Two Dollar Limit

                For the crew of a ship on a long deployment there are few diversions from the routine work of the ship.  True, there are foreign ports to visit, but these are far and few between. 

                The one port Kawishiwi visited most in the mid 1970s was Olongapo.  For two days out of two or more weeks it was like a visit to a scene from the “wild wild west.”  We’re talking about bars, casinos, and lots of liqour.  Not my type of scene.

                At sea it was a different story.  Typical work days were interrupted by a call for all hands to Underway Replenishment stations.  One or more ships would pull up close alongside and we would “fill her up.”  More often than not, those UNREPs would come before or after normal working hours.  That just added to the long hours of the work day.  Yes, those ships often showed up on Saturday or Sunday, or both.

                When the work week was over, at sea, we did sometimes get an uninterrupted two days of rest.  Of course, we couldn’t go anywhere.  655 feet one way or the other.  That meant that we had a tendency to spend some time…… and money, playing poker.

                Just speaking for the officers, we did not have a suitable place to play poker.  The wardroom table was one place wide and about fourteen deep.  What we needed was a round table.  Hello, there was a round table aboard ship.  Shoot, there were two of them. 

                One of the tables was in the captain’s cabin.  The other was in the commodores’ cabin across from the captain’s cabin.  That was in the forward deckhouse, just below the bridge.

                We were fortunate that the captain not only played poker, but allowed us to use the commodore’s captain …… for the use of that round table.  We rarely had a senior officer aboard, so the cabin was empty.  The table was perfect.

                Saturdays and Sundays, while not on watch, would find six or seven officers seated around that table playing poker.  From the executive officer down to the lowest ensign, everyone forgot work and rank for a few hours.  I am not including the captain in this.  He was always “the captain” regardless of whether he played poker with us or not.

                Any poker game played ashore would probably include alcoholic beverages.  Since we were at sea that was out of the question.  At any rate we had a good time.  We had a good time…. most of the time.

                We always played “pot limit.”  We antied a quarter each hand, but there was not limit to the amount you could bet, or raise after that.  Most of the pots were less than five dollars.  Occasionally, well I mean rarely, there would be a pot of $70 or more.  That is when two or more players had “good hands.”

                There is an old saying, “You can’t lose a lot of money on a bad hand.”  Can’t remember hearing that one?  Well, I made it up.  At least I think I did.  What I mean is that if you have a bad hand, you are less liable to chase a really good one, one that is being bet on heavily.  I learned that one from experience.  I have had a few full houses that were just short of someone else’s full house.  Ouch!

                We never played using “wild cards.”  Most of our poker playing was very studious… and methodical.  We studied the cards with determination.  That is not to say that we didn’t have fun.  We let it all hang out.  It was a time to verbally challenge all who dared to play with us.

                One time for a two day stop in Subic, in the Philippines, we gained an ensign who we were supposed to take out to the carrier Hancock (CVA-19).  We got underway on a Friday.  The next day was Saturday.  Let’s see now.  Yes, Saturday is a poker day for us.

                This ensign asked to join us in our game of poker.  We were delighted to have him play poker with us.  He then made a rash statement.  He then said he would “teach us a thing or two about poker.”  I remember him as being an ensign because a lieutenant j.g, or lieutenant would never have opened his big and made such a statement.  Not with strangers.  Anyway, we were taken aback by the statement.  It did make us a bit curious as to how he was going to teach us how to play poker.

                It only took two days to rendesvous with the Hancock.  That would be after two days of poker with the rash ensign.  He not only had to give us every bit of cash he had with him, but write a check before we would hiline him to his ship.  We also invited him back to teach us another lesson.  Yes, it was a wonderful lesson he taught us.

                The conversation was always upbeat at the poker table as each player cajoled the one who had just bet.  We even had a star among us.  One person stood out among the rest.  And he caused us the biggest loss.  I won’t mention any names, but let’s see, we’ll just call him Ensign Jon Bernard just for fun. 

                One day Jon and the captain got into a verbal wrassling match.  Well, lets say that it was all one sided.  Jon was doing most of the talking.  Both of them had a big hand and were battling for the pot.  The captain would raise.  Jon would then say, “No, no, no, let’s make it…..”  You get the idea.

                The rest of us dropped out.  We just watched the pot grow and grow.  When you are playing seven card stud, there are lots of chances to bet.  The captain would raise, Jon would raise his raise.  The captain got getting impatient.  We gave Jon stares… as if to say, “Hey, cool it.”  Jon would have none of it.  He ignored us.  After all he was on a roll and having a lot of fun. 

                Finally, they showed their hands.  Yikes, the captain had the losing hand.  The captain stood up and declared, “Never ask me to play again.” 

                We were all in shock.  It was “his house.”  What he had just said was……. we couldn’t use the commodore’s cabin anymore.  The table.  We needed that table.  That was the end of our poker playing.  We tried playing at a coffee table in the Wardroom (officer’s dining room) but it just didn’t work.  You get picture it.

                The chiefs heard of what happened.  One of the chiefs invited me to play with them in the chief’s quarters.  He said all the chiefs would like for me to join them.  I declined.  I reminded him that officers and enlisted men aren’t supposed to gamble together.

                He made one last try, reminding me that one time wouldn’t hurt anyone.  “After all”, he said..  “We have a two dollar limit.  Not a pot limit like you officers. 

                Against my better judgment, I decided to play with the chiefs the next Saturday.  It was a lesson I never forgot.

                All the chiefs not on duty were present.  Let’s see now.  There just have been six chiefs and me at the table.  They were playing seven card stud.  It was a two dollar ante.  The dealer dealt two down cards each then a card up. 

                The first man to the left of the dealer bet “two dollars.”  “Wow” was all I could think.  Three cards and he was betting two dollars.  I was in for a further surprise.  The next chief said, “Raise two dollars.”  The next chief said, “Raise your raise for two dollars.”  I was next in line.  I was then in deep shock.  I meekly called their raises.  Geez, that was a two dollar ante, then a bet and two raises.  That was $8 dollars to stay in the game.  We were only half way around the table.  And I only got to see three cards so far.  

                Four up cards times a $2 bet plus up to six two dollar raises.  I didn’t see anyone dropping out.  You figure it out.  Let’s see now……., wholly moley, that was way too rich for me.  That was my last bet.  What am I talking about?  That was the last poker hand of my last poker game in the Navy.  

                As for the chiefs and their two dollar limit.  Get outta here!!!!

Tom Sparkman   February 13, 2004