Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why is poker night like rewrite night?

Got invited to a poker game last weekend. A friend plays in a regular game and needed an extra body. Poker is an ingenious game. It involves both skill and luck. If only I had either.

I hadn’t played poker in probably fifteen years so I pretty much had forgotten everything other than I always lose.

Still, I enjoyed myself.  The players were usually a group of comedy writers or improv chums so there were always more laughs than chips (especially in front of me). I likened it to a rewrite night where you didn’t have to address network notes.

This time the only person I knew going in was my friend. But it was a low stakes game so I figured what the hell? The guys all turned out to be fun, and they all came from other branches of the industry so I got to hear all-new horror stories. Nothing breaks the ice like getting fucked over in Hollywood.

I was worried that these dudes would hate me. Since I didn’t know what I was doing I would surely test their patience. And if I won they’d really despise me. Fortunately, they were tolerant, and fortunately they took all my money. So my fears were for naught.

I needed one of those little cheat sheets that told you that a royal flush beats a pair of threes. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to watch an episode of THE WORLD SERIES OF POKER and one of the finalists has the same cheat sheet next to his chips?

Remembering what beats what is hard enough for someone who needs a cheat sheet to retrieve his messages from voicemail, but we rotated dealing and the dealer got to select the game. Holy shit!

Seven card night baseball with the next card after a queen is a wild card

Hi-lo – 5 ½ or 21

Three chip buy-in pass your garbage

Seven card elevator (not to be confused with seven card crisscross)

Seven card Texas hold ‘em, 3’s are wild and 4's entitled you to buy another card if you wanted

On and on. They know you’re not a savvy player when it’s your turn and they say, “What are we playin’?” and you begin your answer with “What’s the one where…?” As the deal was going around the table I was getting progressively more anxious. What to do when it came to me?

Finally, I was up. I decided to just fake it. “Okay, five card double-draw hi-lo Taj Mahal, pig fives are wild, threes are sevens, sevens are tens, face cards are a half, and Jews get six cards instead of five.” Everyone laughed, but one guy who asked what Taj Mahal was.

The night moved along but required a lot of concentration. More than I could muster after a couple of hours. Again, it was like a rewrite night where you just zone out. “What page are we on again?” “Who’s asking who to stop doing what when?” “Has the food arrived yet?”

The food was another reason poker night is like rewrite night. Delivered pizza that you eat off of paper plates while standing . All we needed were Red Vines for me to feel really nostalgic.

You’d think as the night went along I’d get better. But actually, I got worse. I knew I was in trouble when I won a pot with nothing in my hand. Everyone complimented me on how well I bluffed. But I wasn’t bluffing. I actually thought I had a winning hand.

They should also have a cheat sheet for poker slang. Clubs were puppy paws. Pocket aces were American Airlines. Full houses are full boats. If you have a nine and a five that’s a Dolly Parton. But why do they call kings “cowboys?” When I think of cowboys I rarely imagine Richard Burton.

But it never fails.  The minute any six guys sit down to play poker they all start talking like they're in GUYS AND DOLLS.    The Pope and his cardinals get together and the Pope is dealing saying, "No help. crabs, Kojak, bitch in the bleachers.  Pony up gents."

All in all, it was a fun night, I made some new friends, now am aware of more industry shitheads, and I think after all this time I finally figured out how to win at poker. Have Jennifer Tilly play for me while I drive around for four hours picking up the pizza. 


Johnny Walker said...

Damn. Sharp as a tack! I'm sure everyone who's been to a poker night has had all these experiences, but I don't think many people could turn them into as many jokes as you just did. Once again you remind me: There's humour everywhere, if you look for it.

Apropos of nothing, it also reminded me of Annie and Jon's writing at certain points.

Igor said...

I finally figured out how to win at poker. Have Jennifer Tilly play with me while all the other guys are out driving around for four hours picking up the pizza.

Jeremy said...

Jews get six cards? I'm in!

chuckcd said...

Reading your post about poker night is more fun than actually being there.

Howard Hoffman said...

On poker nights, I coverup my ignorance of the various baseball/red 7s are wild/king with sword is a deuce/etc. plays by saying I'm a poker purist. Five card draw. Saves me embarrassment and words.

Hamid said...

This poker night, was there sex in it?

That meme's gonna run and run.

cshel said...

I love those kind of poker games that you have just described. My favorite game to choose as dealer is "One to the left, two to the right" (or vice versa), where you get dealt seven cards, and then have to choose three to give away to other players in such a manner. It can ruin a great hand, or improve a poor one.

I also like a game that I can't remember the name of, where you get dealt only one card, face down, you never get to look at it, and all at the same time every one puts their one card on their forehead, so everyone knows what everyone else has, but you don't know what you yourself have, and you have to bet based on everyone else's reactions and bluffing.

Did you play either of those games? (What do you mean, no??).

So much more fun than boring old Five or Seven Card Stud, or Texas Hold 'Em. Especially if you're drinking and/or losing. : )

By Ken Levine said...

I think the first game you mentioned is Anaconda. The second is something like Indian poker. But I could be wrong about both.

GrammarCop said...

How's that work, standing off of paper plates?

Anonymous said...

You're right

Jennifer has one of those really unique voices...and she has mastered
her instrument to her advantage...

I'd let her play/speak for me...


Brendan D. said...

Don't forget that great card playing advice: if you're in a card game, and you don't know who the sucker is, then it's you.

DwWashburn said...

I always sit out the games that have wilds or unusual rules. Hold 'em, 7 stud, omaha, pineapple, and draw are my games. Baseball, garbage passing, etc. just not for me.

Rob said...

Great story, Ken. Really funny.

If you really want to experience "poker night", may I suggest you take a seat in a Vegas poker room some time? At least there you will only have to remember the rules of one game--Hold'em.

And tho it wasn't exactly the WSOP, I did once play in a Vegas room and had a player facing a big bet call time to take a "cheat sheet" out of his pocket so he could figure out if his hand beat the likely hand the bettor had!

And even tho he used the cheat sheet, he called and lost the hand anyway!

BTW, Ken, I'm a long time admirer of your TV work. CHEERS is my all time favorite TV show.

Ellis Shuman said...

Very enjoyable and funny article! I think I just discovered a few new types of poker!

Cap'n Bob said...

When I used to play there was one hard and fast rule--no pussy games such as Follow the Queen, Baseball, Spit in ther Ocean. etc. The farthest we'd stray from traditional games was High Chicago, AKA Black Ass High (highest spade in the whole splits the pot). This was a variant of Seven Card Stud.

Hamid said...

Friday question

Did you get a complementary copy of the video game BioShock?

Lou H. said...

I wonder if poker games amongst Hollywood writers are the only places IRL you'll hear the phrase "I'll see your $20 and raise you $10".

Jason said...

Don't feel too bad, because REAL real poker players would never play any of those games :)

Cap'n Bob said...

Did I really type "highest spade in the whole"? Make that "hole." This is getting way too Freudian.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I would watch this movie. Especially if there's no sex in it.

Michael Stoffel said...

Not to go off topic, but I actually live in the town that the "dogs playing poker" artist, Cassius Coolidge, was born in.