Card Games

When I was 14 years old, my birthday present was a subscription to Sports Illustrated. It was a big reason I pursued a career in sports journalism. A quarter-century later, I still have that subscription.

In the most recent issue, there is a photo montage of scenes from Major League Baseball’s Spring Training. One picture shows members of the Boston Red Sox playing a card game called “casino” in the clubhouse.

I was shocked. This was a game our family had played for years, but I’d never heard of single person outside of our family who had ever heard of it or played it. I thought there was a 50% chance my dad had just made it up.

It’s a great game for 2-4 players, and I’ve shown a few of my friends how to play over the years. (If you’re interested, check out the link I posted to the origins and rules of the game. I’ll include that for most of the games I discuss here).

Seeing that picture got me thinking about all of the different types of card games we played in the Franklin house growing up. I never played poker or gambled in any way while I lived at home. One time in college I remember having a poker night with my roommate and couple other buddies, but we were so broke that we were literally playing with pennies, nickles and dimes. I don’t think anyone won or lost more than $1. I didn’t risk more than $5 until I was 23 years old and working at the newspaper in Lawton.

There’s no doubt in my mind that learning and getting good at a dozen or so other card games while growing up laid the foundation for what I do now. Just like that Sports Illustrated subscription (and reading The Daily Oklahoman every day) launched my first career.

I decided to rank all the card games we played at least semi-regularly growing up. Keep in mind, we played board games, dice games, basically any kind of game you can think of. We played a ton of games, and I loved it. But for purposes of this post I’m only discussing the card games.

The Boston Red Sox play casino in the clubhouse

10. 10-point pitch (aka Partner Pitch) — I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t watch this whole video about the game, just enough to see that it was basically the same version we played. But it was my least favorite of the games we played because there was just a massive amount of luck involved. I think spades is the most overrated card game ever, but I’d rather play spades than 10-point pitch.

9. Kent — This is a perfect game to play if you have 8 or 10 people and want to do something fun. It requires no card skills at all and is a lot of fun. (In the version I found today online, it’s called Kemps, but we always called it Kent. Anyway, same game/concept). We would never play this game with just our family of five, but we would frequently have friends or the church youth group over to the house and this was a favorite. Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure Kevin Ash and I have the best record at Kent of anyone in the history of the universe.

8. Spades — It seems like everyone who only knows how to play one card game knows how to play spades. Personally I don’t think it’s that great a game, but I’ve probably spent more time playing it than any of these other games.

Here are my problems with the game of spades. First, everyone has slightly different rules so you spend 10 minutes negotiating them anytime you play with someone new. Does the high bidder lead first or left of the dealer or the deuce of clubs? Are we playing sandbags? Do you get to pass a card on a blind nil? Etc. Second, if you’re playing with halfway competent opponents it’s almost all luck. Adding sandbags into the mix raises the skill level but it feels communistic to not just want to win every single trick you can. Third, nil bids are worth too much. They should probably be worth about 72 points.

Moving on from that, spades are a great way to witness fights between siblings, spouses or friends. My sister Allison and her husband Matt love to play spades so we still play with them when they are in town. There’s nothing better than seeing the looks on their faces when they realize they’ve been set, followed by one of them saying, “Well, I got my bid.” Allison pays less attention to the game than anyone I’ve ever played with but she still knows she got her bid 90% of the time. If mom is playing, you can just mark her down for a 2 bid every time no matter what. Another staple of Franklin family spades games is that after every hand, 3 of the 4 players will get up from the table for various unspecified reasons, doubling the length of the game. (I love you all!)

At Westmoore High School, I was involved in many a game of spades with my fellow members of the Class of 1998. In Mrs. Liston’s algebra class, Matt Fallwell and I came up with the “Matt Theorem,” which stated that we would win every game of spades. We were pretty successful until Mrs. Liston confiscated my deck of cards for playing during class. She gave it back to me on the last day of school. In Mr. Chance’s class, Chris Myers and I dug our way out of a hopeless blind nil situation by sliding cards down the chalkboard rail to each other, behind our opponents’ heads.

7. Cribbage — This is the only game on the list that I didn’t play with my dad. My mom and her dad (my Papa) taught me cribbage, and it’s a pretty fun game to play if there’s only two of you. I’d still rank it just below the other two-handed games on this list.

6. Four-point pitch — This is a really fast game with quite a bit of luck but also some skill. If we were waiting for dinner or about to go to bed, either dad or I would just deal six cards and we’d play a quick game without even discussing it beforehand.

