• Justin Kelly

From board games to poker

Growing up I was always a gamer. I remember the day when my family got a Nintendo for me and my siblings. We took turns playing Super Mario Bros and ExciteBike. When my brother finally beat Mike Tyson in the game Punch-Out™, I remember us all dancing around and celebrating. I’ll never forget how many countless hours my brother and I put into Legend of Zelda (who remembers that amazing gold game cartridge?). I enjoyed the challenge, and the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment when you finally conquer a game you’ve been struggling with.

        It must have ran in the family because our hallway closet was FILLED with board games. Floor to ceiling, down the entire hallway was nothing but miscellaneous board games, card games, dice games e.t.c. My family would play board games weekly. Nothing outweighed the satisfaction of beating your entire family on game night. Whether it was CandyLand, Monopoly, or Chutes & Ladders, I was in it to win it. When we would go on family vacations long before the days of smart phones and tablets, we made sure to bring one thing, a deck of cards. The game of choice was normally Rummy with the occasional session of “Speed” thrown in as well. I remember sitting on the airport floor, playing cards with my family in just about every random airport around the country. I will always treasure these memories and there was only one rule that my parents made abundantly clear... they would never “let” me win.

        Learning to be a great player comes with trial and error. You can never succeed without learning how to fail properly. To be a gracious and appreciative winner, you must first learn to be a good loser. I did just that. I lost… a lot. My parents, brother, and sister, NEVER went easy on me. I would go weeks and sometimes months where I never beat my mom in Rummy. In turn, I just tried harder. It made the losses easier to take and the wins that much sweeter to achieve. Without knowing it at the time, this laid the groundwork for what would become my future… Poker.

        There I was, underage, sneaking into the newest hottest casino that just opened. I had already scouted the route the security guards took around the multiple entrances, and when they switched shifts. It was like something out of an Oceans 11 movie just to “get in the doors” with my friends to play this game called Blackjack. Just like clockwork, one of the guards left to go on break and we made our move. We walked in like we owned the place. Confidence was key. At this point, the place is PACKED. It’s still grand opening weekend and all the table games are completely full with several people waiting to play behind each seat. Me and my friends scatter to different tables. All the minimums are $25 and we definitely did not have that kind money in our wallets. I finally approached the table, acted like I “belonged there” and got $100 in chips. I lost all 4 hands I played and proceeded to leave the table with an empty wallet and huge feeling of being defeated. Within minutes my friends all had met a similar fate. What were we going to do? The night was young and we all wanted to go out gambling but this place was just not going to work. One friend piped up and said, “hey, you guys want to play poker?” and without ever having played, we went off to do just that and my life changed forever.

        We hit the AM/PM gas station immediately for snacks and “poker chips”. We had to wait for (what felt like forever) the manager to open the safe so we could get as many pennies, nickels, & dimes as we could with what little money we had left from the casino. My friends parents owned a deli cafe down the street and he just so happened to have his key. It’s now 10pm at night, and we’re opening up a closed deli shop so I can learn poker for the first time. I will never forget that night. We played all these crazy poker games you rarely hear of outside of a home setting. Follow the Queen, Chicago, and Baseball were just a few of the ones we learned that night. Laughing, winning, losing, and learning, the night was simply magical and hours felt like minutes. Next thing we know, the sun is coming up and his parents walk through the front doors. We had literally played all night long and it was actually time for the store to open for business. I walked out, with my held high, an oversized grin on my face, and a 32oz big gulp cup full for change. I knew my life would never be the same again because of this crazy thing called “poker”.


© 2019 by the Thirst Lounge.

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