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Playing poker is something I truly enjoy doing, but I don’t play anymore.

I started playing in high school, and it was penny ante nickel betting. By the time I started college at the University of Arkansas, I was just an OK player. However, I had no sooner checked into Razorback Hall when my roommate yelled, “Hey, Richard, there’s a poker game going on down the hall, and they are looking for another player.”

I joined in, and over the next year or so I played dealers’ choice games, which were every imaginable variation of the game.

After my father was killed in an automobile accident when I was a sophomore, I had to work my way through college, and playing poker wasn’t just for fun. I was out to win, and win I did. As I started my junior year, I started playing at several fraternity houses, especially the basement in the Kappa Sig house, where the betting moved up several notches.

Along the way, something told me that if I wanted to win, instead of just enjoying the poker games, I had better keep a clear head. That made me a complete teetotaler. Never a drop of anything that might affect my judgment, and that made a great deal of difference in a lot of games, where sloppy betting on weak hands late in the game lined my pockets.

By the time I was a senior, I had mastered every possible game. In dealer’s choice, the dealer can call any variation of five-card stud or seven-card stud, such as one-eyed jacks are wild or maybe throw in two jokers to liven up a hand. That makes three of a kind a very possible winner in five-card stud without wild cards, a possible loser with wild cards.

After my senior year I got married and skipped a semester to work at a refinery and save up money to get a master’s degree. The summer after my first semester in graduate school I got a job as a roustabout on an offshore drilling rig, and my poker playing got a real jolt.

We were working 12 hours a day, 14 days in a row out in the Gulf, with a week off in between. On an offshore rig there’s not much to do but work, eat, watch TV, and play poker. I played poker every night. I’m not going to lie and tell you I cleaned out those tough roustabouts, because for the first two weeks I ended up working for almost nothing. They were head and shoulders above any players I had ever encountered. But I got better, and after a second two-week shift at least I wasn’t losing my shirt. By the last week in July, I was beginning to win back some money, and by August I finally was in the black.

I played a lot of poker that summer, but I only really remember one hand. Because of the tendency of the guys to call almost any hand, I never bluffed. We were playing seven-card stud, where four cards are dealt up and three down. You bet every time a card is dealt. The last card is a down card.

As the game progressed, Shorty was showing three aces, and I was showing three threes. Shorty was licking his chops and made a big raise when his third ace showed up. I would have normally passed and let Shorty have the pot, but as I looked around I noticed the other ace had been dealt and my fourth three was still in the deck. I called.

Then I decided that if ever I was going to bluff, this was the time. The last down card was dealt, and I peeked. It was a seven, but I cracked just a very small smile and started playing with my chips, while Shorty prepared to bet. His bet wasn’t all his chips, but mine was.

Shorty looked at me, then slowly pushed his cards to the center of the table. He had folded. I took my cards and stuck them in the middle of the deck. That ended the game. A day later, when I was about to step in the basket to be lowered down to the crew boat, Shorty came up to me. “Did you have the fourth three?”

“Naw, Shorty, I was bluffing.”

“Damn! But you never bluff!”

“Never say never, Shorty.”

That next year in graduate school, trying to make decent grades and work at several jobs while being a newlywed, didn’t give me any time to play poker. When I finished and earned a master’s degree in geology I went to work for Exxon in south Texas. A new job with new friends didn’t give me much time to play poker, but that was about to change. I took a transfer to Libya and my work as a wellsite geologist sent me into the Libyan Desert for two weeks at a time.

Guess what? I played poker every day and night. My job was to check the drilling samples, and some days the sample checking only took an hour, so I was playing poker every night and most days. I even drove down to the British Petroleum Camp and the Oasis Petroleum Camp to play. The offshore rig playing had really honed my game, and I was a regular winner during my time in Libya.

After two years I transferred back to Corpus Christi where I was working as a sub-surface exploration geologist. And I immediately joined a group of geologists who played poker every Friday night. It was a great group who worked together, played together, and drank a lot of beer together. I was a winner almost every time we played poker, and would frequently come home with an extra hundred or two.

That went on for several months until Vertis said, “We need to have a talk.” That sounded so serious that I immediately sat down, and she started explaining.

“Richard, you know we’re friends with all those couples whose husbands you play poker with every Friday night, and I’ve been talking with several wives … They want you to drop out of the game.”

“What? But … but …”

“Richard, you’ve played a lot more poker compared to those guys, and you don’t have anything to drink while playing. You’re winning every time you play.”

“Well, what’s wrong with winning?”

“Several of those couples are right out of college, and they really can’t afford to lose $50 or $100 a night. Before you started playing, the winning and losing was spread around.”

In all my years of playing, I’d never considered that. That next Friday night I told Vertis to get in the car.

“Let’s go to Ship Ahoy and eat shrimp.”

“But it’s your poker night.”

“Not anymore. There are some things more important than winning.”

I haven’t played since.

Email Richard Mason at richard@ .

Print Headline: Confessions of a pokerholic


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