Yesterday I (sort of) learned how to play Briscola, an Italian card game. It’s a fun game with rules that are very different from those of an American card game, like euchre or gin rummy. In fact, Briscola suggests that the spectrum of games you could play with a deck of cards is as wide as the human imagination.
And speaking of the deck, forget hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades. The suits in a Sicilian deck are coins, swords, cups, and sticks. The card characters also are different, with a horseman instead of a Jack and a young woman rather than a queen. The size of the cards is a bit smaller than the standard American playing card.
The Briscola rules also are strange because the three is a very significant card, second in value only to the ace. That takes some getting used to. Each player is dealt three cards and then the card that establishes the trump suit is turned over. Each player then plays a card, with the card that is led by the first player setting the suit for the hand unless someone trumps in. You don’t need to follow suit, either. The highest card of the suit that was led, or the highest trump card played, takes the hand and wins any points assigned to the card played. And here’s a key point: many cards are assigned no points, whereas aces are worth 11 points and threes are worth 10 points. Why is a three worth 10 points? Only the creator of Briscola knows for sure.
I’m not doing a good job of explaining the rules, and in any event a wooden explanation of the rules doesn’t do justice to the game. It’s a fun, fast moving game that is best learned on a sun-dappled patio overlooking the sea coast.
I’d guess that most of us have at least one app on our phone that we tap when we want to get our brains working in the morning, or to give us something to do to fill those random ten-minute snippets of the day that happen while, for example, we are waiting for our spouses to get ready to go out.
There are some crucial requirements for these brainstarters and timewasters. First, they need to be sufficiently interesting to actually get your brain working and allow you to fill the time you’re looking to occupy. If the app is so boring that you lose interest and would rather sit there drumming your finders on the arm of your chair, it has failed in its essential function. Second, at the same time the app can’t be so riveting that you can’t promptly stop when your spouse comes downstairs and is ready to go and would be offended if you gave her the one-minute sign and kept tapping your phone. It therefore needs to be a game, or puzzle, or challenge that you can readily put down and pick up again at your leisure, And third, if the app is going to have staying power on your phone, it’s got to be set up so that you’re always facing a new challenge.
Me, I’m a Spider Solitaire guy. I picked up the free version from the app store, because I just wasn’t willing to pay for a timewaster, so before I can play a game I have to sit through the snippet of an ad for a new game, a new car, or something else — but reacting to that helps to get the brain started, too. I come from a card-playing family, so a card game appealed to me. There are thousands of different variations of how the cards can be dealt, so there’s no real worry about repetition. It’s easy to put down mid-game and pick up later, and trying to figure out different approaches to how to win a game when the cards are really working against you keeps my interest. And some appropriately triumphal music plays when you win a game, so you feel a certain sense of accomplishment with each little victory.
Brainstarters and timewasters aren’t the most important things in the world, of course, but they serve a crucial role in deflecting utter boredom and minutes that seem to stretch on for hours. We’ll appreciate them even more if we ever get to the point of waiting at the gate for an overdue plane flight again.
We were down in New Orleans this past weekend for a bachelor party. To celebrate the occasion, Russell designed and hand made hardwood fleur de lis cribbage boards, suitably inscribed on the back, and we ordered some customized playing cards, using some photos I took of New Orleans on our trip a few years back.
We didn’t get to play as much cribbage as we would have liked — eating, drinking, and listening to fantastic live music every waking moment somehow got in the way — but the participants on our Big Easy Bachelor Party weekend will always remember their trip thanks to these beautiful cribbage boards. Great job, Russell!
The Tribe won Game 1 of their five-game series with the Boston Red Sox tonight. It was a fabulous, tight game, brilliantly managed by Indians skipper Terry Francona.
The key point in the game was Francona’s decision to go to his bullpen in the fifth inning. It was a ballsy move that could have blown up in Francona’s face — but it didn’t. Yes, lefty Andrew Miller had to pitch more than normal, but the bullpen held the lead, Cody Allen closed the door for the save, and the Tribe has a leg up.
Cribbage? Hell, no wonder he’s a good manager. Anybody who plays the greatest card game of all, with its intricate strategies and maneuvering, is bound to have a good eye for figuring out how to win a ball game.
So the Tribe has a 1-0 lead in the series. I’ll take it. With the Cribbage King to set the strategy, I think more good things are to come.
This weekend we had a blast up at Put-In-Bay, thanks to the generous hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Gleeful Retiree. Saturday night eight of us sat down to play a little euchre tournament, with team pairings that changed every five hands. It was a lot of fun.
Euchre is a great game for that setting, because each player is dealt only five cards. As a result, every hand is over quickly, so if you get a crappy hand — which unfortunately happens from time to time — it’s only a matter of a few minutes before you get a new one that hopefully isn’t filled with nines and tens. And there’s never a gap in table talk, either, because each hand offers opportunities to chat about the cards, the hand just played, the lay-down loner you didn’t get to call, and your run of ridiculous, inexplicable bad luck.
It’s the first time I’ve played euchre in a while, and it brought back a lot of memories. I come from a card family, and both Mom and Dad’s families were card families, too. For as long as I can remember, cards were a huge part of the Webner family dynamic. Kids progressed through the card game difficulty spectrum — starting with war, moving on to hearts, spades, gin rummy, and euchre, and finally getting up to cribbage and bridge. On family vacations, there always was a nightly euchre tournament where different combinations of uncles, cousins, and grandparents paired off for some friendly competition and bragging rights, and taunting was the order of the day. The bad jokes and gibes around the card tables at those euchre tournaments are some treasured memories and helped to make my childhood a little richer.
Some families are card families, some families aren’t. I’m glad I was from a card family. Richard and Russell are good card players, and we’ve had some good times playing cards together. I’m happy they’re carrying on the family tradition.
