I miss playing Thirty-One. It's a simple yet surprisingly fun card game I used to play in Florida, usually with my brother, mother and Spike. (Dad, at the first sign of a deck of cards, instantly retreated to the bedroom to watch that week's football or baseball Game of the Century.)
I won't go into every detail and rule of the game. These, I'm sure, can be found online. Quickly though, each player is dealt three cards and the goal is to get a total of, yup, thirty-one. Play begins with three dimes in front of each player. After the conclusion of each hand--after one player has "knocked"--the player with the lowest score has to toss a dime into the pot. Once a player has lost all of his or her dimes he is then "on his honor." One more loss and he's out of the game.
Questions arise. Can the game be played with other than dimes? Say with nickels, quarters, paper clips or Krugerrands? Certainly, but not at our house. We could have had a garbage pail full of nickels and we'd still be scrounging around the house looking for dimes. Why? Because thirty-one is always played with dimes. Also, what's the point of "on your honor?" Wouldn't it be the same to just start with four dimes? Yes, but again, not at our house.
It seemed that more often than not, as we approached the end of the game, the number of wins each person had was about the same. Nobody would know this, of course, if old anal-retentive Leonard wasn't methodically keeping score. For example, my mom, brother and I might have two wins each, with my wife Spike with one. My brother, whining for at least a half-hour that he "had to go home," would graciously agree to play one more hand. This was my cue to point out what I thought should be fairly obvious to everyone:
"Okay, one more hand," I'd agree. "That is, unless Spike wins. Then, of course, we'd all have two wins and would necessarily play one more hand to declare the night's winner."
"I'm only playing one
more hand," grumped my brother.
"Yes. Unless Spike wins. Then we have to play one more," I'd explain patiently.
"I don't care who wins, I'm going home. I have to get to bed!"
"It's 9:30. What are you, a farmer? You have to get up early to milk the cows?"
And so we'd play. And sometimes Spike, or whoever it was on that particular night, would get that win and we'd be all tied up. And would my brother stay to play that all-important tie-breaker? Sometimes, if I browbeat him enough, he would. And then we'd have an overall winner, a champion for that evening. Just as we should. And sometimes he'd just get up and leave.
Was part of the fun for me the laughing and teasing of my brother, and using every trick in the book to get him to stay for that final game? Of course. But then again, there's still the part of me than can' t even begin to comprehend how you can have a four-way tie and not have a championship game, an ultimate winner. What would be the point of playing?