5. Gin rummy — This is the only card game Missy will play with me, unless you count Skip-Bo or Uno. My favorite aspect of our trip to Paris several years back involved gin. After a full day of sight seeing, we’d return to our airbnb and Missy would put Addie to sleep while I walked to different small businesses in the neighborhood and bought a baguette, wine and cheese. Then we’d eat, drink and play gin at a low enough volume not to wake up the baby.

After I moved away for college, I always enjoyed coming home and playing card games with dad. Mom might play a game or two but she always went to bed early and dad and I would play for another hour. Our rotation (in no particular order) was gin, four-point pitch and casino.

Because it’s a game that can be gambled on, I’ve played gin with several of my poker friends (though never for more than a few bucks). I can remember playing with Randy Clark, Noah Nodine and Jake Steele at different times, and I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting.

4. Moron — Surely this game goes by another name, but this is what my family always called it. I couldn’t find it anywhere online, so let me describe it and maybe someone can help me out with the name.

This is the best 5-handed game in the bunch, and we played it a lot growing up when all five of us were able to play. It’s a bidding and trick-taking game like spades, but there are no teams. It’s every man for himself. You start by dealing 10 cards to each player, then flipping up the next card which determines the trump suit. The player to the left of the dealer bids on how many tricks he thinks he will take, then everyone else bids. The catch is that when it gets back to the dealer, they must make a bid that doesn’t add all the bids up to 10. So if the players bid 3, 1, 2, and 3, the dealer can’t bid 1. And you have to get your bid exactly to get any points.

The next hand only 9 cards are dealt but the rules remain the same. Dealer can’t make a bid that adds the total up to 9, so somebody has to go set. If you make your bid you get 10 points, plus one for each trick you bid (a successful 3 bid nets 13 points). If you don’t make your bid you get 0. This continues until on the final hand only one card is dealt. This can be pretty annoying if you happen to be the dealer and the bids are 0, 0, 1, and 0 and you are forced to bid 1 holding a crappy card. But such is life. It’s a fun game.

3. Casino — Casino is a great 3-handed game, and I played it a lot with both mom and dad, or with dad and my brother Andrew. I also taught it to Kevin Ash and Chad Anderson and we’ve played it several times over the years. I remember playing it a lot during our 2002 college graduation baseball road trip to Kansas City, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Chicago even though I was sick with mono the whole time. It’s cool that the game is popular in the clubhouse of the defending world champs.

2. Hearts — Some of you probably haven’t played hearts since the year 2000, or whenever it was that hearts stopped becoming a feature of the home computer. (Remember the sound of breaking glass whenever hearts were broken or the sound it made when the queen of spades was dumped on someone?)

Anyway, I can’t even begin to add up how many hours of my employers’ time has been wasted by me playing hearts online. One summer in college, I got a full-time job at OU with the office of telecommunications. It was a complete joke. There was literally about one hour of work to be done, not just in a given day but over the course of the entire week. I found a site called Pogo where you could play different games online against real people, which was a lot more fun than those dumb computers. Hearts was my game of choice and I ran up a really good rating on there.

When I graduated and started working in Lawton, there were many slow nights when we had everything done but needed to wait for MLB or NBA games to finish so we could run the recaps and box scores to fill out the rest of the sports section. I would frequently play hearts or bridge (spoiler alert) on Pogo.

I think hearts is a great and underrated game and I wish I got to play it more. Really have hardly played at all in the 10 years since leaving the newspaper.

#1 Bridge — I’ll rank bridge ahead of any form of poker all day every day. It’s the best card game in the world.

I learned the game by watching my parents play against my grandparents. Mom would always get on to dad for bidding too aggressively, which he was definitely guilty of at times. But they were a good bridge team because his aggression canceled out her conservative nature. I usually sat with Papa and watched him play.

Bridge is the only card game on this list that I still play semi-regularly. I’ve gotten a ton better since I started but there’s still so much I can learn and so much room for improvement. I’ll do a full post about bridge at a later time, but for now I just want to thank Francine, Will and Bev for being great and supportive partners and for teaching me a lot. Those are really the only people I get to play with these days.

I’m sure I forgot about a card game or two that I once played regularly. Please comment and remind me of those! Also, I’d love to hear about some of your favorite card games. Missy’s family used to love to play rummy (not gin rummy; this kind can be played with up to six people) and some friends taught us canasta (shout out to the Hicks’!). I didn’t include them on this list because I didn’t play them growing up but those are both fun games too.

