Archive for December, 2009


Sure there was poker, and Hearts, and Pinochle, and Red Dog through highschool and college years, but for now I jump to sometime in the 1950’s, 1956 or 57.  I was living in Castle Village, which overlooks the Hudson River from the New York City side. One of my neighbors was a young man [I’ll call him Winky] who owned an insurance agency. We were more acquaintances than we were friends. As an insurance agent, he was always promoting his services. I started using him for my car insurance and household insurance.

Eventually,  he introduced me to a group of  guys with whom I started playing poker on a regular basis. The game continued for many years to come.

One of the places we played at was at the apartment of one of the guys who lived on West 92nd Street off Central Park West in New York City.  He owned an investment company. Another of the players owned a sandwich shop down near the Bowery. Another was a prominent actor who lived in New York City. There was another regular who also sold insurance.  On and off, transient players attended as well. Then, there was Lou [actual name], who lived in Chelsea Towers on West 26th Street in New York City.  We played there as well as at West 92nd Street location.

Lou was a stock broker (as best as I recall).  When my second child was born, I named him after my father, Louis.  When I saw Lou, who I had become close to, at the poker game soon after my son Louis was born, I informed him of my son’s birth.  When he asked what my son’s name  was, I told him Louis, after him.  I was joking, of course. However, my friend Lou was so honored, I never told him the true story.  Moving ahead to the future, my friend Lou moved to Mill Valley, California.  I lost track of him. Some years later I received a birth announcement from Lou. It was one of those custom printed off-white cards that had some black engraved-style printing announcing the birth of Lou’s son, David. Hand-written on the card was, “named after you, Dave.” So, was the joke on him, or, ironically, was it on me!

Back to poker.  We were playing almost exclusively high-low games at this time.  Believe it or not, declaration was verbal.   Last active better declared first.   Therefore, positioning yourself to raise or not to raise was  part of the strategy. As an example, if there were four players remaining and three players before you all declared high, you could, by default, win low by just  stating “low.”  Winky was usually the one who split the pots. Winky had huge hands and was very quick. We all appreciated his taking the responsibility for splitting the pots. Sometime after four or five years of playing with the same renegades, I noticed that Winky, calling a bet,  was putting a chip into a pot.  However, the chip never came from one of his stacks.  I started to concentrate on Winky as he split one of the pots.

When I thought I saw what was a chip or two remaining in Winky’s palm after the pot was split, I grabbed his wrist and turned his cupped palm up, revealing two chips he was palming. He made some feeble attempt to justify his actions.  I recall some tall story about his feeling duly compensated for splitting the pots most of the time.  Since we were playing $1/$2 stakes, Winky was compensating himself $1 and more for who-knows-how-many-pots per night.

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The First Time

It’s not that I was weaned on a poker table, but it seems, that  ever since I was a toddler, there were always poker games at our house or at my aunts’ or uncles’ houses.  That’s what my folks did for entertainment, they played poker.  Aunts, uncles, a few of their close friends–women, men all at the same table.   There did not seem to be any collusion between husbands and wives, but who knows.  I was just a kid, sometimes just sleeping on a nearby couch.  I do remember they played Five-Card Stud and that most players went out almost as soon as they looked at their hole card.

Sometime during the 40’s (Do I need to specify 1940’s? Perhaps, I do. Oh my!) my father and a few of his friends starting playing a new game, Seven-Card Stud.  I’m not sure whether the game was played exclusively.   I do remember there was no dealer’s choice. They either played Seven-Stud or Five-Stud.  It seems, as I now think back, the mixed gender (family) games remained Five-Stud. 

I am trying to remember the stakes at which these games were played.  I know there were no pennies involved.   Certainly no chips were used. There were coins, lots of coins.  Perhaps, some of the games (family style) were nickel-dime. I believe some of the games my father played with friends and business associates  [Somewhere, sometime , I need to expand on this, since some of my dad’s friends were his business associates, who in fact, were ripping him off–not at poker (At least I don’t think they were.)–but in business.] were higher stake–maybe quarter-half-dollar.  I do remember there was paper money on the tables as well. I assume that was just to be changed, not to be bet.

As I try to recall all this, having given no thought to this for more than half a century, since my folks played exclusively high-only games, they did not have to worry about splitting pots.  The winner just scooped it all.

During summers of my youth, maybe from when I was nine to about thirteen, my family would  leave Washington Heights, Inwood Section, where we lived until I was twelve or thirteen, to spend summers in Far Rockaway (Was that Queens or Long Island?) We stayed on Beach 27th Street (I think). We would rent a house from a family who lived there year-round and would move-out for the summer and rent the house to us.  We always seemed to have  rented one of the nicer houses, as opposed to one of the many summer-only bungalows,  on the block.

It was sometime during one of these summers that I first started playing poker, Gin Rummy, and Michigan Rummy.  Stakes?  I cannot recall, but definitely for money.  Interesting, at least to me, is that all my friends in Far Rockaway were from Brooklyn.  I guess I was the only non-Brooklyn Dodger fan. My favoring the New York Giants was the cause of many fights.   So many, in fact, that my father bought me boxing gloves and insisted I learn to box.

The poker we played then was strictly Seven Stud.

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