Poker is a lot like sex, everyone thinks they are the best, but most don’t have a clue what they are doing!

– Dutch Boyd, American professional poker player

The game of poker has remained as one of my favourites though our Kuching rendezvous came to a halt almost a decade ago.

A few of our regulars have passed on and I guess they are enjoying their eternal rest and may their souls be blessed.

Unbeknownst to many, longhouse kids of our generation learnt to play poker since puberty or even earlier. On my own part, by the time I reached puberty, I had already mastered the hierarchy of the poker hands not to mention the word ‘poker bluff’ which is the exclusive way of the poker-faced exponents.

We started betting with rubber bands that were available for sale at the tuck-shop near our longhouse priced at 10 sen for 25 pieces. But on the table, 10 sen would fetch 40 pieces.

My brother Jon and I would put our rubber bands won in poker games inside a jar. At one time the jar was almost full but our grandma hid the jar one evening during a weekend away from school, thus rendering all the ’40 piece at 10 sen’ entire longhouse’s supply inaccessible. 

This hiccup brought broader smiles to tuck-shop operator Ah Chik and his Iban wife Dungkung as fresh transactions were made at 10 sen for 25 pieces of new rubber bands.

During my university days we used to hold poker games in our rented house in Pantai Jerjak, Penang. It was a means to reinforce my meagre scholarship and I ‘played to win’ by using specially marked cards that was privy only to another friend who is now happily retired after a high-profile career in the Sarawak Education Department.

My most memorable poker moment as a working adult was on December 4 1979, a Wednesday. It was during school holidays and as such there was a group of teachers having a month-long course in Rajang Teachers College, Bintangor, where I lectured.

For this group I was tasked to lecture on Philosophy of Education, a very dry subject dealing with the likes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Tagore and other philosophers of old; a good opportunity to show them how boring teachers would successfully end up with snoring and sleepy students.

After torturing them with my morning lecture I went to Bintangor town, parked my car at a secured place and took an express boat to Sibu. There I looked for my brother Edward at their Sesco office around 3pm.

We made appointment with his colleague Hillary (now deceased) to meet at a hotel later in the evening to team up for a poker game. It was a game based on ‘table money’ meaning no limit.

We (three of us) started small with RM150 each making total of RM450. Four other players put up their ‘katan’ or ‘capital’ on the table with one Mr Yap putting no less than RM2,000.

After a few games we were down to RM200 and the amount fluctuated within the first hour. In the second hour I took over from Hilary on the cards. We made some gains and unknown to the other players I had pulled out RM300 from the ‘katan’ which had come up to over RM800 which was big money considering that my basic monthly pay as a degree and diploma holder was only RM925.

Then came the defining moment when the Customs officer obviously had triple 8s with two more cards to go. I had a King as my trump card and two Aces on top.

When going into the fourth card I had bet all our ‘katan’ with three others still in the game. By the fourth card I had two pairs, namely two Kings and two Aces. As I had bet all our cash on the table, I was given a free ride to the fifth and last card.

It looked like the Customs guy, one Mr Arbi, had no chance of getting four of a kind as one Eight had ended with another player. He and Mr Yap and another player still in contention would stand no chance of surpassing mine should I get an Ace or a King.

I was poking for King of Heart and King of Diamond as in my possession were the two black Kings. King of Heart became our saviour of the day for giving us a Full House of two Aces and three Kings.

During my sleeping hours between 2am and 6am I was dreaming of cards. Since Thursday December 5 was a no lecture day, I could stay in Sibu till mid-afternoon and would catch the express boat leaving at 3.30pm but not before cashing a RM700 cheque from Mr Arbi at a local bank.

I was worried about the vulnerability of my old Ford Cortina left at a friend’s parking lot in Bintangor.

During our school principal conferences between 1983 and 1993 we used to enjoy poker games with small bets. Out of 10 games, Oliver Kati Dobby and I would lose nine to our counterpart the late Jimmy Donald.

For poker friends out there, I say hi, enjoy your game and wish you a nice, lucky day. I am out of the league now and wish to stay that way.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.