Kids and Poker

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By Christopher Cosenza

My heads-up opponent was young. I could tell she didn’t have a lot of experience playing cards in a live environment; typical for youngsters these days. I stared her down, studying her every move while I awaited her next action. She glanced at her hand one last time, bit her lip slightly and said, “Do you have any sixes?”

“D’oh!”

I handed over my {6-Diamonds} and watched the glee in her face as she put down her final pair, trouncing me in Go Fish, eight pairs to three.

The young lady was Izabella, my 6-year-old granddaughter, who began our session by saying she had been practicing Go Fish for the past few months and couldn’t wait to beat me. She had so many facial tells it would’ve made Mike Caro blush, but it was adorable nonetheless. Her pure joy from this sweet victory brought a smile to my face.

But that grin wasn’t nearly as big as the one I had when she said, “Now let’s play deuce-to-seven, triple-draw lowball!”

The night before she had asked me what game I wanted to play, and I jokingly said “deuce.” But before I could tell her I was kidding she said, “What’s that?” I laughed and was about to suggest we play Go Fish. But then I thought about it some more and wondered what the proper age was to start teaching a child poker. There are many legitimate life lessons that can be extracted from the game, including courtesy, patience, risk, reward and, of course, math.

I’m not promoting childhood gambling or contributing to the delinquency of a minor here, but just about everyone reading this learned how to play cards at a young age from their parents or grandparents. I was incorrectly drawing at an inside straight in 5-card draw when I was 4. So what’s the correct age to start teaching children this great game? I contend if he or she likes to play games, knows number values and understands the concept of winning and losing, then your child is ready. These attributes usually are grasped by the age of 5, which coincides with the age in which you officially enroll your child in school. Learning is learning, is it not?

In the past, my granddaughter often was frustrated because she had to be excluded when I played poker with her dad and uncle at the kitchen table. Cards, chips and poker banter always mesmerized her. Now she fit the aforementioned criteria for learning the game, so I agreed to teach her.

But surely deuce-to-seven is much too complicated for a 6-year-old player, right? Not so fast. Children love to play games, and they love every opportunity to win. In triple-draw a player is given three chances to make their hand, which thrills children. Plus there’s no need to explain straights, flushes, sets, full houses and quads. All they need to know is how to count and that having a pair in your hand is a bad thing. Since Izabella was a gold-bracelet winner in Go Fish she clearly knew what a pair was, so as far as I was concerned triple-draw was the perfect game to teach her first.

I suggest letting your youngster make straights and flushes without penalty. Nothing kills the spirit of learning like telling a little girl she didn’t win because her 7-6-5-4-3 lost to your pair of deuces. If you want to change the game to A-5 California triple-draw lowball by all means do so. It only makes it that much easier. And keep chips out of the equation for the first few sessions. There’s no need to confuse them further until they fully comprehend the game.  

So, I explained the basic rules to Izabella, that I would deal her five cards, she could discard as many as she wanted and that I would replace them with new cards from the deck. She understood she could do this three times but that she didn’t have to if she liked her hand. And at the end we would compare hands and the lowest number (with no pairs) won. Pretty simple, and she grasped it immediately.

On the first hand I was dealt K-Q-4-3-2. I asked her how many cards she wanted and she said two, neatly pulling out her discards and pushing them toward me. I gave her two and I took two as well. On the next draw she took just one, and I had been dealt J-8 so I kept the 8 and drew one. I got another 4 and asked her how many she wanted. She said, “I like these.”

I raised my eyebrows and said, “Are you sure, Sweetie? You can draw again if you want.”
But she said, “No, I don’t need any.”

So I smiled, threw my 4 in the muck, drew one to my perfect 8 and got another jack.
Then I said, “OK, this is called the showdown, when we show each other our cards.”

She put them down one at a time. First a 10, then a 9, then an 8, then a 3 and then a 2. Did she just slowroll me? Did she really know she was a favorite if I had to draw one more time? Did she actually listen to our Ante Up PokerCast when Greg Raymer was a guest? Did I have the next Jennifer Harman on my hands? As a preteen Harman used to sit in and win back her father’s money when things went sour in his home game. Would Izabella be sitting in for me some day?

I said, “You win!”

She smiled and said, “I know, ’cause a jack is higher than a 10! Can we use chips now?”
From the mouths of babes. …

— Email Chris at chris@anteupmagazine.com