“Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.” ~Henry Beecher

Monday, January 18, 2010

It's How You Play the Hand You're Dealt

Lots of research has revealed that in order to keep our brains healthy and active late into our years, we must exercise them. Some of the best ways to do this include keeping active social lives, constant learning, reading, exercise, and even puzzles, board games, and cards. My parents play card games often, as a couple, or with friends, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s one reason they’re sharp as tacks. They’re both in their early 70s and are more mentally agile than I can remember. To play cards with them is an interesting experience because their competitive natures emerge with a vengeance. When they’re playing alone, my mother seems to have this uncanny ability to shut out my father without mercy. Last night, I was playing with them and she wasn’t doing so well. My Dad said to me, “don’t feel too sorry for her, she usually beats me pretty badly.” Honestly, I wouldn’t feel sorry for anyone, including myself, because it’s cards and it’s meant to be fun.

Last night we played a card game called Golf. As we were playing, I realized how many layers of complexity there were to this relatively simple game. To understand this, though, you need to know the rules. Each player is dealt nine cards that are laid face down like a tic-tac-toe game. The players each turn over one row or column of three cards, whichever they choose. The object of the game is to get as low a score as possible from all nine cards, for each of nine hands. Kings and three-of-a-kind rows/columns count as zero, jokers are -3, aces count as 1, the remaining face cards are 10, and number cards are counted at face value. Players take turns drawing from the deck, deciding if they want to keep the card they’ve drawn, and if so, for which card they want to exchange it, i.e., do they want to replace a card whose value is already visible, or replace one that is face down. The hand draws to an end when one player has turned over all nine of his or her cards and the remaining players have had one final draw.

I feel as if some card games are “primarily” dictated by the luck of the draw. This is partly true in Golf as well, but in addition, the outcome of the game is greatly determined at each step along the way. First, the three cards a player decides to turn over can make all the difference, since these are the only cards that they may keep, if they so choose. Second, if a player decides to keep a card that they’ve drawn from the deck (or the discard pile), the card they replace it with can make or break the hand. For example, I can’t tell you how many times, by chance, my father threw a King to my mother, replacing it with something less valuable. Or how many of us replaced jokers with something less desirable. And once a card is in its place, it cannot be moved to another position; it either stays or is replaced with another card. And then comes the final turn around the table. If a player still has one or more cards to turn over, the card they choose to replace with their final draw can make all the difference to their hand because even though they may not be the first person to turn over all their cards, they still may wind up with the lowest score in that hand.

This game reminded me more of life than any other card game I've ever played. For any goal or journey we take in life, each choice we make along the way influences how things will unfold. We usually begin with a certain number of “knowns” that help us to decide how to move forward. Along the way, some choices are easy to make; we can see what we are dealing with. But others offer more options or carry greater risks and we don’t always know how they will turn out, but once we've made the move, we can't take it back. And those choices will eventually influence later decisions. Also, the choices we make can often greatly influence others, sometimes helping them (if they choose to accept the help), or sometimes not. But hopefully they don't hurt someone. And finally, if we stay in the game, we may not be the first to cross the finish line, but we may still come out a winner - or not, we just don't know. But that shouldn't stop us from living because we can look back at the choices we made and either be happy with them, or learn from them.

We had a fun time with this game last night and we laughed a lot. I think that’s something else that helps to keep the mind young. My Dad won the game with the lowest score for nine hands, but in the particular hand that’s shown in the picture, I had a score of “0”. That’s even better than a hole in one! : )

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