Why We Should All Play Cards

Maybe this would be better titled: Why I should Play Cards, because for all I know you’re a member of a bridge club, a poker game or a devotee of Shanghai Rummy. In fact, I began thinking about cards today because Lloyd told me that he’s a part of a bunch of buddies who have a longstanding game of Shanghai. I’d never heard of it and I’m not sure I’m smart enough to play it. Lloyd’s one of the smartest people I know. Here’s the skinny on Shanghai: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_rum.

I suck at cards. My parents strived to teach us bridge when we were marooned in Ottawa one summer, and the results were not uniformly cheerful. Daddy was always my partner, and I remember him staring at me aghast at one of my random bids. He was too kind to excoriate me, but Lou’s partner wasn’t, and he didn’t blame her. As a child of the fifties and sixties, it seemed to me then that bridge was a huge unisex culture; couples would drag out the card table for an after-dinner couple of rubbers. My mother belonged to a travelling Ladies Club, and when it was her turn as Hostess we’d rush home praying that the three tables had left us a few tea sandwiches.  Just sayin’: people must have been smarter in the days of Mad Men, because everyone played bridge, a game of diabolical difficulty and finesse.

I can’t think of a duller way to while away the time than Solitaire. Why play a game with a 90% failure rate? All the gin and rummy games baffle me, as does Euchre and 98% of the games in this fab book:

This book talks about games old (Piquet, anyone?) and new. It’s clear yet scholarly. It’s so well-written even I can understand it. There’s an index that recommends games for children, for one person, for two  three four or five (or more) players. There’s a section on gambling games, and not just poker and blackjack. Empty your pockets for Faro, Spinado or Punto Banco. I admit that one of the beauties of this book is the names of the games.

To rattle off a few : Klabberjass, Paganini, Miss Milligan, Pope Joan, Shasta Sam, Ranter Go Round, and Rockaway.

I see that I’ve wandered away from my thesis: Why  should we all play cards?

1) A deck of cards is cheap cheer. Here’s a dollar store deck I found in the drawer of the end table:

2) Or, it can be a pricey thing of beauty. Here’s a bridge deck, made in Austria, I bought when I had money to waste on fripperies. The court cards are all English political figures:(Click to  enlarge.)3)

3) Cards are sociable. I’ve given my verdict on Solitaire  — I need at least one opponent. And I love poker because it’s an expandable game. But my dearest memories are of the oldest established permanent floating Hearts game in Trois-Rivieres — (bow to Frank Loesser.) In my Junior and Senior years in High School my bffs played Hearts every day after we were released from Biology, the last class of the day. In retrospect, it amazes me that Three Rivers High School  had a theater set up, like Eakins’s “Gross Clinic” for Biology. But at last released, we’d hustle our miniskirted, Yardley- Glimmericked fifteen year old selves to Joanne Kathan’s  swell finished basement and play Hearts. Week over week, every single night, the Stones, Spencer Davis and the Beach Boys loaded on the turntable., we played Hearts because Hearts was interesting. There wasn’t a lot of gossip , we played the game — a cross between Hearts and Black Maria. The book tells me we played Omnibus Hearts.

4) Then there was the summer we discovered Whist. Edith Ridder’s mother allowed us to move her card table into the garden, and we sat in the shade, sipping Fresca.  Huge fortunes were lost at Whist in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but girls who were saving up their babysitting money for a pair of Woolworth earrings weren’t punting. Whist is the easy ancestor of Bridge — same game except that one’s spared the  intellectual gambling thrill of bidding, and the trump suits rotate in their ever steady orbits. I learned a lot about card play in those summer afternoons.

5) Not to get all Luddite here, but I wish for kids today what fun we had in Joanne’s rec room or Edith’s garden after school. Signing in to play a game with someone you don’t know is fun, but it’s not the same.

And last: what a great idea for a party. A few decks of cards, a couple of  games going on, California Dip and chips and Chex Mix. Beer and wine and iced tea. Something more substantial, like pulled pork sandwiches and brownies and ice cream later. All brought to us by Ricky Jay’s 52 Assistants.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Why We Should All Play Cards

  1. Lloyd

    Leave us not forget cribbage. There is the traditional game for two, and the three handed and four handed variants, the latter of which can go very fast and is lots o’ fun.

