So here’s a variation of follow the queen that’s been popping up in a few card game circles I still frequent.  I don’t think it’s a new one, but I haven’t seen it before.  I don’t even have a name for it…but I’ll think of one before the column is over and tack it up in the title :)
Here we go:
1) I assume everyone is familiar with the basic rules of Follow the Queen.  I believe I’ve written a walkthrough of it before, so if you’re not, please refer back to it under the Poker Home Games section.
2) The twist on this is…if a King shows face up, it nullifies all Queens as wilds, as well as the card after the Queen that also had been wild up to that point.  Kings then become the only wild card.
3) If, before the end of the game, another Queen comes up, the rule reverts back, and once again Queens and the card dealt face up after the Queen are wild.  Kings are….just kings.
4) I can’t remember what rule I wrote about for the river card in follow the queen, but these days I’m a fan of having it flip up for everyone…if for no other reason than it increases the odds of things changing again…keeps the game interesting.
5) Rest of it is regular poker rules.  Typical rounds of betting, ante, whatever you want.
Small twist, but packs the potential to completely change the dynamic of the game.  If you play for decent stakes, and someone sitting with a hidden queen keeps pumping up the pot…well the King twist is a good way to keep them honest, keep it from being close to a sure thing for him or her. 
OK…so for the name…..

Bad economny? Just keep dropping the legal gambling age

November 16, 2008

Where were these harsh economic times when I was 18?
Sound like an awkward thing to wish for?  Yeah, normally I’d agree with you, but the state of Nevada, in an attempt to bring in a flood of new business to their casinos, is seriously considering dropping the legal gambling age to 18.
As reported in an article published by the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, suggestion raised by a gaming industry lawyer in a question-and-answer session with regulators at last Friday’s gaming law conference sponsored by the State Bar of Nevada.
Now, I’m all for this.  Even at 30, with the “coolness” of this law having passed me by for quite some time already, I can’t see a problem with it.
Let me rephrase that, I can’t see a real problem that would justify voting down this proposal.  Why?  I’ll explain.

1) The first, and strongest argument that I agree with, is the legal age for fighting in a war.  18.  The country considers you old and mature enough to decide how important your life is to you versus doing what’s right for your country.  You can make the call to travel abroad, spend months or years away from your family and familiar surroundings, and put your life on the line….but you aren’t mature enough back home to handle a few hundred bucks?  Please.

2) Similar to point #1, but on the different topic of voting…the legal age of which also is 18.  At no point in history perhaps was the weight and importance of voting as significant as it was just a couple weeks ago during this last presidential election.  You’re telling me some 18-year-old can make a smart, informed, mature decision – and be given the power to put someone like Sarah Palin in a position of national leadership along the way – to decide the presidency of the United States, but he can’t be trusted not to gamble away his summer McDonald’s earnings at the blackjack table?  C’mon now.

3) We’re almost there already.  The age requirement to play at tribal casinos in California and Arizona already is 18.  Our neighbor to the north has its gambling age set at 18, at least where Windsor casino is.  Indian reservation casinos around Wisconsin (where I used to live), are also 18.  Get with the program.

4) Sex.  Hello?  You can legally create life with someone else who’s 18 anywhere in the country (I think it’s actually younger in some states), but you can’t spin a roulette wheel a few times a night?  Whatever.

So what’s the holdup here folks?  Follow suit.  Do the patriotic thing for your country :)

Now, I readily admit it’s probably not the best, long-term solution for fixing the economy and housing market, but you gotta like how Nevada thinks.  And, if this isn’t a flashing red sign to ANYONE who gambles that you’re never going to win – especially when the state can legitimately come out and say getting more people into the casinos will guarantee more cash flow to the state – then you’re blind as a bat.

But that’s fine, I think most people are mature enough to realize you’re not going to a Las Vegas casino to win money unless you’re semi-professional.  You’re going there to have a good time. 

Hell, I knew that when I was 18.

Poker Home Games: Die tryin’

November 9, 2008

 Here’s a nifty little variation of Texas Hold ‘Em I just learned. It can be done a number of ways, but it’s easiest with a single, standard six-sided die (and a deck of cards, of course). The game more or less follows the same structure of Texas Hold ‘Em in terms of betting, etc..

A few quick notes:

– Standard poker hand ranking applies.

– Aces are high or low.

– A dealer button is used and rotates

– Ante, blinds and betting/folding follow standard Hold ‘Em rules.

Here’s the game:

1) The games starts with each player being dealt two down cards (hole cards, whatever you want to call them). You are free to look at these cards.

2) Round of betting

3) Six community cards are dealt face up. They need to each be identified by a number: 1-6. You can put them into “boxes” that already are numbered, or if that’s too much trouble, just agree on the order with the other players. But remember which card corresponds to which number.

4) Second round of betting

5) Dealer rolls the die. Whatever number comes up on the die, the card in the corresponding box is removed from play. Then, a new card off the deck replaces the empty spot of the community cards.

6) Third round of betting

7) Repeat step 5.

8) Fourth and final round of betting.

9) Showdown.

