by W.J. Florence
We must speak by the card,
Or equivocation will undo us.
Hamlet. Act V., Scene lst.
The game of Poker has become popular during the last two decades, and is now known in almost every civilized land. I have seen it played by the donkey boys in the streets of Cairo and by the Pi-Ute Indians on the plains of Nevada. I was present on one occasion when a poker party was made up of a reigning monarch, a future king, and three princes imperial. That might well be called a royal flush.
That the game which could hold such competitors must be a fascinating one cannot be denied. It is indeed held by some to be the most dangerous of all games of cards, since it can only be played for stakes; but it must be remembered that this is true of all games in which the player conceals the value of the cards he holds.
To the objection that poker is an unsocial game, since it admits of no partners, each participant striving for himself alone, it is to be said that for this very reason poker absorbs its players with a deep fascination. Since one object of the game is to mystify your adversaries as to the value of your hand, and as all sorts of chaff and badinage are permitted, it cannot, after all, be termed an unsociable amusement. Nonsense may fly from tongue to tongue, fast and furious, to any extent, providing it does not delay the game. Then, where a hand shown down detects its owners late futile attempt to mislead the table a rousing laugh usually follows, so that the fun is always kept up. Of course one may have a bad-tempered or a churlish companion at table; but such a one usually gets the worst of it when he betrays his peevishness.
As in any game of chance or speculation, there are in poker opportunities to cheat. Long before poker, however, was even invented, cheating at chance games was practiced by the unprincipled. I have seen loaded dice taken from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum and now preserved in the Government Museum at Naples; so poker is not responsible for all the charges brought against it.
It is well, however, to be careful about, going into a game of poker on an ocean steamer, in a railway carriage, or a western hotel without some knowledge of your companions.
But with a party of gentlemen and for limited stakes, poker is a fascinating and harmless pastime. While a number of books have been written about it, none can claim absolute authority, though the rules of the game are really simple. The deviations, alterations, and amended allowances, and the fact that almost any party sitting down to play may and often does make its own rules about certain matters, render poker a by no means easy game. Such rules, for example, as those relating to the value of a straight, playing around the, corner, passing the buck, blazes, and jack-pots, are predetermined according to the desires of the players. It is to fix the positive and long-accepted statutes of the game that this book is written, the rules herein set forth having been sanctioned by the best custom wherever draw poker is played in its integrity.
An authority on poker says:
Of all methods of livelihood or dissipation or amusement, perhaps there is none about which so much untruth passes current as about gambling. Every now and then the newspapers take to a run of gaming stories, and it is the exception when one of these has the least element of fact to sustain it. To the mind of a certain crude reportorial youth, in whose eyes the racecourse is a paradise and every turfman a hero, all games of chance possess a peculiar fascination, and if he can fasten to a game of hearsay some individual particular or personal anecdote, he fancies that his fortune is made, and neither thinks nor cares to discriminate in the matter of accuracy or propriety. That there are degrees in card-playing, or varying sensibilities among those who with differing aims play at cards, or any virtue in sticking to the truth, does not occur to him, and as in this, like other fairy tales, it is as easy to speak of millions as of pennies, the amounts at issue are only limited by the imagination of the recountant. Thus: The Colonel went him a thousand dollars, and the Judge raised him five thousand better, and the Colonel called, and the Judge only had a pair of deuces, and when, if there was any such passage at all, the figures might be reduced to mills still largely to exceed the amounts actually at stake.
Again, the writers of these gaming stories seldom have any knowledge of the subject, and, writing at second-hand, fall into the most egregious errors; and their readers, being for the most part equally ignorant, form the most fantastic notions of gambling and of the gambler, both professional and amateur.
The reputation for gambling long survives the abandonment of the habit of gambling. It is not generally known, though it is a fact, that the most famous of the nonprofessional gamblers of history, Charles James Fox, did not play for money after his forty-third year, devoting the most of his life to a useful, eminent, and brilliant public service, but never eradicating his early reputation. Indeed, it can be set down as a rule that nothing does its work so quickly and so surely as high play. He who persists in it, no matter how deep his pocket, will soon find the bottom of it; for the essential principle of gambling is that it shall reach at least the measure of the players capacity to lose. In most cases it exceeds this, and in all, where it is continued; it outlasts the capacity to pay, involving debt and ruin. Where these are not the finalities among amateurs and men claiming to be gentlemen, the abatement is to be found in an ever-increasing conservatism, narrowing down to merely nominal stakes or counters, and this is the history of every game that does not end in more or less of hardship and disgrace.
