They couldn't contain themselves. Not nearly drunk enough to merit their giggles, they tittered and ticked as they listened to the rules of the game. Their sideways glances and self-concious fingering of chips were enough to give away their uneasiness. I started to deal, explaining the rules as I went.
"It's a new game for a new year," I explained.
And then some smartass said, "Just so we know what we don't want you to call again, does this game have a name?"
I dealt the first up card, looked up with a glance of sheer malice and growled, "Timebomb."
Now, keep in mind, dear reader, this was a semi-bi-monthly poker game among friends. It was the semi-bi-monthly game where we played games like Seven Card No-Peak; Up and Down the River; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; and for the love of all that's holy, Trees (Deal five, bet once, then trade with the table at large until you get the hand you want, then bet until your stack is shorter than your manhood). I was not dealing'em up with a group of poker purists. I was in the middle of silly-game-poker-rabble, I'd invented a game on the fly, and they were laughing.
I had already shuffled, let the guy on my left cut, then removed the top card in the deck. I put it underneath an artfully arranged stack of the antes.
"We're playing regular Seven Stud, gentlemen. Play it out as you normally would. Should the game come to a showdown, the timebomb will go off."
They looked at me blankly, like the beer fumes from the table felt had somehow seeped into their blood stream.
I nodded toward the card under the antes. "The timebomb."
The assembled malcontents harumphed and harumphed as if I had just ruined the game of poker for them. Like I had taken the cards in the bathroom and wet on them. Like I had said No Limit Hold'em was for nuns and school children. A couple of guys--bidding to break the tension, or wind, whichever came first--started stacking chips on their hole cards like I had done with the antes.
"Look, I've got a timebomb, too!" Snicker. Hardy. And har har.
"The timebomb," I said, again nodding toward the card under the antes, "will only appear if this hand comes to a showdown. If it should explode, any card like it in any remaining hand becomes wild."
Harumph. Harumph. Chip-stacking, etc.
The betting began, the dealing continued, and we reached the final card. Two men remained, two solid players, two men who hate to lose. They bet, they called. And then they stared in fear...at the Timebomb.
The exact details of the hand escape me at the moment, but suffice it to say, the Timebomb could've really messed up one hand. The tension was fantastic. In the end, the better hand won, and chance played no role in the game.
I wanted to stand, take out my manhood, throw it on the table, and scream, "Now, that's better than half the worthless games we played tonight." But I didn't. I was overwhelmed by the mocking. I was drowned out by the noise of players stacking their chips as I had artfully done with the antes.
And so the night and the mocking continued. I maintain the game was not as bad as it seemed. Any player fearing the rath of the Timebomb could try to bet his opponent out of the game. Any player getting committed to hand could pray for the unlikely event the Timebomb would kill his opponent (odds guys, what are the odds of that happening?). There's little difference in that than waiting for the Dirty Bitch to arrive, or fearing the Ugly.
And though the mocking was enough to make a gamesmith's manhood shrink in shame, justice always finds its way home.
When I left at the end of the night, my Hold'em win stack stood above the shame.
And it stood high.