Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Nailing Gambling

“I’ll see your skinny nail and raise you a cable clip.”

By Christine Clark

My bluff face gets an F. July 4th weekend I learned to play poker. The place we stayed that weekend had no cable TV, no Internet, no phone. Entertainment of yesteryear was in order. We found a deck of cards and the group decided to play poker. I had played a few times in the distant past, but didn’t remember much.
Two of the guys gave me a quick tutorial on a full house, a straight, a flush, two-of-a-kind, and three-of-a-kind, and if I play again anytime soon, I might remember what they are.
No one had coins or chips for betting, but the experienced players insisted we place bets. We eyed the bowls of Skittles and M&Ms, but decided against them because no one wanted multicolored fingertips and cards—in spite of that whole melt-in-your-mouth not-in-your-hand slogan. The gold-foil-wrapped Dove chocolates would have worked, but we ate so many of them, there were too few left for six players.
We searched the house and found two packages of nails and a package of cable clips. We had our stakes: skinny nails, $5; thick nails, $10; cable clips, $50.
I jumped right in and placed bets to try to keep up with the other players. Being the newbie, I bet only when I had good cards, so it was easy for everyone else at the table to gauge their bets accordingly. When I placed $50 (a cable clip) in the center of the table, everyone folded. I made one mistake I won’t repeat: I folded with three of a kind when I was certain someone had to have a better hand. They didn’t.
At the end of the evening, we laughed about me stumbling through the game. We repackaged the nails and cable clips, and made plans to get together again the following evening.
We feasted on typical Fourth of July cookout fare. Following the meal, our host brought out his poker table. It’s compact and unfolds and sits atop a regular table. It has slots for chips, circled indentations in which to place cups, and painted rectangular shapes where players are supposed to put their cards. He also had poker chips. Each of us forked over $5.
That $5 changed almost everything from the previous evening—as far as I was concerned. I felt carefree, almost silly, and relaxed when I bet nails and cable clips, but I felt tense when I looked at my chips. I thought to myself, “This game has real money and I’m probably going to lose mine.”
I kept having trouble remembering the best cards and combinations of cards. I didn’t forget that three of a kind beat two pairs, but I forgot several other cards and watched in dismay as the other players won my chips.
Worse, they kept changing the game. I got abbreviated lessons on 5-card stud, 7-card stud, and one game where you didn’t draw any cards. Then there was the tapping when you didn’t want to bet or cut the cards. It was a bit much to learn.
I failed at bluffing as I did the previous evening. If my cards were poor, I folded. My reasoning was: Why bet on cards that wouldn’t win? When I had a good hand, I had a reason to bet. I even admit to getting a small thrill the few times I scooped a pile of chips in my direction.
We played the evening’s final hand, and in a pride-filled voice I announced, “three queens.” The others looked at my cards and said, “You have a full house!” I was so focused on the three queens, I didn’t notice the two tens I held.
The “banker” counted my chips. I was surprised when my total came to $4.95. I lost a nickel. Some players made money, others didn’t. One person with an emptier wallet was my son, who came home with $1.90. When he and I spoke the next day, we agreed that the nails and cable clips game was more fun. It wasn’t sour grapes on my part, because the banker gave me a full $5 and let the 5 cents slide.
I realize that five dollars is a small price for a few hours of entertainment. I simply had more fun when there was no money involved. When the chips were placed on the table, the atmosphere got serious. Gone was the zany attitude from that first night when someone said, “I’ll see your nail and raise you a cable clip.” Instead, it became, “I’ll see your 10, and raise you 50.”
Gambling has never been one of my vices, and for that I’m grateful. I’m also grateful I failed at the fake, the bluff, the poker face. Genuine relationships and interactions are difficult, but also more rewarding. I would play again, but only for fun—and nails, and cable clips.

 More Than Nails and Cable ClipsProblem Gambling

Gambling has never been one of my problems. My family history has no horror stories of lives affected by gambling. Unfortunately, those stories do exist. Gambling is a serious problem for thousands of people in the United States. The District of Columbia and every state in the United States, except for Hawaii and Utah, have at least one type of legal gambling.
Gamblers Anonymous has posted 20 questions to help identify whether someone has a problem with gambling. Those questions are reprinted here, with permission.[1] As it states on their Web site, “Gamblers Anonymous offers the following questions to anyone who may have a gambling problem. These questions are provided to help the individual decide if he or she is a compulsive gambler and wants to stop gambling.”
Twenty Questions

Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
Did gambling affect your reputation?
Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?
Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness?
Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

If you have concerns about your own or someone else’s gambling, visit their Web site at:
For additional facts on problem gambling, visit the National Council on Problem Gambling Web site at:

[1] Twenty Questions reprinted with permission from Gamblers Anonymous.