Sunday, October 17, 2010

The bet's to you, Rabbi.

I just returned from a retreat in northern Marin county, a weekend with people of all ages, organized by my synagogue.  A fun weekend, like being at summer camp again.  The most unexpected delight of the weekend, though, was Candyland Poker.

Our rabbi wanted to learn how to play poker so he could join a rabbis' game he knows about.  So a group of us taught him how to play Texas Hold 'Em.  (A bunch of guys and me.  It was bizarre for me to be the most knowledgeable in the bunch.)  Once we taught him the rules, we realized that without betting it wouldn't really be teaching him poker.  But:

  • We had no chips
  • It was Shabbat, so we weren't supposed to be gambling with money.
Frustrated at this, the rabbi walked off and came back with a Candyland set from the child care area.  Per his idea, we used the Candyland cards as chips, and the rabbi delighted in each bet.  He was so excited about the Candyland cards that he wanted to value them differently based on color and number of squares, with special value for the "princess" cards: the candy cane princess, the ice cream princess, the gumdrop creature, etc.  We talked him out of it; he insisted, though, that when we bet we turn the Candyland cards face up so that we could at least celebrate the colors and princesses.

There was something infectious about the fun of Candyland cards: if someone bet with a double color or a princess, we trash-talked about it -- "Oh, he must be feeling confident!"

The rabbi also suggested that we play what he called "kibbutz rules."  Since we weren't playing with money, and we didn't have very many Candyland cards, the rule was that if you ran out of Candyland cards after a hand, the person with the biggest stack had to give you half.  (There was a brief discussion of welfare policy: Should we tax all equally, or should donations to the cashless be voluntary from the group?  Were we creating incentives to be lazy?)

The rabbi is fine with us calling him by his first name, but no one did in this scenario: it was too much fun to say, "Bet's to you, Rabbi."

A friend had brought his guitar and played and sang for us.  How many people play poker to live music?

There was a lot of wine involved.  We played for three hours.  By the end, the rabbi was telling people to stop the chitchat and just bet -- he was totally hooked.  (The second night we tried playing using candy from a huge bag as chips, but the phrase, "Pass me a Tootsie-Roll" quickly showed that to be a bad idea, and we returned to the Candyland card model.)

Three of us in the poker group, plus our guitar-playing troubadour, formed the Candyland Poker Band.   During the adults' open mic night, we brought the house down (which had been listening to unbelievably lame jokes) by performing a couple of Beatles songs.  Apparently, I can sing well.

The Candyland poker group is going to reconvene back in civilization.  We may end up using chips and money.  I hope that we can still hang on to the levity we found on Friday night.

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