They say everything's bigger in Texas. Ten gallon hats, steers, land mass. That goes for games, too. Texas Hold 'Em is the biggest card game the world has ever known. Entire fortunes are won and lost in a single hand. Everywhere you look – Bicycle Poker kits on special, gaming chips cheap, World Series of Poker DVDs for sale. Instructional manuals. Heads-up matches at the local VFW. All my friends, playing Texas Hold 'Em. All of them jumping on the bandwagon of a fad game.
I don't play it. Texas can keep its silly odds and call-or-raise betting.
Let me explain my family. They're card players. I avoided this allure, watching them wind their way through circuits of games. In the 80s it was Hearts. The 90s belonged to Spades. Currently the game of choice is Euchre. But these are so much more than games. These are languages.
You see, no one much speaks to each other in my family unless it's over green felt. Then you can't shut them up. They become multilingual. And if you don't pick up what's dealt you, you might as well not speak at all.
Thus far, my family has avoided the Hold 'Em frenzy with the exception of one cousin who is a gambler by nature and thus doomed to a permanent card-table slouch before age forty. I'm still into Spades. I may be behind in familial gaming, but I'm catching up. For, over the years, I've learned the only way to be fully accepted is to snap up the cards. Cards are the unifying factor. And, indicative of our era, quality time comes at a price. Nickel a point for Hearts, dollar per set in Euchre. If you renege? Twenty bucks per infraction. Might as well open a vein.
I decided enough was enough. I wanted in. No more holidays spent in mute solitude like the balked teenager forced again to sit at the kid's table. I made up my mind and learned the languages of my family.
This task was done by purchasing a comprehensive game for my home computer and studying until every nuance of every game had been absorbed. I sat until my stats were cranked and I could tell what my computer partner would play before it did. I played until my eyes felt like prunes and my back ached with preliminary shootings of card-table slouch. It was time to test my newly-acquired strategies on human players. The computer, I discovered, did not speak during the games and so learning a language through it was like learning Kung-fu from a book: worthless.
On Father's Day, I sauntered up and announced I would be sitting at Euchre today. I made a passing comment that just because I was the new guy, I should be given no special treatment. My team lost, but the margin was slight enough for my father to raise his eyebrows. In the end, I was sheared of only five bucks (which my father offered to cover and which I declined).
I practiced. Held home games. Insisted on Euchre when my friends pined for Hold 'Em. By Labor Day, I walked into my father's lair with a high head and square shoulders and walked out with twenty bucks. I'd learned my family's languages, then mastered them – even though, throughout that final fateful match, when it came down to game point and my Jack trumped his Ace, my father never spoke a word. It was the biggest game of my life and, perhaps, his.
So all I have left to say is Texas, please hold 'em. No more games. The size of your contests has nothing to do with me. Through a simple sport of numbers and symbols, of faces and aces, I learned to speak my family's languages and I've no desire to go further. Being multilingual is hard work. The ability to not only speak but to be heard at the family table is an undertaking and an honor. The holidays are approaching, you see, and I've much to say this time around.
© 2006 Aaron Gudmunson