Of professional gambling it can be said that no avocation involves so much of despotism, fickleness, and squalor. Rare, indeed, are the instances where the professional gambler would not be glad to lead a different life. He will tell you, and truly, that he was not born a gambler; he did not take to gambling for its own sake; that he drifted into it, as it were, sometimes by mischance in business, sometimes through the encroachments of half-unconscious dissipation, and sometimes from sheer indolence and love of easy and idle pleasure. A murrain ont! The capacity for real and steady work diminished or gone; the means of recuperation squandered, confidence forfeited, and reputation tarnished, what was left? Nothing but the cardtable, no longer a magic circle of diversion and abandonment, but the grimy, back-breaking actuality of a defeated life, indefinite, endless, without any beginnings, or objective points, or ambitions that are not vulgar, venal, and corrupt, or victories that are not brutal and base.
Yet of all the vices, none is so easy of amendment, as none shows so many illustrations of reform. In the great cities most men have taken a turn at some form of gambling; few who have not either thrown it off or brought it under regulation and control. Gaming is largely a habit, and a habit of association. It does not, like so many other vices, communicate directly any poison to the blood, though too often leading to those that do. In its origin it is not without a certain manhood and humor, and hence in all ages and among all classes it has had an existence. But at the very best it is open to the gravest objections.
It is too absorbing, detaining players beyond their time, and often from the most honorable motives. It is too confining, lacking the pure air and light of day, and permeated by the fetid atmosphere of midnight and tobacco, where it does not descend into the health-destroying fumes of drink. It completely deadens the moneysense, and, in fact, the sense of all values; and, where carried to the least excess, is a moral crime in exacting something for nothing. I will not add that it is provocative of a great talent for domestic lying, and an incalculable amount of it, because it may be doubted whether the loving wife who listens with moist eyes to the sad story of the sick friend is deceived as much and as often as she pretends to be. Assuredly not in Kentucky, where be sure the women of two or three generations have not lived wholly in vain, and where, in every case, it would be well for the recusant husband to pay no heed to the counsel of the Kentucky journalist, of whom tradition relates that, on a certain occasion, lie observed to the friend with whom he was about to separate at the street corner which divided their respective homes: I have always made it a rule, Isaac, to go to my wife and tell her the truth; it is much the best way, believe me; and so, as soon as I get in, I mean to put a bold face on it and frankly say that the press broke down!
Fictions like these, however ingenious and maintained, have no power to mislead such ladies as the astute Bluegrass matron, who, after allowing her husband to disrobe in fancied security, and to sit rocking the cradle on the edge of the bed until nearly frozen by the cunning attempt at deception, at last exclaimed Oh, come on to bed; the baby aint in that cradle!
When old Jediah Suggs, the father of the illustrious Simon, having discovered that young hopeful playing cards, undertook to impress the boy with the idea that gambling is a waste of time and money, the embryo Captain of the Tallapoosa Volunteers asked, with more pertinency than depth of thought: Well, whar does the money go, daddy, that everybody loses? In spite of the inability of the elder Mr. Suggs to answer this inquiry, he builded wiser than he knew, and was in the main right in his original proposition.
A prominent theatrical manager tells this story:
Henry Wagstaff is breezy, and has a flashy way that no one can resist admiring. I heard of a game of poker he played where he was sadly caught on a big bluff. He was at the table with Mr. John Dougherty, and several other firstclass players. The mere fact that Wagstaff was in the game was sufficient to indicate that big stakes were now and then placed on the table. It was jack-pot poker, and now and then the pot became alarmingly large. But Wag did not grow dizzy, and he bet with cavalier sangfroid. The fact is, the great editors poker nerve is the admiration of thousands of players. His face does not change, no matter if he is betting high on a bobtail flush. Some one opened the jack-pot and W agstaff and Dougherty came in, each drawing three cards. When it came Wags time to bet he coolly put up $100. The jack-pot contained several hundred besides, and no one wanted to give up at once. But the assured way in which the editor put up his bet caused all to drop out except Dougherty.
He saw the bet and raised it another hundred. Wagstaff never hesitated but went another hundred better. All the others at the table began to feel sorry for Dougherty, for they imagined that the editor had a big winning hand and was drawing his opponent on. After three one-hundred-dollar bets had been made, Dougherty, to the astonishment of those present, called Wagstaff. The latter put his hand on the table and showed that lie had been betting on a pair of deuces. Dougherty raked in something like $1000 with a pair of sevens. Every one present admired the editors bluffing nerve, but great praise was bestowed upon Dougherty for his unbounded confidence in a pair of sevens. No one can tell when Wag is bluffing or betting on a big hand, and that is one reason why he is such a great player.