I remember hurrying home from elementary school whenever my mother had her friends over for bridge and sitting by her side to watch them play. Later, occasionally I was allowed to play a few hands of pinochle with my father and uncles on Sunday night, and then in high school I visited a classmate and often played hearts with his father and twin sisters. Cards were for me what sports were for many of my friends.
When I entered college in 1951, I decided to focus on bridge and often played in tournaments and at the local bridge club. I eventually became friendly with an exceptional bridge player, and we frequently partnered in a Friday-night cash game at the club. My only involvement with poker was an occasional afternoon penny ante game with some dormitory friends. I usually was a winner and my friend Marty always lost.
Returning to the dorms on Saturday nights, I would stop by and observe the higher-stakes poker game which occupied a corner of the student lounge. One night I was horrified to see Marty playing in the game. I immediately suggested that he stop. He said that he could not afford to quit since he already had lost half of his monthly allowance. I offered to take his seat if he would stake me. He willingly agreed with the understanding that any winnings were his until he broke even, and then we would split the remainder 50/50.
I held reasonably good cards and we were almost even when, very late in the evening, the dealer dealt a variation of five-card stud. It appeared that several players had good cards since there were several raises on every round. On the last round of betting, a player who had raised at every opportunity made the largest bet of the evening. I had an excellent hand and there were only two hole cards that would beat me. Calling and losing would have taken most of our funds so I hesitated for a long time. I am not sure what I would have done if it was my money but, under the circumstances, I decided to call.
I then invested my share of the winnings in the game and started to play poker most Saturday nights. By the end of the semester, I had almost $500 in the bank, a beautiful phonograph with a small classical record collection, and had retired from the work-study program. Several years later, my wife-to-be explained that we needed to be together on the weekends, and that ended my dream of becoming a professional card player.
I continued to play both bridge and poker for many years, fielding a winning industrial league team and going frequently to Las Vegas. Now I just play for social reasons. Whether it is board games with my grandchildren or the monthly OLLI Game SIG, I enjoy the company and the challenge of figuring out how to win.
Former attorney Sheldon Busansky joined OLLI-USF in 2011. He has taken many courses in history, politics, science and math, sociology, media, music, and humanities. Until recently, Sheldon was chair of our Finance Committee and he continues to volunteer on that committee