You’ve got to know when to hold ’em

A steel-and-wood traditional cribbage board.

Image via Wikipedia

It seems like a lot of what I have learned about life, I have learned through playing cards.  I grew up in a house where my mother taught us how to play cribbage at an early age to determine who would do the dishes (no dishwashers in our house other than the human ones).  We also played a game called hucklety-buck (no idea how to spell this one) – which was basically a form of solitaire but for multiple people (that doesn’t make sense does it?) – just to pass the time of day and gab at each other.  We learned to play bridge so my mother would have a partner when she needed one (which thankfully wasn’t very often!) and lastly we learned how to play poker – mainly to win money and prove our dominance over the male gender.  Each of these games taught me different aspects of life which have influenced how I interact with my husband, with my colleagues and with my children – and one can never discount the fact that player cards turned me into a competitor – someone who wanted to win – but win according to the rules of the game – so you could say cards (even poker) taught me that personal ethics count.

Cribbage taught me math skills because you have to be able to add up your points in your hand and my mother taught me early on – if I couldn’t count them, then she wasn’t going to count them either – and she would ignore them until the next hand had already been dealt.  This taught me the lesson that you are the only one responsible for getting ahead – don’t depend on those around you – even if they love you.  She wasn’t being mean, she wanted me to pay attention to detail, to look at the entire picture and make sure that I had considered every combination and possibility.  I still approach problems this way – and I am sure to cover everything so I don’t miss anything.  The part of cribbage which is unique is the concept of giving something to your opponent – the crib.  For every hand there is a crib for one of the players – this consists of two cards from each player (there are only two) – and the dealer of that hand gets the points from that ‘extra hand’.  Sometimes this is a very difficult decision because you don’t want to lose the game so you don’t want to give your opponent any points if necessary – but you also don’t know what he/she is giving to themselves.  This taught me that sometimes you have to make a decision without all of the information you need for that decision – and sometimes you just have to go with your ‘gut’ feeling.  Sometimes this works out and other times it does not – but in the end, you did the best with the information you had – and then you move on to the next decision.

Hucklety-Buck is a game played with four decks of cards and the object is to be the first person to get rid of his or her cards in the dealt hand.  If you don’t have a card to play, you have to draw from the deck until you get one which can be played.  This game taught me patience and strategy.  Much like chess, you had to think ahead as to what card you would play next – and again to pay close attention to where your opponent was playing his or her cards.  The game also taught me to have a back up plan – in case someone played a card where I had not anticipated – or stolen my play.  Just as in life – you should have a general idea of a plan – but always be prepared to take a detour in case someone throws a roadblock in your way.

Bridge is about cooperation and communication.  Everyone plays it differently depending on the partner and the convention used.  A convention in bridge is basically a type of code which tells your partner what you have in your hand, so you can decide how many tricks (winning combinations) you can make.  This game is all about communication – if you don’t talk to each other you won’t be able to estimate the number of tricks you can take – and what cards need to be played.  Cooperation and teamwork is needed because if your ego insists that you always be the one who wins the bid – you are going to be left with a bunch of cards that when combined with your partner’s (who you ignored) will get you absolutely nothing.  No communication, no teamwork – no win!  Doesn’t that really say it all about the business world today? 

And then there is poker.  What could poker possibly have taught me about life – other than to be a gambler and a competitor and look at the odds?  Isn’t that what all of us do every day in our life – we take a gamble on choosing the right career, we compete for positions within our field, we play the odds when deciding on what projects will bring in the most money for our company – and that’s just our business part of our lives.  We do the same thing in our personal lives – we take a gamble when we fall in love, get married, have kids – we compete for quality time with our spouse, our children – and sometimes we compete for the last dinner roll – and we are always playing the odds when decide where our children should go to school, where we will live – or even what kind of car to drive. 

The one thing that all of these games taught me was that ethics count – if you cheat, you may win in the short run – but in the long run, no one will want to play with you any more.  This is true in cards, in business and in life.  Cheating is always a short-term solution which damages you forever.  You don’t even have to get caught or called out for cheating – people know and they talk about it and start avoiding you.  Cheating is the sign of a weak player, a person who is not confident in his own skills and talents and more importantly, a cheater is a person who doesn’t respect the other players in the game.

What did I learn from playing cribbage, hucklety-buck, bridge and poker?  I learned how to live.


5 responses »

  1. Wow, you learned a lot. My parents taught us cribbage, too. My Dad actually made his cribbage board in shop when he was in High School and that’s the one we used. The base was clear and it had red and black holes. I’m pretty sure he still has it.

    I was bad at poker. Never was a good strategizer, and my face gives me away. The popular card game when I was in High School was spades and I always partnered with my best friend — we cheated w/out actually cheating, because we could give each other such subtle signals that we each knew what to do based on the other’s signal. But we really didn’t play competitively, just on breaks — I don’t recall the crowd I played cards with being super competitive about card games. Everyone cheated a little and that seemed like part of the fun.

    I tried to learn bridge but just couldn’t do it! A lot of my friends on a college choir tour played on the bus and I was left out, but I hated card games by then. I was never really good at them, not good at strategy, no good at math, and impatient to boot. I finally realized most card games are not for me. I’m more of a Charades type gal. Love to perform and guess. I wasn’t bad at Trivial Pursuits, either.

    I really liked this post, though, because of what you got out of games. Wish I’d gotten all those lessons! And as always enjoyed your writing. Your writing is so clear and the stories are a lot of fun to read.

  2. I hadn’t thought of my game playing that way, but they all made sense. I don’t play a lot of cards, but I do a lot of board games. I especially like the Game of Life and will use that phrase a lot. Sometimes that Game of Life truly feels that random and you have to make do.

    Another great choice for your top three.


    • I’ve always felt that games prepare us for life — even board games! My mom would only play one board game — it was called Pay Day (don’t know if it even exists any more) – but it was so appropriate for her life — she was always trying to find a way to make it to the next pay day — just like all of the rest of us!

  3. Pingback: What I have learned « Pages from my Crazy Life

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