Last weekend, on the father-son fishing trip to Hen Island, there was one dominant topic around the card table: UJ’s hat. It is pictured above, in all its glory.
When you’re drinking beer, smoking cigars, and playing cards, sophomoric humor tends to dominate, and usually there is one theme or target for the weekend, This year, something about this humble hat provoked the onslaught of insult humor. Some of the best lines:
Did you steal that hat from a homeless person?
How far down into the dumpster did you need to go to find that thing?
That hat looks like it’s ready to spontaneously combust.
Any readers so inclined are invited to share their jibes.
UJ explained, somewhat sheepishly, that he rescued the hat from the dustbin of history, when one of his friends was getting ready to pitch it — but now he wears it with a curious pride, knowing that he will suffer the slings and arrows of rude family humor. It keeps the sun off his head, and the brim can be tugged and maneuvered into all kinds of shapes — which was one of the things that made the hat an apt target for our jokes.
In my family, cards were serious business. You played to win, and if you blundered you could expect to be called on it — in spades.
Taunting was not only accepted, but viewed as a crucial part of the play-to-win process. A well-played hand that produced an unexpected loss for your opponents had to be accompanied by a well-played barb, and if you were on the losing end you were expected to respond in kind. It was all part of the game, and if you didn’t like the insult process you just shouldn’t play.
This is all well and good when card playing is confined to the family unit. It’s a bit uncomfortable when you sit down to play an innocent game of euchre with friends and realize that your inner asshole sees the deck of cards and concludes that it’s time for him to make an appearance.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go to Hen Island this year, for a number of reasons. That’s sad, but it also means that I haven’t had a serious cribbage fix for a very long while. It eased the pain to see that the former ship captain’s house where we stayed in Tamworth, New Hampshire featured a cribbage board — and not just any cribbage board. This Brobdingnagian construct, with titanic pegs to match, was the biggest cribbage board I’ve ever seen.
The casino alleges that the gambler used a method called “edge sorting” that took advantage of defective cards with patterns on the backs that were not uniform. The lawsuit claims that the gambler noticed the defect and got the dealer to arrange and shuffle the cards in a way that allowed him to use the non-uniform patterns to identify which cards were coming out of the dealer’s shoe.
$9.6 million is a lot of money — but it’s got to be embarrassing for a casino to admit that they didn’t detect that they were being provided with defective cards and were duped by this alleged scheme. Don’t casinos, as a matter of course, take steps to make sure that the cards they are using have uniform patterns on the backs?
It reminds me of my high school days, when boys would gather in the “student lounge” during free periods and play euchre. We didn’t gamble for money, but I remember one of my classmates bringing in a deck of “marked” cards and showing us how you could decipher the marks on the back. I never would have noticed the difference — but then I’m not a casino where gamblers have the opportunity to win millions of dollars.
I’ve been playing cribbage for more than 40 years, with my grandfather, my father, my uncles, my brother, my brothers-in-law, my sons, my college roommate, and my friends. Tonight I had my biggest hand ever.
It was a 28. It came when Richard and I were playing two-handed, smoking cigars and drinking beer. Four fives in my hand and the king of diamonds cut. Fifteen-two, -four, -six, -eight, -ten, -twelve, -fourteen, -sixteen, and 12 points in pairs for 28. It was a thing of beauty, an historic achievement, and entirely fit to be memorialized for all time with a photo and a blog post.
In cribbage, there’s only one possible hand that is better than a 28 — a 29, which occurs when you’ve got three fives and a jack in your hand and the five of the same suit of your jack is cut. I’ve never had a 29, and if I play cribbage for another 40-odd years I probably never will. But, after tonight, now I can say that I have had a 28.
Richard is home for winter break. The temperature outside hovers around 65 degrees. My work for the day is done. Cigars and a curious assortment of beers from our excellent corner beverage shop have been procured. The cribbage board is ready.
The way ahead is clear. Once more, into the breach, dear friends!
I’m happy to report that the cribbage effort was a great success. We played for hours, my friends learned the rules, and for the most part we joshed good-naturedly about the cards and the state of play.
Even better, I’m happy to report that one of my fellow fishermen, The Sage, became an enthusiastic convert to the world of cribbage. Since his return from Canada he’s purchased a board, read up on the history of the game, and taught his wife and daughter how to play. I’m pleased that he has acknowledged the obvious merit of cribbage and become a member of the ever-increasing Cribbage Kingdom.
Of course, for every convert to cribbage, there is a sore loser who cannot gracefully accept a serious thumping — as the unfortunate photo accompanying this posting confirms.
It’s time to crack open another cold Labatt’s and focus on some serious pegging. It’s time to play some cribbage — unquestionably the greatest card game of all — and knock off the Irish lads to get revenge for their victory last year.
After a short respite at the apartment, Richard and I decided to strike out for dinner. We headed in a different direction from where we had gone before, and at first it seems like a complete failure. Most of the places were closed on a May Day Sunday evening, and the prospects were grim. Ultimately, however, we found at place that served food.
To my delight, the only food they served was exactly the food I wanted. That would be chacuterie — that is, meat and cheese. One plate was filled with different kinds of cheese, and the other was filled with different kinds of meat. It was exactly what I wanted — prosciutto, and dry sausage, and ground duck, and a combination of duck and pork pate on one plate, and different kinds of cheese — goat cheese, and Edam, and Camembert, and other cheeses on the other. Combine them with a few Belgian beers (and here I’m thinking of you, Mr. Duhamel) and you have the perfect dinner.
Then we came home, and Richard taught me how to play a weird variant of seven-card Gin Rummy, and he kicked my butt in the process. We had the windows of the apartment wide open, and were listening to the Beatles on the iPod as we heard the students of the Sorbonne pass by below.