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Ode to Card Games

Card games are a great way to have fun. They allow you to combine strategy, chance, and teamwork. The shuffling of cards at the start of a game is a comforting sound to me. I enjoy the very act of shuffling. In this, I tend to use only one corner of the cards in a split deck to ensure the cards are as well mixed as I can. This came from shuffling giant magic decks where I couldn’t fit my hands around all three sides of the cards required. It works well. The deal comes next, starting to the left and going around the circle. This is one of the few times that I have a really hard time multi-tasking. Getting each card off the deck, on the correct player’s pile, and keeping track of the number of cards dealt at my frantic pace are just enough to make talking to people difficult. In contrast, it is easy to say the number of cards dealt, and it is a great time to practice counting in different languages since I have no ability to talk about other things. I have often used card games to teach numbers and counting in other languages. It is a slight point of pride of mine that I can deal well and quickly. In canasta, there is even an added challenge and bonus of fifty points for preselecting the exact number of cards needed for the deal.

Card games come in multitudinous varieties. Card games have their own jargon from shuffle to meld to nertz to wild to trump to dirty and clean to hand and foot. In my mind they generally clump into strategy games (like Magic), solitaire games (working from ace to king in some kind of order), rummy games (making sets and runs of three or more), trick games (each player putting a card out looking for high card), and poker games (looking for specific combinations of cards). Each variation on these archetypes is a new game in and of itself. They can take a multiplayer game like rummy and make it better suited for two players as in jin rummy. They can take a familiar game like sevens and give it a refreshing new challenge as in spite and malice. They can be frenetically paced and full of multi-tasking as in nertz or they can be a quiet, tranquil contemplation of every move you make as in spider solitaire.

The way my memory works, I have a knack for remembering the rules to card games such that most of my friends do not know or cannot articulate the rules to the games. Fortunately, I also happen to believe in playing games by the rules. Cheating in my mind is not playing the game intended but a different one. The result at least is that the games and their rules stay consistent no matter how the retention of the game plays out with friends. For playing card games is the most frequent time I get to spend with friends. It is a great combination of being able to see people I like, talk about whatever, and always have the comfort of the card game to keep the interactions light and moving. It also helps that I have had a fair amount of luck in card games, so winning is frequent enough to make playing the games rewarding. It is a great feeling of excitement when you go to draw the next card, sometimes the last card, looking for a destiny draw and being rewarded by it. All of the circumstances of chance and statistics seemed to have magically aligned to give you your wish. It is a little thing, but it is a great feeling to have a wish answered.

Playing card games reveals much of people’s personalities. You can learn very quickly how people react to winning and losing, to manipulation, to chance, to organization, to team work, to paying attention, to details, to changing environments. It is a great way to get to know people, and each personality and play style has its own neat aspects to it. It is certainly an area where every person is very different. Mao may be the best of this because the very act of not telling people the rules outright shows how people handle a huge amount of pressure. I don’t play it much now as it tends to traumatize people one way or another, but I have found friends that would crack under pressure and friends that I would take into the most intense environments ever. I appreciate both of them, and it is at least nice that it is only a card game that revealed these characteristics.

My favorite game at the moment, however, is Arizona Rummy. I love that it stays at a fairly fast pace. It has a lot of chance involved, but it also has the chance for redemption in both each person getting one extra turn after someone has gone out and the fact that the last two rounds are worth multiples of the points. Thus, being behind at the start does not in any way mean that you are totally out of the game. There is enough strategy to keep me happy, but there is enough variation to keep it from being monotonous. Card games are also a big part of how my siblings and I learned to add when we were young. It remains easy for me to add points for card games, and that lets me also be helpful and start shuffling cards while others are working on counting, or I can help count points for friends who don’t care for math. In so many ways, card games are microcosmic worlds where I can be talented, fun, and helpful.