In 1960, Sports Illustrated put a bridge player on the cover. 59 years later casino made it into the magazine. I wonder which game from this list is next?

Maddux Musser Franklin

Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “my kid did the cutest thing” or “I ate at this amazing new sushi place” blogs.

Matt Franklin, liar

At least you don’t have to read about sushi.

Look at the pic above and try not to be distracted by the sexy, ripped dad with amazing choice in professional football teams. Today (Jan. 9) is the other little guy’s birthday, and I’d like to celebrate him.

Maddux is just like me, the good and the bad. Our personalities and interests are almost exactly the same. Probably every dad says that, but in this case it’s really true. (Probably every dad says “in this case it’s really true,” too, but instead of going down that rabbit hole you’ll just have to take my word for it.)

Does that mean I have the personality of a 5-year old? Possibly, but that’s not the point of this post. Maddux loves reading more than anything. When he was a toddler, he used to go grab a book or two from the bookshelf and then walk backwards all the way back across the room with his buns sticking way up into the air until he got to your lap. Ain’t nobody got time for turning around. He’d just plop down and expect you to start reading.

Even now he’d prefer having a book read to him as opposed to watching a TV show. I don’t know how many 5-year-olds that’s true of, but it’s not many. Now that he’s in pre-K he knows all the letters of the alphabet and is starting to recognize some sight words, and he’s already getting impatient about being able to read on his own (another trait of mine, I get frustrated when I can’t do things I want to do or things I think I should be able to do).

When I was little, I’d go into my room by myself with a deck of cards and invent a game, playing it all afternoon even though I had two siblings I could have been playing with. I also spent hours looking at the backs of baseball cards and learning as much as I could about every player on every team. Maddux generally plays great with his three siblings, but oftentimes he prefers to just be alone, building towers or playing with Legos or Transformers. If he wakes up early, he’ll just stay in his room and play with his toys until we come and get him, no complaints.

Unfortunately he also seems to have inherited my anemic balance.

I’m telling you, Maddux face-plants like 5 times a day. And he has ever since he started walking. 99% of the time, he hops right back up and says, “I’m OK!” real loud and just goes on his way. I’m a grown adult, and I’m constantly stepping on the one random toy in my path or losing my balance for no reason. I just don’t run as fast or as often as he does.

On Sunday, I noticed Maddux had a big bruise on his right temple. Not quite a black eye but close to it. I was with him all day and didn’t know anything had happened. I asked him how he got it and he said he didn’t remember. Then Addison said he had tossed a Transformer or a Hot Wheel car up in the air and tried to catch it but it nailed him right in the head. And he didn’t even cry about it. I love that about him; dude is as tough as nails.

Then on Monday we go to Chuck E. Cheese to celebrate his birthday. He’s running around there at 100 mph, goes around a corner and nails a little girl coming the other direction. This one was hard enough to make him cry and he had some blood coming out of his mouth. Two minutes later he was ready to get back to the games. Tuesday was their first day back at school after winter break and my mom was worried they’d report Missy and I to DHS since he had a bruised eye and a puffy lip!

Like me, Maddux is outgoing around people he knows but shy in new situations and with new people. He still hangs on to my leg for dear life and refuses to poke his head out if we’re trying to get him to go someplace unfamiliar.

Maddux has an oversized conscience and a super-sensitive heart. He can give himself a black eye and not shed a tear but if he hurts one of his siblings the waterworks begin. When he does something he knows he shouldn’t have done, he just goes into a shell and starts crying.

He can get super-passionate if he feels he has been wronged. He’ll stick his index finger in the air and start rambling incoherently through tears to state his case. Very similar to me when I’m talking politics.

For awhile it didn’t seem like we’d ever get a Maddux. After Addison, we couldn’t seem to get pregnant again, then when we did Missy had a miscarriage. We knew we wanted to do foster care anyway so we went that route and got a 3-month old named Myra. A couple months later we got word that we’d have the opportunity to adopt her if we wanted to. The next day we found out we were pregnant. After a long labor and a few days in the hospital with some minor complications, we got to bring Maddux Musser Franklin home to join our fast-growing clan. I can’t believe how fast those five years have flown by.

In addition to being the name of my all-time favorite baseball pitcher, Maddux means “good fortune”, which seemed like an apt moniker considering our sudden baby luck and my line of work. (Musser is my mom’s maiden name.) I sure do feel fortunate to have this sweet, smart, shy, clumsy boy in my life. Happy birthday buddy, I love you.