Horizon at Sandy Point

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bidder winner

 The night was still young. The card sharks had played a few rounds of all fours before graduating to Pedro. "Bidder winner!" was the cry as we egged each other on to raise the bids - and risk all - from two or pass, to as near nine as possible. Bid all on ace! Or stand with bare Pedro or jack.

Everyone knows "all fours" the card game in which Jack is king! And the purpose of the game - after trump has been selected - is to have the Jack slip home, or be hanged. It is a lively game, pitting two sides against each other. Bet you never knew such battles could be waged on a card table. This game - it refers to the basic four points, high, low, jack and game, that may be scored in one "trick" - is thought to have originated in 19th century England. It survives in the Caribbean, and particularly in Trinidad where "all fours" is taken to the level of art of war with strategies decided between partners before they reach the table. Keeping score with a box of matches was especially fascinating - a matchstick awarded for each point in all fours.

I grew up in a family of card peons. My father had regular weekly poker nights when he would spend hours with a few like-minded people. Winning some losing some, up and down, like life.

My mother's family - all her brothers, especially Uncle Whoonie - introduced us to Pedro, the game that wikipedia tells us was developed in Colorado in the 1880s, a variation of all fours.  It increased the winning points per trick from four to nine. Pedro (pronounced peedro) is the five of whatever is the trump suit,  a rather humble fellow whose only value is the five points bestowed whenever he is played.  The winning side would be whoever got to 32 first. (I used to wonder at the incongruity of the numbers - 5, 9, 32 - and speculate that technically, you could win in four tricks.)

Even my mother could be enticed to a game on occasion. As children, we learned all the games - go to pack, suck de well, fish - merely to have familiarity with the cards as a prelude to Pedro. Each adult player in a game might have an apprentice happily sitting at the elbow whispering and pointing to what we thought should be played. No amount of bouff or banishment detracted from magic of the cards. We couldn't wait to be invited to be a "lucky partner" when someone dropped out. Sack in sack out - the method of changing teams or partners to give everyone a game. The strategies of the game could only be learned by playing, by playing badly and hearing Grandad's long steups, or playing strategically and getting Uncle Whoonie's "good move" for marking and crossing.

A special colourful language grew up around these card games. "Yuh bumsie quaking?!" we would goad whoever we suspected held Pedro. And we would bluff - look me - to draw attention away if we thought the Pedro was in a partner's hand.

It's always a special pleasure to induct a new player - usually a new in-law - to the charms of Pedro. Don't mind if you get bouff; or if your partner berates a thoughtless card. This is serious play. You learn to take risks in a supportive environment. Bidder winner! And after all, it's just a game. The battle - the sharp words, the disapproving steups - is over when you leave the table. Winning is not only about the points. It's engaging the war, and coming out unbloodied. You can only win if you play. You are likely as not to win if you bid up.

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