Archive for the ‘TALES’ Category

My First Kill

"Sheeney!" "Kike!" Shouts came a few times a week, especially when we left Hebrew school at Inwood Jewish Center in the Inwood section near the upper tip of Manhattan. Since we Sheenies attended Hebrew school five days a week, we were easy targets and were constantly being attacked by one group or another.  Yet, we had no street gang of our own; so, every so often, we would join the Micks from Arden Street and Thayer Street when they were being attacked by the Guineas from north of Dyckman Street--pocket knives, shivs, garbage-can covers, taped hockey sticks, baseball bats, and fists all being flailed. Luckily, no one got killed.

Then there were two times I was held up at gun point in a deli I owned in New York City on Madison Avenue. This store was open 365 days a year.  We were open until midnight or one A.M. every night--a perfect target for those needing a fix so bad, they would steal from the first available place that seemed to have cash available. That first time, I had a pistol aimed at my head.  After the robber scooped whatever was in the register, probably under five hundred dollars, I attempted to call the police.  However, I had lost my voice. I actually could not talk to the police when they arrived, after a clerk who worked for me called the authorities.  The second time I was held up in the store, the robber made me feel more at ease.  I remember joking with him, asking him if he wanted a sandwich to-go.  Crazy, right?

Some years later, I was managing a Kings Supermarket in Livingston, New Jersey.  We had a safe in this store.  It was before closing, a little before nine at night. In the store along with me, were three customers, one cashier, and two clerks.  Three men with ski masks came into the store and jammed the door so it could not be opened.  Two of the men wielded some type of shot guns or rifles (police thought carbines). The leader of this fierce threesome kept making circular motions with his weapon, some kind of revolver with a very long barrel.  His motioning was signaling all of us, the employees and the customers, to go into the backroom.  We were told to lie down, which we all obligingly did. We lay on the floor, panicked. The three gunmen then took whatever they wanted, including my wallet.  It was the taking of my wallet that set me off.  I rose from the floor and approached the shotgun/rifle man who had my wallet.  I demanded that he give me my wallet back, stressing that they had plenty without my wallet and its meager contents, mostly ID's  and pictures.  He returned my wallet, in tact. Crazy, right?  The hold-up got even stranger.  The leader with this huge-looking pistol directed me back to the front of the store, where the safe was. I was ordered to open the safe. The gunman kept pointing this scary pistol at me. I became disoriented.  I informed the gunman that if he did not stop pointing his gun at me two things would probably happen. Firstly, he was not going to get any money from the safe; secondly, I would probably be killed. Luckily, he pointed the gun in another direction.  Finally, I was able to recall the combination to the safe.  I opened it. I gave him all the bills and checks. The three gunmen left.

It was not any of the many street fights or hold-ups or even my stint in the Military Police that brought about my first kill.  Actually, my first kill was in Foxwoods at the $5/$10 Omaha Hi-Lo table. I never knew what the reference to kill was in Poker until I sat down to play Omaha, $5/$10, Hi-Lo, "with a kill."

To kill a pot means to post an overblind that increases the betting limit. A full kill is double the amount of the big blind, and doubles the betting limits. A half kill is one-and-a-half times the big blind, and increases the betting limits by that amount.  There are other forms of "kills" as well.  For edification, I have referenced all "kills" at bottom of this portion.

This $5/$10 game became doubly exciting at $10/$20 after any pot, over $100,that was won by one person.  These days most kill pots are in $4/$8 games and are half-kills, $6/$12.  Some of the more enjoyable Omaha-with-a-kill(half-kill, actually)games are at Foxwoods in CT, The Taj in Atlantic City, and The Venetian in Vegas. At a $5/$10 dealer's choice home game I host every so often, we have a "kill" in effect: After any pot over $100 is won by one player, the stakes of the following hand go to $10/$15. If a $10/$15 hand is won by one player, the next hand is played at $10/$20.  My first kill had a lasting effect.
For complete "kill" information, consult "Robert Rules of Poker" which is authored by Robert Ciaffone, better known in the poker world as Bob Ciaffone, a leading authority on cardroom rules or http://www.cardplayer.com/rules-of-poker/kill-pots.

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Babel 1:2-2

Genesis 11:1-9   To this point of time in the Bible, the world had but one language, just one uniform way for all people of the world to communicate. God confounded their language and caused them to speak disparate languages so they would not understand each other. Furthermore, god taught them to play Poker but supplied discordant rules.

