ENID, Okla. — Editor’s note: This column was first published Dec. 1, 2004.
Harvey Griffin, the late, great football coach at both Enid and Chisholm high schools, once compared watching basketball on television to “watching two men fish.”
I wonder what he’d have thought about watching people play cards?
It seems you can’t turn on your television set these days without coming across someone playing poker.
Poker used to be reserved for boys’ nights out, a testosterone-fueled male bonding ritual replete with beer, chips and stale cigar smoke, not to mention intermittent belching and scratching.
But now it is mainstream TV fare. There’s the World Series of Poker, Celebrity Poker, Championship Poker and the World Poker Tour, to name just a few.
Every network on cable, it seems, is developing its own poker show, save perhaps for Animal Planet, but that’s probably not far behind, with the Crocodile Hunter matching wits at the poker table with a baboon, a couple of crocs and a python.
There are many different types of poker, with exotic names like five-card draw, seven-card stud, High-Low Chicago and, the one most of the televised competitions feature, Texas Hold ’Em.
The peak of my poker career came in college. We didn’t play games like Texas Hold ’Em, Omaha or 2-Card Manila.
We played plain old five-card draw. All the players bet, then each is dealt five cards.
At this point you decide whether or not to fold. If you stay in, you bet again, then ask for one to five cards, if you need any. Then you bet again.
We would play late at night, in the dorm, for small stakes.
On these TV poker shows, the players sit behind huge stacks of chips representing many thousands of dollars. I used to agonize over whether or not to bet a quarter.
The TV poker players are always cool, to the extreme. Their goal is to show no emotion, to betray not even the slightest hint of what kind of hand they hold. Many of them wear sunglasses, so their opponents can’t even read their eyes. Some are as implacable as statues.
Good poker players learn to look for what they call “tells,” little movements, tics or expressions their opponents habitually make, largely unconsciously, that will give away whether they are sitting on four aces or a pair of deuces.
I, on the other hand, have the world’s worst poker face. When dealt a good hand, I would normally grin broadly and say something profound, like “well, well,” whereupon my opponents immediately would fold.
When dealt a lousy hand I would emit a sound like someone had just dug their elbow into my ribs.
Poker has a certain mystique stretching back all the way to Wild West Days.
Wild Bill Hickock met his end during a poker game in Sweeney’s Silver Dollar Saloon, in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, shot in the back of the head while holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights, known since as the “dead man’s hand.”
Our college poker games normally ended in an equally noisy, if non-lethal, fashion. The room would invariable clear when one of the guys at the table with a big wad of snuff in his lip would kick over the cup he had been spitting into all evening long, sending young men scrambling in all directions, save for the guys in whose room the game was being held, who stood hollering for someone to bring them the mop.
The only consolation for those poor souls was often the players had departed the game so quickly, they forgot to take their winnings with them.
Kicking over the spit can, in fact, became quite lucrative, if extremely distasteful.
Mullin is senior writer for the News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.