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
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
This week it was my turn to win.