Periscope Depth

you've seen that man before, his golden arm dispatching cards

Like shooting pool, driving a car and fighting hand-to-hand, poker is one of those things that every American male likes to think they know one or two things about. We’ve all picked up a few trivia from watching Rounders or the World Series of Poker, or from losing money at smoky tables in college. We know about the flop and the little blind and what to sit on and how often to fold in order to stay alive. Generations of cultural history have made poker the epitome of cool. And since looking cool is the central status goal for every male of any age, we all have to know something about poker.

I know nothing about poker. I have a vague sense of what beats what, and I know the lighter chips are worth less than the darker ones, but that’s it. And I don’t even mean I’m ignorant of poker strategy. I’m ignorant of basic betting conventions (“sure, you called his garbage hand, but we still get to see yours”). I’m ignorant of common sense strategy (“you’re the big blind; it costs you nothing to check”). I need constant reminders of every aspect of play. And this is after about one drink. I never spot the sucker at the table, because I’m usually it.

The advantage of a friendly local game of poker – like the game I played at Christopher M’s house yesterday – is that it costs you little and you can stretch it for a while. At that point, you’re paying for beer and pizza and good company. And I had all of those, laughing over war stories with a table full of dudes (and one girlfriend) and dealing out cards once I was out. “Burn one and turn three,” I said. “That’s the deuce … the trey … and that’s a, hm. What do you call the four?”

“Sailboat,” Christopher said.

“And a sailboat. Action’s left of the dealer.”

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