Babel 1:1-2 began describing the turmoil of starting a “new” Poker game.  I remember many years back when I would attend meetings of the Kinsman Cousins Club, a group of my cousins and quasi-cousins [whose relationship to each other was not questionable, but confusing–when all was lost, related through Tanta from Brownsville (or was it Bronsville?)]. We were all jolly,  good friends as well as relatives.   For decades, we had monthly meetings, alternating in some rotational manner, at  homes (or apartments) of various cousins; yearly, some picnic meetings at places like Van Saun County Park in Bergen County, New Jersey.  Yet, whenever we got together (not always the same cousins were at all the same meetings) and the minutes of the last meeting were read and new agenda was completed and after much food was consumed and laughs and catch-ups completed, some of us would attempt to start a Poker game. Usually, we spent more time discussing “ground rules” than playing.  

Once, when I was in Chicago at an electronics-business convention, a group of people I had known very well, for a very long time, and I all went to a suite in the hotel at which we were staying and decided to play Poker. It took so long to decide on which games we would play and to explain some of the games, which some of us assumed were academic, we never got the game, per se, going.

At some home Poker games, in declare games, after high-hand(s) and low-hand(s) have been determined, there is betting.  There is even dispute over who the first better is. Greater than that difference is that in some games, if there is only one person going in one direction, unchallenged (Let us say there are two lows and one high, as an example.), that one person is restricted from betting–leaving only the active participants to compete, monetarily against each other. The non-challenger must call all bets. However, in other home games, the non-challenger is forced to be the first bettor and must raise all subsequent bets, in many instances effecting the outcome of the competition between (or among) the challenging players all going in the opposite direction of the non-challenger.  With all the possible raising that might ensue, marginal hands will be paying a lot of extra money for what might just be a contender and not a winner. In other declare games, there is no betting permitted after declarations are completed.  In these instances, after declarations, all hands are revealed and “cards-speak.”

Confused?  “Babelrific,” I say!  A few years back I played in a game in Marlborough, MA. Talk about dealer’s choice.   This game was dealer’s choice personified. In some games the best low was ace, 2, 3, 4, 5 (a wheel); in others, ace, 2, 3, 4, 6. In some games, straights (as in the wheel above) are considered high hands and cannot be played as  low hands. In this game, the dealer had to announce not only the game he was dealing, but whether the best low would be a 5 (as in a wheel) or a 6. Most games set one parameter for best low and do not give dealer the option to alter it.  The wheel is the most accepted best low. I believe the wheel is the casino standard as well.

How about betting and calling and raising? At some home games you can check and raise. At many friendly games, check-raise is verboten. At some games you may call and then raise if there is a raise after you call.  At other games, if you only call, you may not raise, and, if you check, you may not raise. At most games there is a limit as to the number of raises allowed.  Usually limited to three (maybe four) raises.  Sometimes, if there are only two contenders, raises are unlimited.

In some games, there is no checking allowed, meaning force-betting is in effect.  One must either bet, call, raise, or fold. There are no free rounds. In some games, there is what is called protective raising. A protective raise allows a player to actually reduce the amount being raised, limiting the possible loss of the raiser. Let’s  say stakes are $1/$5/$10. Person A bets $5 and person B raises $10, making it $15 to person C to call. Person C now raises $1, making total bet $16, limiting his or her exposure depending on the action of the next to act.

What about using mucked (previously discarded) cards if you run out of cards?  Rather use common (community cards)? I prefer using mucked cards, but I am probably in the minority?

Lastly, but most importantly, stakes of the game need to be established.  Some games might be more fun as pot-limit or no-limit–more so in tournaments though. Perhaps, we’ll get into further discussion, but not now.

“So the lord scattered” players “over all the earth.”

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Babel 1:1-2

“…its name was called Babel, because there the lord confused the language of all the earth….” (Genesis 11:1-9)  The confusion of tongues is usually thought to have occurred during the days of Peleg (Gen. 10:25).   Not so!

Every time a group of people, maybe even friends or relatives or business associates, get together and decide to play Poker, having never before played poker as that particular group, chaos occurs. Now, this chaos never occurs when people for the first time sit to play Hearts.  It’s just a matter of passing cards one way, then the other, across, then not.  Not too many variables in Hearts. In Bridge, of course there are Duplicate and Contract, maybe even Chicago. When two sit to play Bridge, no doubt but it is going to be Honeymoon they play. With Rummy, there are variations like Gin, and Knock…even Michigan (aka, Boodle), if you have the board.  Usually, when someone says Rummy, he or she means Knock  Rummy.  When someone wants to play Gin Rummy, he or she just says, “Let’s play Gin.”