  2. I can never forget Crib. It never lured me, but in those years Nana, er, helped out, she and my parents played every single night. Good call.

  3. Patty

    Ahh we need you here..I keep telling you… we played cards with 6-8 couples, bi-weekly, food was served, often rather elaborate, and after a few drinks the games began. But it wasn’t cheap because here you pay to play as one winner goes home with the pot. It wasn’t cheerful either because people were competitive and super serious. We bowed out after about 6 months even though John won our first 3 times. We hooked up with 3 other couples like us who preferred to laugh and have fun while eating, drinking and playing cards without money involved.

    Our family holiday tradition includes the simple game of UNO these last 20 years in the mtns, we even have the “Ultimate Loser” event…no mercy on anyone, not even the newest family members or guests…but now as the grandchildren join in we are eliminating the loser event…It’s just one of the best memories.

    • OH, my! You make a mere game of cards as interesting as if the words were put down with only the aim of drawing hordes to those green-baize tables.

      Ours was all-night Canasta on Thursdays, played down the hall with two roomies who were always host, and then us two oddies who just liked to play. We had eight-o’clocks on Fridays, finished by eleven, then could head off for the weekend or slumber away the dregs of the smoke-filled night spent sitting cross-legged on a dorm bed.

      And I STILL want to draw to a Red 3.

      But I’m hopeless at things like Bridge and Hearts—I can trump your high card, then I haven’t a clue what to lead. I just didn’t get that sequence-logic gene.

      And RICKY JAY!!! I KNEW he was someone special, not just a surly growl on Deadwood, or a lurker-in-the-dark-alleys of The Unit or X-Files.
      I’m so glad you mentioned him—he’s a genius.

    • Uno and Mille Bornes were two terrific non-traditional card games, and I love imagining the hooting and hollering in your house at the holidays. My mother’s traditional post Christmas dinner games were blackjack and Indian Poker (my brother Ian called it Indian Peeker.) No money involved, but points were scored and Mummy would award “Fabulous Prizes.” they were fairly fab — a Waterford decanter, a jar of truffles, Georgian sterling, an Armani scarf. Needless to say, Mummy somehow made sure we all won a Fabulous Prize. God, I miss her genius for life.

      I’m glad you and John have found a friendlier game.

      • Lloyd

        Love, love, love Marilyn’s prizes! Only she could do a post Christmas dinner card game with THAT kind of style.

  4. Gretchen

    I am a member of a monthly casual Euchre game. I had trouble learning it, have a wonderful partner ( not Daryl), and while we hardly ever win, we have fun with conversation and cocktails. Daryl and his partner are evil, always win and seem to think that it bothers us. Not at all. Nope, not at all.

  5. kim shook

    I grew up playing spades and Chinese patience with my family. We loved loud games of Pit, too. We’ve been playing canasta regularly with another couple for the last 17 years. Girls vs. boys – my Michael and my partner, Lisa, are sharks, her Michael and I are kittens, so the teams are evenly matched! Cribbage is the only game that I can consistantly beat Mike at! I even play solitaire on the computer at work between patients!

    • I need to get out more. The word Canasta sends shivers down my spine, as does the Euchre my beloved ex-boss Gretchen plays. As I said, I suck at cards, but my brain’s OK for a couple more years and I should push myself to conquer new games

  6. Lloyd: Mummy would plan for big fun — generous funny and chic. She was no more a perfect person than we are, but her generosity, wit, love and loyalty to her family makes all of us just try to chase her holiday genius. (God, those Plum Puddings.)She set the bar for my siblings and cousins and everyone. This is not a light statement.

  7. Kim Shook

    Mille Bornes!! We loved it and introduced it to all our friends. I never knew anyone else that played it and thought that my English stepdad brought it over with him. I was so surprised the first time that I saw it in Toys R Us! I STILL don’t know anyone who knows the game, but everyone that I teach has always adored it.

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