The Game

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People play games for many reasons, and often it’s because they are condensed versions of how life is lived. At least that’s true for Joe Pramuk and his longtime friends.

The venerable sports broadcaster Red Barber was known to observe that, “….baseball is not a little like life.” The same might be said for another game; the game of poker, including one version of the game that has been played every other Thursday by the same group of us for the last 37 years.

We take turns hosting dinner followed by what has come to be known simply as “The Game”; poker around a kitchen table. The modest stakes remain high enough to warrant attentive playing, but not so high as to strain old friendships.

The evening turns out to be about much more than just cards. One might call it a kind of support group, or perhaps, in trendier usage, a sort of “male bonding, group therapy session,” although not one of us would ever even think of actually calling it any of those things. Typically, there is no shortage of laughs and friendly insults. Perspectives are shared on books, movies and sports news. Atypically perhaps, religion and politics are not off the table. Still, in spite of that, friendships seem to somehow survive and even flourish.

There is an assortment of family news; joys as well as sorrows, and with most of us into the 7th and even 8th decades of life, content turns to grandchildren and retirement. The challenges of aging are no longer just an academic exercise, and we keep each other up on our symptoms and/or latest test results.


And as it turns out, poker, like life, has lessons to teach. A good hand sometimes gets beaten, and seemingly bad cards occasionally turn out to be good. Poker, and life, require dignified acceptance of a tough loss, or at most only minimal whining, and winners soon learn, often the hard way, that success can capriciously last only until the turn of the next card.

In the end, The Game turns out to be a fair microcosm of life, and for almost 40 years now, the cards still are dealt around the table, and the wheel of The Game turns, not unlike, to paraphrase Red Barber, the wheel of life. And to tell the truth, that parallel is not lost on a single one of us.

With a Perspective, I’m Joe Pramuk.

Joe Pramuk is a retired physician living in Napa.