I was at a party once with local author and radio personality Richard Lederer. He told us that his son Howard (nicknamed "the Professor") is a professional poker player, as is his daughter, Annie Duke (she won a few million in a tournament recently). Now I can't watch a poker game on TV without seeing them. All this poker on TV has ruined my poker group. We used to play games like No Peekie, Baseball, Seven-Card Stud, Cincinnati, Pig in a Poke, Omaha, King Low, Acey-Deucey, Guts, and Five-Card Draw. But TV only airs Texas Hold 'Em tournaments, and when my friend Joe got a new set of poker chips for his birthday, he decided he'd host a Hold 'Em game. It was a $25 buy-in. We were handed five pages of instructions at the door.

"What's this?" one guy asked. The questions and confusion continued through the night. We couldn't figure out the betting, which is different from regular poker. Luckily I lost all my chips early and

didn't have to spend the night learning. I found out later that the guy who kept folding won some cash with that strategy. (He was the same guy asking the Poker 101 questions: "What is higher, a flush or straight?")

The next poker game I went to was in Pacific Beach. A guy I had met at a previous party invited me. It turned out to be another Texas Hold 'Em game. I groaned, but this one was only a $5 buy-in. The guy running the game said, "Yeah, we used to play a variety of games, but this is what we do now."

The good thing about this group was that everyone understood the betting. And there were some interesting conversations. One guy was complaining about using up his two-week free membership at 24 Hour Fitness and now being bugged about buying a membership. Everyone had suggestions on how to deal with pushy salespeople.

One guy was munching on nachos he bought at Alberto's the night before. He offered us some, but leftover nachos just didn't sound appetizing. When he burped, the guy sitting next to him said, "This may sound gross, but that burp smelled good."

When a new deck was opened and shuffled, one player commented, "These cards are like girls on roofies -- quiet and bendable."

One guy who showed up late said he just quit his office job. He said, "I watched Office Space over the weekend. I guess it had an influence on my decision." (It is one of the best comedies that I've seen in years, but I didn't think people would do things like smash a copier or flip off their boss after watching it.)

Two guys showed up late. One of them was about 6'7". I asked him if he played basketball. He told me he had been playing college ball but got burned out and quit. We talked about various tournaments we played in growing up. His stories were better than mine. He was on a traveling team, so he went to places like Japan. The farthest my team ever traveled was to the Hilltop Tournament in Chula Vista.

His best story involved Tom Hanks. "My coach lived on the same street as Hanks. [Our coach] had his own court we practiced on, and Hanks's kids would come over. Well, we had gotten hold of a Hustler magazine and were looking at it. We showed his daughter, who was around our age -- 13. Her younger sister was 5. We didn't show her. The phone rang an hour later and Tom Hanks wanted us to go over to his house. It was just me and another guy who were still there. We walked up to his place. There were statues and a fountain. He had an Oscar on his piano."

Was it for Forrest Gump?

"No. Forrest Gump came out a month later. Anyway, he sat us down and my friend started crying. He was so nice to us. He explained things about pornography and how our curiosity was normal. He was so friendly and nice while he lectured us."

The strangest moment of the evening was when this good-looking young guy showed up. He got a phone call on his cell from a girl he was dating. He later tried to send her a text message. He sent it and then started freaking out. He was jumping up and down, saying, "I can't believe I just did that! I sent that to the wrong girl! It's an old girlfriend." He was pacing, contemplating his dilemma. Finally, another guy said, "Give me your phone." He explained what he would do, and it worked perfectly. He called her saying that this guy left his cell phone at a party, that he had found it and was randomly text messaging people. The old girlfriend seemed to buy it.

The next day I went to a poker party in Chula Vista. A guy named David invited me. David works at UCSD but is going into the military soon. And military guys take their poker seriously. It was a $60 buy-in. (Note to self: find out from accountants if my buy-in is a tax write-off.) Trophies were awarded for first, second, and third place. The first player out even got a booby prize. First place also got their name on a plaque that had all the previous winners' names. It reminded me of an Employee-of-the-Month plaque.

They have these games every few months. Tammy, the hostess, really did a great job organizing. She made food and ordered out (a huge pizza), and she served lots of drinks.

One guy brought cigars for everyone.

There was a group of guys talking about fishing. I stayed away from them.

Tammy told me about her days in radio at 92.5 FM.

A few guys were telling poker stories from previous games and informing me of each player's nickname. When one guy told me about losing a game with a really good hand, another quickly said, "That reminds me of a joke: What's worse than a finger in your chili at Wendy's? A hand in your pants at Neverland."

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