When I was a toddler, I ran into the kitchen one day, very excited to tell my mother that Daddy had taught me how to count from one to king! “One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten-jack-queen-king!” The concept of playing cards has been a part of my consciousness all my life. My parents were card players, and decks of cards were always around. I remember sitting on my daddy’s lap when he was dealt thirteen cards for a game of bridge. “We want lots of picture cards,” he would say, “but it’s our secret.” And so I learned to sit still and keep to myselfmy pleasure at seeing lots of kings, queens and jacks, or my disappointment when they didn’t appear; the beginning of perfecting my poker face.
Early on, I was taught the basics of bridge, a complex but intriguing game which occupied most of my mother’s time. As an only child, at first I resented the game because it was what took my mommy away many afternoons and evenings, and sometimes for days at a time when she was off at an international bridge tournament. But at the same time, kitchen table poker was my true joy because it was played with both my parents and friends and family and often followed happy, delicious family meals. Nevertheless, by the time I left for college, I was a bridge player. I had been thoroughly inculcated into the world of dummies, finesses, trumps and grand slams. My early adult years, in college and on into early marriage and parenthood, were about finding time to play in bridge tournaments, and pursuing master points, the goal of serious bridge players.
Then, in the early eighties, I discovered casino poker. By then my husband and I had moved, with our new baby, from the East Coast to California where he became an associate in a Los Angeles law firm, and weekends in Las Vegas became our only chance for quick, inexpensive getaways. The first couple of trips (staying at Motel 6, wearing flip-flops in the slimy shower stalls, eating meals at ninety-nine cent buffets) were spent playing slot machines and dollar black jack, none of which I enjoyed, but my husband loved it. If I ran out of gambling money (which I invariably did) I’d just roam the casino, bored and restless. And then one day I discovered the poker room at the Tropicana. I stood outside the poker table area (on the rail) trying to watch the games. Then, after a few of those sessions, I gathered up my courage plus fifty dollars in cash and a few poker chips that I’d rescued from my last blackjack attempt, and sat down in a one-to-five stud game. I turned my $50.00 into $125.00 and was hooked. The next day, our last of that trip, I went back to the same table, lost $50.00 in an hour, and decided that if I was going to play this game with any regularity, I’d better have more than the luck of the clueless to count on. I bought a book on how to play seven card stud. I read it over and over and waited for our next trip to Vegas. Now I loved the place. I’d found something that I enjoyed playing, that took my focus and concentration, and that made the hours in an afternoon or evening fly by. And I was on my own! No bridge partner to be concerned about. When I won, I got it all, and when I goofed up, there was no one else to be worried about.
By the time my kids were both in college, I was checking into the Mirage every six weeks or so and staying for as many days as I could. My years of PTA meetings and philanthropic committees were behind me, and the poker table was my new center of operations.