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  • Accidents will happen

    Jeff's poker story reminded me. I have more poker stories than pool.

    During the year I spent in Junior College in Coffeyville, Kansas I played poker several times in small games, mostly composed of pool players and other fledgling gamblers around my age.

    I developed a friendship with a fellow who was a little older than the rest of us and was the assistant funeral director at a funeral home that had been in his family for multiple generations.

    Years later we bumped into each other in a jazz club/cocktail lounge in Kansas City while he was there for a convention. By this time my poker "career" was well advanced, and as we reminisced about the games years earlier I let him know I was playing quite a bit of poker. He said, "You gotta come play in our game in Coffeyville."

    The game was at a Moose, or Elks or Odd Fellows Club starting every Friday night and sometimes lasting through the weekend. It was "Wheel" low-ball draw, no-limit, $100 sit-in. The game and price were in my range at the time, and I could get in if he vouched for me.

    A short time later I gave Ron a call and he said "Come on."

    I got there about an hour before game time and within 30 minutes there were 12 people who wanted to play in the 9-handed game. The way they played, the deal was passed normally, and the dealer sat out, not playing the hand he dealt. Besides me there were two other non-members who had been vouched for, and the players agreed that the members should draw cards for six of the seats and they should let their three guests play. I thought, "Wow, that's different." Sometimes, when there were too many players, you might start worrying about whether blood would be spilled before seating was settled.

    The two guests besides me -- that I'll call Clyde and Claude -- each had farms in nearby counties and were decked out in John Deere caps and bib "overhauls."

    I got off to a fast start, far more through luck than skill, and was about $300 winner within a couple of hours. The game was pretty speedy for what I'd expected to be a conservative bunch.

    Clyde was playing extra fast, with no luck. When he lost his first hunnert, he bought two, and when he lost that, he bought four.

    I played along without much change for a couple more hours while one of the other players went on a "sizz" and built up a stack of about $600. A hand came up in which I called a medium pre-draw raise to draw to an A-3-4-5, caught a 7, and got a decent-sized bet called by the raiser. I think that got my stack up to about the size of the chip leader.

    Clyde had been drinking Budweisers and started giving the impression of being a little bit drunk. He said, "Gimme three hunnert. I like to have as much as anyone else."

    Several hands later as Clyde was bringing his beer around for a sip the can hit the top of his chip-stack and chips went flying, but stayed on the table. Everyone cooperated to get the chips back to him and the game proceeded.

    I looked down to find 6-5-3-2-A! the third best possible hand. The player two seats to my right was the chip leader and he opened with a standard-sized raise. I called, hoping to pick up some action behind me, or at least trap the chip leader for after-draw action. All folded around to Clyde who raised about the size of the pot. When it got back to Chip-Leader, he went into the tank, thinking and thinking and thinking. Finally he says, "Screw it, I'm going all the way," and moved in with all his chips.

    "Uh oh," I said to myself and folded. I refused to release my hand into the discard pile. Only one player objected to that, but when he did Ron spoke up and said, "If John wants to hold it, he has a good reason," and they let it go. When it got back to Clyde he quickly called.

    I stood up and said "Hold it!" I told Chip-Leader, "Don't show your hand. I know what you have and I know what Clyde has too."

    I showed my hand and said to Chip-Leader, "You barely have me beat, but you can't beat Clyde."

    Then I said, "If you check, you'll find that Claude [who dealt this hand] has a deck of cards, probably in his lap, and Clyde has a wheel. Whoever vouched for these guys needs to be questioned."

    Clyde quickly shoved his hand into the discards, and said "Shit, I couldn't come close to beatin' your hand." The dumbass should have realized the jig was up when I refused to release my hand, knowing as he should have that I had either #3 or #2. If he'd just folded at that point he'd have had a small loss but...

    Ron told Claude to stand up, but he had no deck of cards. Fortunately for me, there was a deck of cards on the floor under his chair. Chip leader showed his 6-4-3-2-A -- the second best possible hand.

    After the furor subsided and Clyde and Claude were escorted out the door without paying off Claude's $150 or so in chips or Clyde's few chips not in the pot, the guy who had vouched for them became the center of attention. He claimed (I thought I believed him) that his brother-in-law had told him they were good guys.

    Next everyone wanted to know how I knew. Some of you will recognize what's known as a "cold deck." It gets the name from the fact that it hasn't been in play at the table, being handled by warm players' hands, and will feel noticeably cooler. (I don't know whether that's actually true, but that's the story.) When Clyde "accidentally" spilled his chips, his partner Claude was getting ready to deal. Timing is critical because the attention-distracting chip-spill has to occur just as the player on the dealer's right cuts the cards. When the chips spill, everyone's eyes go immediately to that, giving the dealer time to drop the deck into his lap and come up to the table with a prepared deck that was waiting there.

    After explaining what had happened, I negotiated a settlement. I told the guy who was supposed to be victimized that since I had saved him $600, I thought he should get his money out of the post and we should split the rest, along with Clyde and Claude's chips equally around the table. All were about to agree, but Ron spoke up and said I should get my money out of the pot too before the split, and all agreed.

    Ron told me later that everyone seemed to accept the voucher's explanation, and any who didn't stayed mum.

    The moral of the story: If you play poker, beware of accidents.
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