Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jerry Garcia -- "Deal" (1972)


Goes to show, you don't ever know,
Watch each card you play and play it slow,
Wait until that deal comes round,
Don't you let that deal go down

I don't know if you're aware of this, but I am probably the best spades player of my generation.  

Some people would say that I'm even better at hearts -- especially team hearts (where you can assume I am trying to shoot the moon every single hand) -- but I played a lot more spades.  (Legendary NFL running back Jim Brown was also a first-team All-American lacrosse player when he was at Syracuse, and he's a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.  But virtually everyone thinks of him as a football player first.  It's kind of like that with me and spades.)

The ultimate spades hand
I think I learned spades when I was a freshman at college, probably from one of our junior suitemates.  (This guy also drove me to San Antonio to see a touring production of Hair.  I'll tell you later how I repaid his many kindnesses.  For now, suffice it to say that no good deed goes unpunished.)  I usually partnered with one of my roommates, a science-engineering type who was a solid, methodical player -- I was a more aggressive player, a risk taker, and never hesitated to go for the jugular.  I never hesitated to run up the score and rag on our opponents whenever we were winning, which was most of the time.

My teammate and I called ourselves "The Waxers."  ("Wax" is defined in one slang dictionary as meaning "to beat or defeat someone; to assault someone.")  Our usual opponents were christened "The Quebes."  I'm not sure where we got that term -- it didn't have a particular meaning for us, but was intended to be generally belittling.

An average spades hand
The Waxers were virtually unbeatable.  We took particular pleasure when we able to score the 500 points needed to win a game while "setting" our opponents a few times so their score was below zero.  Of course, this often meant the last few hands of a game were anticlimactic.  But did we suggest that the other team concede so we could start a new game?  Nooooooo -- we were always trying to set new personal bests for net victory margin.  

We usually kept score in the ruled "bluebooks" that were used to write final exams in.  We pinned particularly one-sided scoresheets to the bulletin board in our room.

We played spades constantly in college -- in the afternoons after classes were over for the day, well into the wee hours on weekends . . . even while waiting for dinner.  

Our residential college's dining hall still had seated dinners in those days -- served family-style by freshmen waiters -- at 6 pm each weeknight.  (Meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans -- that sort of thing.)  If you wanted to sit with your friends at the round tables for eight, it behooved you to arrive 20 minutes or so early and stake your claim to adjacent seats.  So we brought a deck of cards to the table and played until our food was served.  

Our dinners were accompanied by pitchers of fresh-brewed tea and big buckets of ice, and I would usually have a glass or two while we played.  I had a habit of chewing the ice.  When I went to my hometown dentist after a couple of years of this, he was dismayed by the wear and tear on the outer layer of my tooth enamel.  "Have you been chewing on rocks, Gary?" he asked.

My usual winnings
I never managed to get a group of friends interested in playing spades when I went to law school, so my post-college spades games were limited to occasional visits to Joplin.  After a few years, I was down to one annual game with three high-school friends during my Christmas visits home.  We didn't have regular teams, but rotated partners after each game.  Once we had played three games -- one with each of the other players as your partner -- we toted up each players score and settled up for a penny a point.

Here's what I mean.  We'll call the other three players "Tom," "Richard," and "Rick."  Let's say "Richard" and I played "Tom" and "Rick" in the first game, and win by a score of 511 to 421.

In the second game, "Tom" and I are matched against "Rick" and "Richard," which we win 527 to 182.  (Sounds like opponents were set early and bid a little recklessly trying to make a comeback -- probably got set on a nil bid.)

And in the final match, "Rick" and I edge "Tom" and "Richard" 579 to 423.  (Guess we went out that time on a nil hand -- or what we called a "low" hand in those days.) 

My scores are 512, 527, and 579, for a total of 1618.
"Tom" has 421, 527, and 423, a total of 1371.
"Rick" has 421, 182, and 579, a total of 1182.
"Richard" ends up with 512, 182, and 423, a total of 1117.

Add the four totals together and divide by 4 and you get an average score of 1322.  Then you compare each individual score to the average.  I'm +296, "Tom" is +49, "Rick" is -140, and "Richard" is -205.  So "Rick" pays $1.40 and "Richard" pays $2.05.  "Tom" walks away with 49 cents, while I go home the big winner with $2.96.

These is only a hypothetical example, of course, and doesn't necessarily reflect the typical result of an actual game.  Usually, I won more money than that.

You probably have noted that all the spades players mentioned in this post are male.  Sorry, ladies, but I never encountered any really good female spades players.  My girlfriend was very smart, and she was a decent spades and hearts player, and I knew a few other women who could hold their own.  But by and large, I don't think women are wired for card games.  Call me sexist, call me a male chauvinist -- just don't call me late for dinner.  (I've used that one before, haven't I?)

If you don't know how to play spades, here's a link to one of many sites that explains the basic rules.  (There are plenty of spades videos on YouTube for those of you who can't read.  If you can't read, I wouldn't play spades for money with someone like me if I were you.)  We played slightly different rules than are now considered the norm -- no blind nils, no bags, and we didn't have the forced low-club lead on the first trick.

 In honor of "The Waxers" and "The Quebes" -- think of them as the New York Yankees and Washington Senators, circa 1961 -- I offer you a song from Jerry Garcia's first solo album, Garcia.  (I don't know if we ever actually listened to "Deal" while playing spades, but isn't it pretty to think so?)  While it is not officially a Grateful Dead song, but became a go-to song at Dead concerts for many years after it was released.

Jerry Garcia's first solo album, "Garcia"

You couldn't escape the Grateful Dead's music when I was in college, but I was not a big Grateful Dead fan (although I did like several of their individual songs).  I bought this album after hearing a couple of its cuts on the college radio station, but never bought a Grateful Dead album.  (I remember my college girlfriend asking me when we were seniors why we never got into the Grateful Dead.  I had no good answer to her question.)

I couldn't find the studio recording of "Deal" on YouTube, so here is a video of an older live performance that sounds reasonably like the album version.


I don't think you can buy an MP3 version of this song or album from iTunes or Amazon.  There are some fairly shady-looking sites that claim to offer "Deal" for sale.  You're on your own here, boys and girls.

Here's a link to Amazon if you want to buy a CD of the Garcia album:

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