It’s a pretty decent game. Sort of reminiscent of follow the queen in terms of having a good hand changed on you. (In follow the queen, of course, the only thing that can change is the wild card.) I like this version a little more than follow the queen, because it’s hard enough to make a good hand without wilds (although a little easier with 8 cards instead of the traditional 7)…so if you break up two-pair or trips in a no-wild game, it carries much more significance. It’s also a strong test of keeping your poker face when your full house becomes two-pair in one roll of the die.

I guess I know now what all those craps players are screaming about all the time.

Braving the elements

November 2, 2008

Living down here in Florida, it’s not often I have to really “brave the elements” to get anything done, or have a good time. Sure, it’s hot during the summers, but it’s only bad during the day, and if you’re outside for a decent period of time, you’re probably doing something exciting that’s helping you pass the time without even noticing the heat.

Growing up, though, I can distinctly remember many occasions where me and our poker group were forced to “brave the elements” just to get in a good evening of cards.

Why’d we do it? Easy, at the end of the day, the fun we had playing cards with each other far outweighed the burden we took on by placing ourselves in harsh (for a north-shore white kid, that is) conditions.

So, down to specifics. I’ll run through a few, and I’m sure you’ll be able to identify somewhat with at least one scenario.

The cold: The most obvious one, of course, but also the most frequent for our high school poker group. A little background…being in high school, all of us lived with our parents. Naturally, there was a “finish up” time set by the host parents’ for the night. Usually not later than 1 a.m., and that was on a good night. Even if we were quiet and in the basement, it was 1 a.m. Now, also keeping in mind that since we were in high school and most of us were under 18, there was the city curfew, which was midnight on weekends. So, if we wanted to play, and wanted to play late and long, we were basically committing to playing through until the sunrise, and heading home around 7 a.m. or so, when we were safely passed curfew. Factoring in simple math, 7 a.m. is well passed 1 a.m., so a creative solution was in order. That solution was? My parents back yard gazebo. Well constructed, lit, screened in, complete with table and up to 6 chairs, it made for the perfect relaxation area – during the spring and summer. But as the seasons tilted to Halloween and after, we started trading our cold beverages for winter overcoats. Yes, we played for 8 hours in overcoats, gloves and hats. And if it was windy, we were basically screwed. The screens will catch some of that wind, but if it’s really blowing, we just called it a night early. Logic would’ve dictated one of us invest in a $10 space heater (there were outlets in the gazebo), but hindsight’s 20/20, isn’t it.

The cramped space: We would play at one kid’s house (and we had to rotate depending on whose parents were in the best mood that weekend – Lord knows everyone doesn’t want a half dozen teenagers slinging quarters and Cheetos back and forth in their kitchen for hours and hours on a Saturday night) whose open area, if you want to call it that, was about as wide as your wing span. There were clothes and piles of who knows what stacked all around also, making it not only impossible to sit and get comfortable, but put you in a maze every time you had to get up to take a leak. To add insult to injury, the place was on the third floor of an apartment complex with no elevator. Hey, three flights of stairs is a pain in the butt after 8 hours of cards, I don’t care who you are.

The poor kid’s place: Don’t egg me. We had nothing but love for our poor little buddy. Kinda like Kenny on South Park, he was still part of our group, still one of us. It just sucked playing at his house. Mostly because he didn’t have much in the way of snacks at his place. So you had to remember to bring your own soda and chips. We also had to remember to bring our own cards. No food is a harsh condition by definition, so this one qualifies.

Screaming/argumentative parents: Yeah, so of our group, my house was definitely the worst for this. Lucky for me, it was so commonplace that after a while, my friends didn’t think much of it. Not necessarily a good thing when screaming is considered the norm, but it wasn’t drunken violence screaming, it was just yuppie, harmless white, Jewish American screaming. Sometimes we were nicely tucked away in the basement, where the cries of frustration were heard but muffled. Sometimes, though, we were sitting at the kitchen table. Right — awwwwwkward!

Pilgrims in an unholy land: That might a bit dramatic, but I’m a Sean Connery fan, so I have to slip his quotes in wherever I can find an opportunity. What I mean by this is, playing cards for money where it’s strictly forbidden, and thus having to brave that harsh condition. For us? High school. A few of us had regular down time (no scheduled class or lunch, etc…) for about 15-20 minutes a day. And what better way to make use of that time than get in a few rounds of poker while we’re sitting outside the band room in the side hallway. (Yes, we were all in band, too, big shock.) Here’s the thing, though, for a while…cards weren’t illegal, just the act of playing for money. So we devised a system where we’d play for “credits.” Sounds ridiculous, and it was, and we weren’t fooling anybody, but there was really nothing they could do about it. I hated band anyway.

That’s all I got for now. Upon reflection, we jumped through some major hoops trying to get a good card game in, but the memories and the extra money (for me at least) was all worth it. Thank goodness things are different now that I own my own home…now all I have to do is get the game together…and…uh…check with my wife…and make sure the kid is sleeping, so we can’t be too loud…and make sure nobody has to work the next day….and make sure my fridge is stocked….and…..