It’s been a consistency – from high school up to the present, I have always had friends who like to play some kind of poker, from straight to community and everything in between.

Unfortunately, I never really got into it like my friends have.  I tried back in high school, with zero success.  Whenever members of my graduating class would go on an extended field trip – whether it be with our choral group or on our senior trip – someone’s hotel room would usually play host to an evening of card playing.  Pennies were a must to bring if you wanted to buy in, since no one really had the kind of money to play real poker.  But that didn’t stop things from getting heated.

I tried to participate maybe twice, and found that I had no knack for it.  I always had a hard time remembering which hands trumped other hands, and the betting procedures had me just as stymied.  I would often find myself out of the game suddenly and have no clue why.  Then there was my lousy poker face, and my inability to plan my strategies ahead.

So yeah, I was pretty darn inept at the whole poker thing.  That’s why I stopped after two attempts, realizing I was better suited (hah – get it?) to simpler card games like UNO and 52 Pick-Up.

But then something weird happened just this past weekend.  I finally picked up Red Dead Redemption for the PS3, and after about an hour of playing I found myself wandering into the saloon with a nice stack of bills on my person.

Then I happened to wander into the Texas Hold-em game already in progress.

Intrigued, my first gut reaction was to go back out the way I came immediately.  Maybe I could go get back on my horse and do some more chores for Miss MacFarlane (I mean Bonnie).  Maybe I could rough up some criminal element with Armadillo’s marshall.  Or maybe it would be better if I just roam around the countryside and skin some animals.  Heck, I might even get to see some of those freakish monstrosities the You Tube videos keep putting on display.  I sure would like to see me a donkey woman in (third) person.

But no – I didn’t go do any of that.  Instead, I bought in and sat right down at the table, facing off against three other hombres intent on taking what coin I had left.

But that’s when the weird thing happened – I actually started to learn how to play the game thanks to the tutorial.  I found myself understanding the game better than I ever had.  Sure, I brought up a cheat-sheet of the different hands that you could play and how they ranked, but I was actually starting to learn the mechanics of the game.  It was getting to the point where I was beginning to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to–

Sorry.  Don’t know what came over me there.  But in all honesty, I found myself actually enjoying playing poker.  Mind you, it was against a trio of AI polygons all duded up in western garb, but I was still sticking around hand after hand.

And I was actually doing well.  I kept losing at first, but as the tutorial continued to educate me like some next-gen-console Obi-Wan, I started to win more often – but not just by having better cards in my hand.  No, I was actually starting to play strategically, which allowed me to eventually bust out two of the three opponents at the table.  But of course, as is always the case when someone starts to use the words “start”, “starts”, and “starting” all too frequently in their writing, I eventually let my overconfidence become my weakness.  Sadly, my final nemesis did not have the weakness of faith in his friends to counter.  Feeling like I totally had this guy, I overplayed my hand and ended up broke, broken, and baroque.

Still, that little experience learned me a thing or two.  And I found myself enjoying the game-within-a-game – so much so that I spent over an hour at that table, a fact I hadn’t noticed until I dejectedly got back on my horse.  But that’s okay.  I’m learning.  For the first time in my thirty-five years I’m actually learning how to play poker.  Tomorrow night I’ll be back.

And I’ll be bringing my pennies.