I’ll raise you that coffee table

July 19, 2007

Cash is great, isn’t it?

After all, that’s what we play for. You can buy anything you want with it, it folds up nice and neat, and now it’s all different pretty colors, too.

And, you don’t have to worry about cashing it in at the end of the night.

Before poker exploded on television, and on internet sites like PokerStars, it was also a hell of a lot easier to find cash than it was to find a good poker chip set for home games. You had to dig deeper than the entrance to Spencer Gifts or the end cap at Target.

I’m sure, though, somewhere along the line, most players are or were like me. You played for something else.

What else? You’d be surprised.

Here’s a little story of each type of winnings I incurred during my years as a home game poker player. I’d love to hear from readers and see what else they’ve put up besides a stack of blue chips and a $50 bill.

1.) Food – I know, everyone’s played for Cheerios and pretzel sticks with their grandparents while it was raining during half of your childhood Florida vacations. But in college (which is where most of these will take place for me), we upped the ante, so to speak. We played for steaks, we played for frozen fried rice dinners, 24 packs of Coke, pounds of Swedish berries (mmm….Swedish berries) and cotton candy jelly beans, and plenty more. Of course, it would do me little good to win, since most of my fraternity brothers would sneak back in and eat most of my food anyway, but I definitely satisfied one hell of a sweet tooth by being able to play some cards.

2.) Furniture – The end of semester at college is great for one major reason. People leave. Especially the people that got on your damn nerves. However, most of the time, with those people cannot go their furniture. And aside from the hand-me-down crap that’s been “winded” by everyone on campus more than a few times (yes I’m talking about that chair with so much dried mold on the arms that it magically became two-tone), there is a quality piece of furniture to be had if you can coerce the right person into alleviating the stress of finals with a well-earned game of cards. My favorite take was a three-person, oversized blue couch that came my way courtesy of a two-hour session of midnight baseball. Not only that, but the guy I won it off of wasn’t even graduating, so the added bonus was that he had to come sit on his old couch for the next year whenever he came to my room. Priceless.

3.) Books – Books, you say? What good are books? Well, books (again in school) are as good as currency if you win them at the right time. And the broke kids were the best to tap for these. They wanted to play cards, they’ve just finished finals and are looking for some fun before/after the bars…but they NEED to save their money for booze. Hopefully you can catch them before they turn the books in themselves. Even though a store-bought science book that weighed 50 pounds and cost $120 bucks at the beginning of a semester might only get you 35 bucks before winter break, it’s still $35. I remember this one jackass who thought he was going to run the table on me (and he wasn’t that bad, he just caught a horrible run of cards.) Not only did I take all his money and his Psych book, but later that day after he’d make a second run to the bookstore, I cleaned him out of the remaining $85 bucks he’d made. Then, to add insult to injury, when he went out to the basketball courts to be alone and ponder how he’d lost $350 bucks in four hours, I went along to join him. Good times.

4.) Mikey money – You ever have that guy you play with that always runs out of money? It’s not that he didn’t bring any, it’s just that he always, always loses it? And you tolerate it because without him, there’d be a lot more even talent at the table? Yeah, me too. And for argument’s sake, let’s say his name is Mikey…even though that’s his real name anyway. One fine evening, Mike runs out of money, as usual, and through our best efforts, the rest of us try to keep track of what he owes everyone in our heads, and eventually on a notepad. But we get tired of continuing to swing his debt after each hand, and are looking for an easier method. So, we cut up the notepad paper and write denominations on each little square. 50 cents, $1, $5, etc… And I think at the end of the night, there was almost as much “Mikey money” on the table as there was betting chips. Of course, Mike money is only as good as the Mikey behind it.

Those are the major ones for me. I’ve never played for a service, and I’ve never played for clothes, although I really wish I had sometimes (just not with Mikey.)