When it comes to playing Poker, unless someone says let’s play Hold ‘Em or Omaha [or god forbid, Stud (and then what kind?)], agreeing on terms and conditions gets harried.  As an example, with Omaha one could mean Omaha High-Only or Hi-Lo, the latter almost always is accepted as eight low or better–“cards-speak ” or “lay-down,” as played in casinos. As unusual as it may be,  one  player, in one home game in which I played, used to deal Omaha Hi-Lo with a declaration after river card betting was complete. 

If we stop here, we can start to see how “Babelrific” all this can become.  In some games, there is betting after the declaration; in others, there is not.   (In years gone by there was actual verbal declaration and one could possibly win one way or the other by default. As example, if there were four players remaining and the first three all declared high, the fourth could claim half the pot by just declaring low. Games with verbal in-turn declarations are rather rare these days, because position-value of declaring last is so great it makes the game unfair.) In games of declaration there is much *confusion over how many chips indicate(s) low; how many, high; how many, both ways (in some games refered to as “going pig” or “swinging” ).

Most commonly, simultaneous declarations are  done by remaining players placing chips or coins or tokens in their hands and forming a closed fist. Each player remaining in the game takes *two chips or coins or tokens below the table, then brings up a closed hand  containing zero, one, or two (*or in some instances more). After all players have brought their closed hands above the table, they all reveal their holdings. Zero may indicate the player low, one high, and two chips swing.

*To digress………………..Perhaps, you will  join me.   Contact your Congressman or Congresswoman now!  It is time to “standardize declaration in Poker games.”  The nation requires uniformity in declaring at poker games. Zero for low, one for high, two for both ways should be the standard.  I am sure that if we can get this legislation through, we can then get this before the United Nations and get this standardized internationally.

More Babel coming in 1:2-2 (maybe more)

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In the late 1950’s, when the draft was still in effect, I was scheduled to go for a physical one Monday. The night before, I started experiencing pains I had never encountered before. The pains  were so sharp, so severe that I was up the entire night.  Instead of worrying about what was causing the pain, I was concerned with getting to my physical for Selective Service in the Armed Forces and what might happen if I did not show. The result of that physical would rate my standing in the draft. Since I was in relatively good health, I knew I would be rated 1A and that I would be called up  soon after my physical.

Very early that Monday morning I contacted a cousin of mine, a medical doctor, and described my condition.  Soon after, I was under going an appendectomy in the hospital, the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.  Prior, the only few times I had ever visited Montefiore, was to see relatives suffering from severe cancers.  I thought Montefiore was a hospital at which one came to die.  To my delight, after a few days, I was sent home.

The doctor contacted the Selective Service System and stated that I should not indulge in any strenuous activity for six months.  Given this ironic reprieve I busied myself trying to find a placement in either the National Guard or Armed Forces Reserve. If I could get into either of these programs, I would have to serve active duty of only six months. If I were to get drafted, I would be forced to serve a minimum of two years in the Infantry.

I contacted Armed Forces centers throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.   There were no openings in either Reserve or National Guard units. I was getting quite concerned that I might end up going through the draft system.  I lucked out.

Another cousin (Fortunately, I have a lot of relatives.) who worked for an airline based out of Miami, FL, informed me that he heard that there were openings in the Air Force Reserve unit at Homestead Air Force Base, not far from Miami.

At this juncture I’ll move ahead, leaving for another tale the humorous story of how a young lady joined me when I flew down to Miami for enlistment and how she ended up in jail.  I took a battery of tests: written, oral, and physical. I scored well enough that I was given a choice of schools to attend after my four weeks of basic training at Lakeland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX.  The committment for Air Force Reservists included basic training, followed by “schooling,” followed by balance of six month tour at originating unit, Homestead AFB.

Of all the school choices I had, I chose whichever of the schools was the shortest. So it was I ended up in the Military Police, Air Police to be precise.

There are many stories to be told of when I was in Texas, many humorous–many, sadly, just a sorrowful sign of the times. While in the service, I was quite fortunate financially.  I had cut a deal with my business partners, albeit my mother and brother-in-law, that I would receive $75 per week (as opposed to the $200 per week I was earning at the time) for the six month period I was in the service.  In the late 50’s, $75 a week (especially with no overhead) was a lot of money for a single guy.  We received no leave time until after basic training.  Sometime after my first few weeks of  Air Police school, also at Lakeland AFB, I got a two-day, weekend pass.

