Tales from the Cabin
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Raising the Ante

What if Celebrity Poker games were held at the cabin?

By Dave Kelley
Published: December 1, 2004
Ben Affleck demonstrates his poker acumen on the World Poker Tour, but how well could he balance all of the distractions of cabin poker?
Photo by World Poker Tour, LLC
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but sometime over the past few years, poker suddenly became the Great American Game, complete with whispery TV commentators oohing and aahing over Ben Affleck’s brilliant no-bet after being stuck with nothing but a pair of deuces on the draw. It’s a long way from the old Friday night at the cabin quarter-ante games so many of us grew up with, where it was bad form to celebrate a winning hand and the only time we saw a celebrity at the table was when Big Jim Slade, the owner of the local bait shop, showed up.
The relative merits of Ben Affleck versus Jim Slade is another topic entirely, but it does kind of sum up what’s happened to poker as it has moved from a participatory to a spectator sport. Face it, nobody then particularly wanted to watch Jim – or anyone else – play cards. It was all about participation. As long as Jim showed up at your place with a fresh deck and a couple of six-packs, he was welcome to pull up a chair. You couldn’t have cared less how he handled a pair of deuces on the draw.
Of course, a pair of deuces on the draw of a $10,000 ante Texas Hold’em game is way different than a pair of deuces on the draw of a quarter-ante battle of Dr Pepper (where 10s, 2s and 4s are all wild, and where it’s entirely possible for everyone at the table to wind up holding a royal flush when all the bets are called).
Truth is, if the umpteen-dozen poker tournaments now airing on the cable channels would switch over to old-school, cabin-style games, it would make for much better TV. Imagine it: Instead of sitting around a table in Vegas, Ben Affleck and the rest of the celebrity poker players are at a redwood table on a deck overlooking a tranquil little lake as the sun goes down. Prodigious quantities of festive adult beverages fuel the escalating chatter. No $25 cigars, just King Edwards and White Owls, and the game is interrupted at irregular intervals so the players can grab a fresh bratwurst from the grill.
And I’d like to see the players deal, so that the dealer could call the game. After enough of those festive beverages, we’d surely see some interesting games dealt out. Wouldn’t it be great TV to watch the players’ mouths go slack as Affleck launches into a convoluted explanation of the exotic rules of Baseball (3s and 9s wild, you get to draw another card free if you get a 4, and a king is a “rainout,” killing your hand if you get one dealt face-up)?
Or when, during a game with multiple wild cards, two or three players try and claim “5 Aces,” leading to frenzied arguments over which “5 Aces” constitute the winning hand?
And if the games are anything like the ones I’m used to playing with my friends, at least a couple of the cards in play will be bent severely (usually good cards, too), making it impossible to hide your hand if you’re dealt one of them.
Silly? Absolutely. But no sillier than sitting in front of a TV and watching players wearing sunglasses and low-slung ball caps and pumping their fists like they were real athletes just because they’ve been dealt a pair of aces. C’mon. It takes real skill to balance all the distractions of cabin poker.
TV poker’s enjoying a moment in the sun right now, a fad kind of like the $25 cigars of the 1990s. And that’s okay. Soon enough, like cigars, poker will be back to where it’s most comfortable: on the deck or at the kitchen table, with a few good friends enjoying a few good laughs. And if you’ve got a six-pack or something to contribute to the grill, there’s always an open chair for you.

Dave Kelley insists there is no truth to the rumor he plans to leave his Lake Austin cabin to become a professional poker player.
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