The summer between junior and senior year at college, those of us who remained on campus occasionally got together for a friendly card game, before going out for the evening. This was before Texas Hold’em really took off, and most poker gathering were generally “dealer’s choice;” this is a fine arrangement, as long as each player at the table possesses a large arsenal of games from which to choose. No such luck at our games, we generally bounced around between dull draw games, where the pot was never able to grow past $0.90 (this was nickel/dime poker after all), and ridiculous stud games with multiple wild cards and five or six rounds of betting, i.e. “seven card stud, follow the queen, slap the bitch, deuces and fours are wild.” We hadn’t yet grasped the concept of Hold’em, or any of its terrific offspring such as Tic-Tac-Toe.
The bets were nickel ante, with a max raise of a quarter; nothing fancy. These games generally got very boring, very fast; and were really just an excuse to get together and drink while we waited for the bars to fill up. The boredom combined with the dealers’ lack of creativity, inevitably led to some kind of “pot” game, where a large pot develop and everyone takes turns competing for it. Two popular pot games come to mind; “Guts” and “Acey Ducey.” This story is about the latter.
In Acey Ducey, everyone antes up a quarter to the pot, then each player is dealt two cards face down that he may not look at. Starting to the left of the dealer, the player reveals his two card hand, and then chooses to bet anything from $0.25 up to the amount of money in the pot – he is betting that the next card in the deck will be between the two cards he has on the table, hence the name “Acey Ducey,” since an Ace and a deuce are the pair that give you your best shot at winning.
Here is the big kick-in-the-balls; if you show a pair, you pay double. Meaning, if you have an Ace/Deuce; and the dealer turns over an Ace or a two, you now have pair in your three-card hand and you owe double. Read it again if you need to; it is essential that you understand. If this seems rare or unlikely to you, try it right now. Go get a deck of cards, and deal out a few hands – how often did a pair come up? So in our game, with just $1.50 worth of antes in the pot, someone had a decent hand, let’s say King/Three, so he bet “the pot,” and another three comes out; now he owes not $1.50, but $3.00! And now the pot is $4.50 to the next player.
I challenge every one of you to play this game with 5 friends – with 25 cent stakes; I guarantee you achieve a pot of over $40 in your first three games.
It is evil, this game. It is the devil’s work.
One night during our poker game, I was getting bored and I was way ahead, so I threw down the Acey Ducey. The pot was $1.50; the very first hand was a double loser – Boom! Just like that, $4.50 in the pot. Two unlikely losses later, it was finally my first turn, with the pot already at $18.00; I flipped my cards and revealed an ace/four. I bet the pot, convinced there was no way it could happen again; predictably, it happened again. When I turned over the four, the room erupted in cheers! Everyone who had lost already still had a chance to win their money back, along with the $36.00 that I just lost to the pot.
I didn’t have enough money on hand to pay it, so I went into my room and retrieved my adorable Cookie Monster Cookie Jar. Cookie Monster was about ten inches high, ceramic and hand painted with a glossy finish. His head detached from his pudgy body around his shoulder, revealing the cavernous belly meant to hide your cookies and keep them fresh. I do not remember exactly how I came into the possession of Cookie, but I know he originated at Ralph Rotten’s Fabulous Fudge Factory on Portion Road where a friend of mine in high school worked. I believe he was left in my car. At the time of this story, I had been hiding my money in Cookie Monster’s Belly for over five years, and I was very fond of him.
The game continued; desperate to win some of the loot before it went all the way around the table again, possibly to be won by someone else, people began betting recklessly; and the pot grew. I was broke, and my $36 loss really stung. With my ability to buy beer in jeopardy, I adjusted tactics, and tightened up – refusing to bet on anything that was not a very probable win, and even then betting small amounts. I achieved a few small victories to chip away at my losses, but others kept feeding the pot, with loud whooping and hollering from the rest each time someone lost another chunk. The game was turning into a regular slaughter; I don’t think anyone was having fun anymore. Pot games always come up, because everyone want to let a big prize build up, for a chance to win some decent money; say, $20 in two seconds instead of winning $2.75 on a hand of poker that took 15 minutes. But therein lies the rub; once the pot grows, it needs to be dealt with. It sits in the middle of the table, it mocks you for not having the courage to go for it, and it reminds you that you cannot leave until the money has been fairly won.
It was $235 when Big K was dealt an Ace Deuce.
He asked if we would allow him to bet the pot, even though he didn’t have the dough – he swore he would go straight to the ATM if he lost. Wanting it to end, we agreed, although IOU’s are generally taboo at poker games.
The noise that escaped Big K’s mouth when the second ace was flipped was something between a yelp and a whimper. It was the sound a dog makes when you step on its tail; but with the volume turned way down. For once, there was no cheering at this loss – this was devastating, and we all knew it. In a way, we were disappointed that the game wasn’t over, terrified over the prospect of dealing with a pot of nearly $700, and baffled over what to do in the likely event that Big K could not pay. The room was silent; we all stared at the pair of aces on the table, cursing them for the trouble they had caused.
To his credit, Big K marched straight to the ATM and with a $70 loan from his friend, came back and laid $470 on the table. He shook his head, screamed every swear word he knew, turned around, and walked out. It was so awkward; if there was a way I could have let him off the hook for it, I would have done it in an instant, but there were still four people left, all with stakes in the pot, and all having paid up fairly when they lost, so it was impossible.
I slowly took about $100 back out of the giant pot, but the big prize was taken down by “N.O.R Lee,” a wild-haired hippie frat-boy, who had the balls to take on a $400+ dollar pot, just an hour after witnessing Big K’s ruin. I deposited my $100 into my beloved Cookie Monster Jar, and we went out to the bar without Big K. It was $2 Miller Lite pitcher night, so it didn’t take much, and N.O.R. Lee was buying drinks for everyone in the spirit of a good winner.
Two days later, I woke up after a long night of drinking, and Cookie Monster was gone. Actually, only his body was gone, his little blue ceramic head was still there, still joyously gobbling down his cookie as if nothing was wrong. I know Big K was still in the living room when I went to bed; I also know that he is one of about seven people that know where I keep my money, and one of exactly five people aware of the extra bit of poker winnings that Cookie Monster was housing. I asked him directly, he denied it, and I was faced with a difficult situation – I could take him at his word, but the situation was a little too suspicious and my brain would just not allow it; I could pitch a fit about it, but that would serve no purpose; what I did was this – I accepted the lost money, I believed that it was taken by Big K, and I just made it perfectly clear several times that I only wanted Cookie Monster back. Big K adamantly denied any knowledge of the money or the jar, but I continued to mention it – often.
About a year later, Big K’s best friend, let’s call him Little M, confessed the theft, and admitted that the Cookie Monster body was discarded immediately after the money was taken. I asked why, that these two people, whom I had been friends with for three years, would choose to steal from me for $60. His answer; “we really needed it.” Which I knew was true – I said “I would have given it to you,” which I think he knew was true.
They needed it because they drank every night, and they needed it because they had acquired a taste for expensive drugs, and they needed it because Big K lost his rent in an Acey Ducey game. Whatever the reason, I could never really stomach being around either one of them after that, and they more or less faded out of my life.