I rented a Pontiac convertible. I asked a young black man from Columbus , OH, I had befriended, if he wanted to join me.  I soon discovered that I was the only Jewish person my friend had ever met. Together we headed for downtown San Antonio– no River Walk, no Spurs, no fancy anything as I recall. (As a matter of fact, if you wanted to give the United States a good enema, San Antonio in the late 1950’s was a good place to insert it.)We went out to eat at a very ordinary restaurant.  We were stared at as some kind of weirdos.  As I looked around, I realized that he was the only black face in the restaurant.

This weekend turned into a disaster.  As we went from motel to motel, hotel to hotel, no place would rent us rooms together.  Finally, I had to drop him off at some seedy-looking motel, where he checked-in.  Worse than San Antonio proper, were the outskirts where he had to stay. We would meet during the day and sight-see.  Sadly, we spent no more weekends together.  Anyway, I diverted from my tale.

I spent ten weeks training to be an MP (AP).  I experienced physical training I thought I could not endure. I learned to  toss grenades and how to fire and clean many weapons including M1 rifles and BAR’s (Browning automatic rifles) and two different pistols. I learned judo and to direct traffic. I became familiar with all procedures surrounding military funerals. The worst of the chores was securing the scene of an aircraft crash–bodies, limbs, horror. Then, there was the hours and hours of classes and the UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

After Texas tour and five-day furlough in New York, I packed my car and drove straight through to Miami, staying awake on dexidrine and caffeine. I reported for duty. I was given two days to get my affairs in order.  I rented a furnished apartment in Miami Springs, where, thanks to my cousin and his stewardess friends, I had a very pleasant three months.

Day to-day tasks at Homestead AFB were routine.  Except for planes being hijacked from Cuba and being parked at the base, there was not much that required AP services. Every now and again I would be sent to Miami International Airport or to some bars to check on a minor complaint. Mostly, my duties were confined to the base.  Our schedule was three days 8 A.M. to 4 P. M., three days 4 P. M. to midnight, three days midnight to 8 A. M., and three days off.

One of my first assignments was the overnight patrol, securing the perimeter surrounding a few of the planes hijacked from Cuba.  I was on base two days when my sergeant instructed me to take the  Military Police  Chevy station wagon and secure the perimeter. I told him that I did not have a Military Driver’s License.  As I recall, he said that he didn’t give a shit.  So, he tossed me the keys. Then, the “fun” started. I went to start of the Chevy, only to discover that it was a manual transmission wagon. Since the only experience I ever had with manual transmission was on my college roommate’s Dodge, which had Fluid Drive and was just partially manual, I was more than just a little concerned at my ability to actually drive this wagon.  Since the sergeant was not too pleased about my lack of a Military License, I was not about to tell him that I could not drive a manual transmission.  So, that is how I learned to drive a standard shift car.  Now, any of you, who have seen me drive a standard transmission vehicle,  might better understand my “clumsiness.”  I chugged and stalled and stalled again, finally getting the hang of driving without Hydromatic or Jetaway, whatever it was that automatic transmission was called then.

Marching prisoners (there were only two) to and from chow was the most formal part of my daily activities. Ironically, it was these two prisoners who got me involved with Tonk.  I now realize, I no longer remember how to play this card game. If you are interested in specifics of this game, there is a great web site that explains the game in detail, www.pagat.com/rummy/tonk.html

During many of my night shifts, I would chat with the two prisoners, both black, both serving time for stealing some cash from the PX (base store). Coincidentally, both of these guys were from Georgia. Both were older than I and very street smart. The two often sat and played Tonk. So it was, I asked them to teach me. We played for cigarettes, a cheap commodity at that time, especially tax-free at the PX.  When just the three of us were in the brig, I would let them out of the cell, they shared, and we would all sit and play Tonk for hours on end.  I started to like the game and thought that playing for other than cigarettes might be fun.

One of the prisoners mentioned to me that there were nightly Tonk games on base in many of the barracks.  Because of my Sam Browne gear (intricate leather belt that held night stick, hand gun, handcuffs, many keys, whistle, etc.), I was not too welcome at the first game I approached(Hmmm? Maybe it was the color of my skin. I was the only white guy there.)  Anyway, I removed the belt, the holster, and all and found a game at which I was accepted. Even then, I was the only white face at the two games going-on simultaneously. So many nights, after working the four to midnight shift, I would head to a game of Tonk, with my newly found friends on base, who, by the way, were the only fellow airmen I befriended while I was on active duty.

At first, I was the welcomed neophyte. The players were happy to take my money.  After a while, my game improved.  I started to win and kept winning. 

If you were expecting a poker tale, sorry for wasting your time.

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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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