Saturday, June 02, 2018

Why is poker night like rewrite night?

Got invited to a poker game recently. 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. 


Step said...

Ken's full of shit! Here's what really happened at that poker game an hour after Ken had the brilliant idea to read a script he and David Issacs wrote:

Bill (after Pete wins the first hand): He always wins the first hand

Ken: Until tonight! I believe that a straight beats three kings

Ken wins the next three pots while continually whistling La Traviata

Bill: I can't believe this is happening! First Rosanne now this!

Pete: Whose idea was this to invite him?

Sam(pointing to Ken's friend): Asked the five card stud

Warren: Look at Ken, he doesn't sweat! I've never seen anybody who doesn't sweat.

Bill: Sure you have, at the reptile house.

Ken wins another 4 hands all while continuing to whistle La Traviata.

Sam: Don't you know anything from the second act?

Ken: Well I need a break, I'm going out for some fresh air.

Warren: We'll have some sent in, deal!

Ken: I'll be back, I've just been using the same muscles for three hours (motions sweeping chips towards him) so I thought I'd stretch the others. Gentlemen!

While Ken is outside the others try and figure out why Ken is winning every hand:

Sam: Maybe he's cheating.

Warren: How? I hid all the aces!

Bill: I can't stand that insipid whistling

Pete: He doesn't even stop when he's got a bad hand.

Warren: He whistles louder when he's got nothing.

They stop for a moment then look at each other and say: He whistles louder when he's got nothing!

Pete: Rhapsody in Bluff! Folks, I think we've got him!

Ken overhears the conversation and fucks off home with a shitload of their money.

That's what really happened....I think!

Janet Ybarra said...

I'm guessing then that if you and David had to write any poker scenes during MASH that David was the one who wrote 'em? ;)

Paul Duca said...

That's why I prefer blackjack...

Anonymous said...

Neil Simon just had to set the Odd Couple around a poker game from his memories of playing games similar to what you describe here.

E. Yarber said...

Men playing cards, even without dogs involved is an archetype.

Consider THE ODD COUPLE (the play, not the movie or TV show). Why does Simon spend so much time at the beginning with a group of guys playing a poker game? Wouldn't the most efficient way to get the plot moving would be to open with a knock at the door, Felix coming in with the news that his marriage is over, and the central conflict getting underway at once?

The fact is that the central conflict of the story is not Oscar bringing Felix out of his depression, but getting Felix back into the poker game. The game is the yardstick of normality in the story, and restoring its balance is the goal that has to be achieved.

We open with poker playing out of synch because Felix isn't there. By the mid-point, Felix is back in the game, but still pulling it apart because he still hasn't adjusted to his problems with his wife. At the end of the story, he's finding new ways of dealing with women (the Pigeon sisters) and practically the last exchange of the play is his assurance to Oscar that he'll now be back for poker night in the right frame of mind. The game has become a metaphor for general existence.

When the story was adapted for television, the dynamic of the game had to change. Felix and Oscar were not living together as a patchwork solution to a problem, but had to be virtual soulmates to stay together indefinitely. While the poker game was used on the show as a holdover from the play, it was not a central element of the framework and became more or less optional in specific episodes.

Steve Bailey said...

I've played poker only once in my life, and I think I understood it even less than you did. But your account of it was hilarious.

Lisa said...

Why was my comment deleted :(

MikeN said...

I've played with a guy who had to stare at that cheat sheet. He won a whole bunch of hands early and knocked a bunch of people out.

sueK2001 said...

As I was reading this, I was thinking of that MASH episode "Deal Me Out"..and hearing Pat Morita's voice dictate what kind of rules there were to the poker game. I loved all the poker game scenes on MASH. I bet the writers did too.

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

Besides TV, a topic that's really near and dear to my heart: poker!!!

Ken, come on down the 605 to Hawaiian Gardens Casino and I'll teach you everything you need to know. ;-)

(I wonder if Ken or folks here realize how many card clubs there actually are here in SoCal. Hollywood Park, Commerce Casino, Bicycle Club, Hustler Casino, Hawaiian Gardens, Ocean's Eleven...)

Joe Blow said...

Since no one else will probably answer you, unless you saw your comment actually posted and then deleted, it was probably just a snafu that it didn’t get posted. Occasionally, I will have a little trouble with the “submit” button. I think the only comments Ken doesn’t post are when commenters are attacking each other (too much), or it’s a troll posting something disgusting. You should try to repost it.

DBenson said...

Bugs Bunny to card shark, innocently: "All I got is a pair of ones ... and another pair of ones."

MikeN said...

I don't understand how you lost Ken. You said you watched Molly's Game.

Cap'n Bob said...

Some poker jargon:

10-4, Broderick Crawford
5-10, Woolworths
4s, sailboats
8s, snowmen
Ace King, big slick

Janet Ybarra said...

@sueK2001, I agree. Also, "Dear Sigmund," but then all the Sidney Friedman episodes are favorites.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Lisa & Joe B. Mine didn't go through either. Probably a technical glitch.

Diane D. said...

Hilarious! Winning your money and being greatly entertained—-you may start being invited regularly. Ha!

Johnny Walker said...

Great post, great comments. Now I remember why I love this blog!

Now I have to read The Odd Couple.

sheritar said...
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