Possibly the weirdest poker game in history

This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.

First, I’m going to tell you about the only time I have ever been arrested. It was for gambling. I didn’t do it. Then, I’m going to tell you about the strangest poker game I ever witnessed. I didn’t play in it.

The arrest has damaged me psychologically, because I otherwise pride myself on having an unblemished record of good citizenship. Because of the episode, I have since dreaded filling out applications that ask: “Have you ever been arrested?” I usually say yes and then try to explain in the limited space provided. Next time, I’ll just attach this column.

Here’s how the arrest happened, as closely as I can remember it. Things are getting a little fuzzy after 37 years, but I’ll try to be as precise as possible …

It was 1964, which was a good year to be Mike Caro. (Mike sometimes talks about himself in the third person, because he can be more objective that way.) He was only 19 and still polishing his poker skills. On this particular night he’d been drinking beer with a buddy in Denver. His drinking was legal, because Colorado had a law that allowed the sale of beer limited to 3.2 percent alcohol to anyone at least 18 years old. The most obvious result of the 3.2 percent legislation was that you had to drink twice as much beer before you got drunk.

Being Very Young and Very Broke

Mike’s friend’s name was Edward, but I’ll call him John. Mike was just out of high school and John had graduated a year earlier. A full-time poker fanatic, he was often flat broke, but not tonight. Mike was a part-time poker fanatic and sometimes flat broke, including tonight.

But being broke didn’t stop young Mike from tagging along and accepting free beer. They ended up at the student lounge at Colorado University. It’s not quite clear why they were there or how they got in, since neither was enrolled at CU. Now, along came a disreputable guy a little older than they were, maybe 25. Call him Andrew. He was one of those semi-loud, semi-obnoxious people who are always trying to scam you while swearing innocence before, during, and after.

He talked to John and some other guys, trying to coax them to drive to his place in Longmont, Loveland, or Brighton, I can’t remember — some town close to Denver. He wanted a poker game. The game happened, of course, but Mike couldn’t play — no money. He probably could have borrowed some, but didn’t.

A Bookie With a Single Deck of Cards

Andrew, it turns out, was a very small-time bookie and bragged about it, so it must have been a big deal to him. His cards were marked. Mike knew it, and all the guys sitting at the table must have known it, too. Andrew swore this was the only deck he owned, but it was so ragged, stained, and twisted that anyone with common sense and a choice would refuse to play poker with it. But what choice did these guys have? It was either use that damn deck or not play poker. Was there any chance that Andrew, who went to the trouble of coming to the CU student lounge to rustle up this game, didn’t know which cards were which? Don’t answer.

Young Mike Caro was sitting far away from the table watching television. His buddy John kept losing and losing. Only one of the invited poker guests was winning, and that was only a few bucks worth. Andrew had quickly acquired most of the money on the table, and he kept blurting stuff like, “I wouldn’t have invited y’all up here if I thought I was going to take all your money. It’s rude, I admit, just plain rude.” And he’d scoop another pot.

You might have expected him to get punched out at any second, when the cops came. Mike always suspected that Andrew set this raid up himself to share in the proceeds from the fines imposed by the local justice of the peace. Anyway, Mike was arrested. He explained truthfully that he hadn’t been playing poker illegally — he hadn’t been playing poker at all. Rising to the occasion, his arguments were especially passionate and convincing, and as a result, he was charged with playing in an illegal quarter-limit game, like everyone else. He was escorted to jail, was humiliated, and worried about what his mother might think.

$25 for What?

Several hours later, they were all released — Mike, Andrew, John, and the other players. Weeks thereafter, they had to appear in court. Andrew collected $25 from everyone except Mike, who refused to donate. Andrew said he had “an understanding with the judge.” The implication was that this money would be given to the judge — actually, a justice of the peace, I think — and no one would have to spend any time in jail or pay any significant fines. They all pled guilty, except Mike, who pled innocent, because he was.

The trial lasted only a few minutes. Mike had consulted a lawyer friend of his parents and felt well-researched and ready to make legal history with the rehearsed eloquence of his arguments. However, he was never asked to speak. The judge said simply, “I think we should dismiss these charges in the interest of justice.” Then, he promptly assessed everyone $5 in court costs. Explaining that he had pled innocent and hadn’t been convicted or even put on trial, Mike refused to pay the court costs. The judge said he would send Mike to jail to work it off at $2 per day.

This immediately became a matter of principle for Mike Caro, who defiantly muttered, “This isn’t right,” while handing over his $5. And from that day on, Mike has been forced to wrestle with his conscience whenever he answers the question: “Have you ever been arrested?” Was he actually arrested — or was it just an illegal setup with no paper trail, sort of a legal hoax? Are there any records of the incident? What would happen to him if he answered no? How do you think he should answer the question?

The Weirdest Poker Game Ever

I promised to tell you about the weirdest poker game I’ve ever witnessed. Here it is. It involved me (hereafter returning to first-person references) as a nonplayer, John, two other players who were coaxed into the illegal quarter-limit poker game about a month earlier, and a gorgeous 20-year-old woman named Sue.

Sue was John’s latest girlfriend. John still lived with his parents, but we went to his house to play poker one night when he had the house to himself. The game started out quarter ante. I decided not to play, but since I had plenty of money that week, I staked my friend Bobby. After about an hour, there were no big winners and no big losers. Sue wasn’t in the game, but kept leaning on John’s shoulder, saying how much fun poker was.

That’s when one of the guys blurted, “You ought to try strip poker, it’s more fun.” There was a brief, heavy silence while everyone waited to see if John had been insulted by this crude remark targeting his girlfriend. But instead of being angry, he just said, “That would be fun, but she doesn’t have the balls to play.”

Well, you know where this is going. The guys, hearing no objection from John, all goaded Sue into participating. She didn’t seem to mind. The game was on, but with strange rules. She had to play one hand against each guy, going around the table. So, a guy had a chance of losing a piece of clothing only once every five hands, but Sue was playing every hand. Nobody seemed to think this was unfair, and soon Sue was down to just her underwear, while no guy had surrendered more than just shoes. There seemed to be considerable interest in the next hand, Sue vs. John, but just then, one of the guys said, “I’ll bet you $10 she wins this one.”

Four guys took the bet. Sure enough, she won the showdown. That’s when John glared at the guy who won all those $10 bets and said, “If you’re not chicken, you’ll give us a chance to get even.” And so he did.

With Sue sitting near-naked, broadcasting the most baffled expression I’ve ever seen, the poker suddenly became serious. In fact, the next time Sue leaned on John’s shoulder, he pushed her away. She looked to me in confusion and with building rage, and I smiled weakly and shrugged to indicate, “I’m not involved in this, so don’t be getting mad at me.” She sat on the couch for a while, fuming, then yelled, “What are you guys doing? Do you want me to put my clothes back on?”

John had just lost another $50 to Bobby — the guy I was backing — and couldn’t afford it. He was almost beyond anger. “I don’t care what you put on or what you take off, Sue. We’re playing poker here!” I’ll never forget the words; they made perfect sense to me.

Sue dressed hastily and with monumental motions to indicate her disgust. In an overly dramatic exit, she hissed, “Don’t bother to call me, John,” and slammed the door so hard my ribs rattled.

But as far as those poker players were concerned, Sue’s exit was a nonevent. Nobody remarked about the incident. They just played poker and acted in turn. I figure if you’ve ever witnessed the conversion of a mixed-company poker game to strip poker, that’s hardly worth remembering. But if you’ve seen a session of strip poker change to serious money and felt good about it — well, you’ve earned the right to call yourself a player. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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