Friday, November 28, 2008

The Stakes

The Stakes

Well, it did not take long for me to miss a day of blogging did it?

Wednesday night I went out for a semi-annual poker game. I’ve been playing poker with the same core people for about thirty years. We play for about the same stakes as we did thirty years ago. In fact our pots generally are smaller than they were thirty years ago, despite most of us making much more money that we did thirty years ago. However back then, although we did not make as much we do now, also did not have the responsibilities that come with middle age; families, mortgages, insurance etc.

When we were younger our games also started late and went on until the wee hours of the morning, sometimes to dawn and beyond.  However we generally start much earlier and end the game in a few hours so we creaky old men can go home and get to bed.

In the three decades that our game has existed players have come and gone. Many of them I suspect became irritated at our style of play which is one third game, one third banter and one third arguing about the game. Others have simply not been invited back for one reason or another. For example one fellow did not realize that the true object of our poker game was not to win a lot of money, so he set about to break the bank by a combination of sandbagging and aggressive bluffing. This drove out the small fish and made those with more money and stronger competitive drives stay in to win the big pots.

After the gent walked away with our hard earned cash we instituted caps on how much some could lose in a hand. In a way we pre-dated Missouri’s recently overturned casino spending limit. For the serious poker players out there who label us as amateurs, cheapskates and chicken, I cheerfully admit to all three, at least when it comes to poker. It isn’t the world series of poker
after, all, it is just for fun… unless I lose.

During the infrequent times that I do play poker, while I am playing, in the back of my mind I often think about my one of my favorite books, in which poker crucial plot element. The lack of concentration may explain my poker prowess. The book is Last Call by Tim Powers.  Like most of Tim Powers books, he has created a perfectly realized world of magic realism in which poker becomes not merely a game wherein cash, property and lives are the stakes but a magic ritual that can shape the world. Powers equates the death of Bugsy Siegel with the sacrifice of the divine king and Las Vegas is the magical city surrounded by the Wasteland from Arthurian mythos. Las Vegas, as the capital of chance swims in a sea of probability that can cure or kill, given the right turn of the cards or throw of a dice.

If you haven’t read Last Call I highly recommend doing so before you play poker again. You may realize that what you are playing for goes far beyond any paltry sum of money.

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