I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is L for Luck.
“Are you feeling lucky today?” asked Clint Eastwood, in one of his immortal lines.
“Luck is the lady that he loves the best...” was a line out of the introduction to the old TV series, Maverick, starring James Garner.
“With a little bit...with a little bit...with a little bit of blinking luck.”
Would you rather have luck or brains? I like to think that I’ve been blessed with more than my share of both. However, luck is a finicky lady, there one minute and gone the next. Never was this truer than one dark December night, way back in the winter of 1972. I was overseas in The Land of the Morning Calm, the Republic of South Korea, “defending my country on hostile shores.”
What could be more depressing than being away from home at Christmas time? Yet, here I was, conscripted by the U. S. of A, trying to keep my head above water, and doing everything in my power to keep from sinking into the abyss that is depression. Whereas many of the guys who served with me, found solace in the bars off-post, or in the arms of the business girls who occupied those bars, I preferred to chill in the hootch, as we called the barracks.
There were others who followed a similar path and we naturally sought each other out for moral support. On this particular evening, having just gotten our paycheck (I earned $297.00 per month), it was determined that a poker game was in the cards for us, so we all convened to the south end of the hootch and gathered ‘round the oval table for a healthy exchange of currency.
The one thing that was different was that we had a new guy in the hootch, with whom we had never played poker, and we were anxious to introduce him to the subtleties of our poker style, which included fleecing all the newbies. Richard was especially outspoken about his prowess at the card table, making us salivate all the more, our collective experience having informed us long ago that the more a guy bragged about what he could do, the less he was likely to succeed.
The one curve ball that Richard threw at us, was the introduction of a new game: acey-deucey. It is a diabolically simple game, requiring that, after everyone playing the game antes up, in order to build a pot of money, the dealer then turns two cads face-up on the table, with the person whose turn it is, placing a bet as to whether or not the next card will fall numerically between the two face-up cards. The bettor then places a bet from minimal to the whole pot. If the next card falls between the two face-up cards, the bettor wins the amount wagered. If the card falls outside the two face-up cards, the bettor must put into the pot, the amount wagered. The caveat is that if the next card matches either one of the face-up cards, the bettor must double the amount bet.
So the best possible duo of face-up cards, would be a deuce (a two of any suit) and an ace (again, of any suit). Any card from the three to the king being the next card turned up, will win the bettor his money. But of course, should the next card be either an ace or a two, the bettor must double the amount wagered.
I was due to return home on January eighth, for a thirty-day leave, during which time I was to be married. Thus, I had been saving every available penny, knowing that the cost of the wedding and subsequent revelry, would not be trivial, and would require every cent I possessed. However, when it came to poker, I was not worried about losing, having been well-taught, from the time I was old enough to sit in on a game, without flapping my jaws. My father, a veteran of WWII, had taught me and my brothers all that there was to know about the nuances of successful poker playing. I had made good use of this knowledge, not by amassing a fortune, but by avoiding getting in over my head.
I saw no reason why this particular night would be any different. Even when acey deucey was introduced into the mix, I was all about it. As is my habit, I started off the evening in turbulent fashion, coming up on the short end of the stick several times. I wasn’t worried, because experience taught me that patience was the key to success. Sure enough, after a couple of hours, my fortunes turned the other direction, and I started hauling in the pots of money. The deal rotated around the table, with the dealer choosing the game. Richard played acey-deiucey each time he got to deal, whereas the others at the table stuck to the more conventional games.
The time arrived soon enough, when Richard controlled the deck, and I was faced with a deuce and an ace. “Pot!” I shouted out, amidst the groaning of the other players, who evidently felt the game was about to end. The next card up was another deuce, and I was suddenly faced with the prospect having to count up the money in the pot, so that I could not just match it, but double it. I dumped twenty bucks into the pot, bringing the total to thirty dollars. I wasn’t worried, being up more than fifty at the time. A minor setback, nothing mote, I mused to myself.
Wouldn’t you know it? The very next time during the same game, that the deal came around to me, I got the same scenario: an deuce and an ace. Well, I figured to myself, at least two aces are already out, and three deuces had presented themselves. “Pot!” I hollered out, even more enthusiastically than the last time. When that fourth deuce presented itself, I had to dump more than sixty bones into the pot, bringing the total to more than ninety dollars. Now, today, ninety dollars represents about three hours of my time, working in the trades. But back then, it was almost a third of my paycheck, for an entire month! This was getting serious.
When it rains, it snows. The very next time the deal came ‘round to me, I saw the third ace present itself, this time opposite a three. With all of the deuces out, and at least three of the aces, I figured, what the hell? Once more I bellowed out “Pot!” without so much as considering the damage that would occur, should that fourth ace materialize. It did not; instead, to my utter horror, a three presented itself, and I was forced to put very close to two hundred dollars into the pot, in an unprecedented move. I was in uncharted waters, having now dropped my entire paycheck, and incredibly looking at almost three hundred dollars in the center of the table. Someone was going to rake in a small fortune.
Needless to say, the others at the table were enjoying my discomfort to the max. It’s not that they were mean-far from it-it’s was just an entertaining bit of business, not to mention the fact that one of them (us) stood to gain quite handsomely. Should no one win the pot before the cards run out, the rules call for the dealer to gather up all the cards, reshuffle them, and start a new round. The only difference is, now all of the aces and deuces were once again available, so there was no use computing the odds of having some already in the discard pile.
Where had Lady Luck gone? My confidence was shaken, if not shattered, and it seemed as though the poker gods were sitting around chortling at my discomfort. Should I just bail out, and quit before I ended up dipping into my savings account? Or should I try to recoup that which was staring at me from the center of the table? The interesting thing was that the others at the table seemed as unwilling to tempt the gods as I was, having seen what my luck had brought me. Thus, when the deal came around to me yet one more time, and that same scenario presented itself again, a deuce and an ace, I sank back in my chair and contemplated the universe. If I bet pot, and lost it all, I could draw from my savings and meet my obligations. However, I would also have some serious explaining to do, when I got off of that plane back in the world.
On the other hand, there was still time and means to rectify the whole nightmare, by simply going “Pot!” for what I hoped would be the last time. What to do?
Somehow the voice of reason whispered in my ear, and instead of betting the pot, I settled for a more moderate sum, and went for half the pot, or one hundred and fifty dollars. When the next card up turned out to be a nine, I didn’t even regret not having bet the whole shooting match. I took my one fifty out of the pot, and retired from the game, having lost a total of around one hundred and fifty bucks. I was shaken to the core of my poker playing shoes, and never wanted to play acey deucy again.
To this day, when the dealer calls for acey deucey, I smile benevolently, and go out to the kitchen for a drink or a snack. One thing my father taught me was to recognize my limitations, and listen to the voice of reason, even if that seems impossible to do. Acey deucey is not my game and playing it will not make it so.