Playing Cards Never Gets Old For This Sailor

By JOHN M. DERBY
Times Founding Publisher
January 17, 2019

I am not sure when it started. Playing card games has always been part of my life, and when I got married, my father-in-law was an excellent card player who loved the game of cribbage.

As an old Navy man, he played on ship, and was so good at counting points that he could do it in his head without even a second thought. We played “muggings” which meant that if a player missed counting points correctly, then the opponent took those points for his own.

In the past 60 years the game has been close to my heart, and so down here in Mexico, I helped set up a Cribbage Challenge Tournament and invited all the cribbage players in the area.

I have also loved to play poker, and that started long ago while I was in the military service

It was while I was onboard a ship destined for Korea that I played one of my biggest games of high stakes poker. That poker game ran for days and nights, while the ship plowed slowly through the water. These were troop ships with no luxuries. Whole paychecks would be won or lost in poker games, and since one didn’t know if they were going to survive the war, it didn’t seem to make a difference.

About a day from docking in Korea, I had a lucky streak and I was ahead $250 — which was a lot of money, since the military pay was only $37 a month. I was sure if I kept on playing I would certainly lose all the money back to the other players, but I didn’t want to be impolite and leave when I was so far ahead.

I told the other players to deal me out for a few hands as I had to use the bathroom, and they understood. Instead of going to the bathroom, I rushed up to the BX military exchange, and bought a Gold Boliva Watch.

It was beautiful and it used up most of the $250. When I went back to the game, it wasn’t too long before I did lose all the rest of my money. There was some grumbling when I said I was broke until payday, but I ended up with a nice watch which lasted my tour of duty in Korea.

Some years later while working as an reporter and publisher in Atwater, I played with some pretty well-known people. One was Judge Minor from Livingston, and the other was Jack Vann of Atwater.

It was some serious poker, and some not so serious poker — like the time I ended up betting the entire newspaper on a poker hand and I lost.

When it came time to pay off, the man that won the newspaper said, “I don’t want the damn thing. I don’t know anything about running newspapers.”

That was Jack Vann whose father Charlie was Mayor of Atwater, not only once, but twice.

So now, 60 years later, I play cribbage and Texas Hold ’em with a bunch of about 20 players (not all of whom play every week). The buy-in is 300 pesos or about $15, and the games shift from one restaurant to another on any given day.

I only play twice a week because I feel too much card playing is kind of a waste of time.

However, the activity keeps the brain alert, and the players are good-natured most of the time, even though there are some sore losers.

The big winners one week are usually the big losers the next.

This week it was my turn to win.


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