The card game

It was always the same. Six, seven, or more men would gather beneath the public street lamp on the bridge that connected New Village to La Pansée to gamble. They often chose Friday and Saturday evenings for two reasons: the men would have been paid their weekly or fortnightly wages, and there would be no or fewer disturbances from passersby.

No more than four or five players would be allowed to participate in a game, and other players had to wait their turn once the limit was reached. The cards would be purchased well in advance, and the owner of those cards exercised the right to collect a small fee from the total ante or pot at every third or fourth hand of cards dealt.

Invariably, the men played Thirty-one or Brags. Thirty-one was a variation of the casino game Blackjack; instead of aiming for the winning score of twenty-one—or something close—players went for thirty-one. Face cards (Jacks, Queens and Kings) had a value of ten and each ace had a value of one or eleven—the one or eleven value chosen being dependent on the player’s card score at the time of acquiring the ace. Cards were dealt face down, player by player, starting with the player to the immediate right of the dealer and continuing in that direction. The first player to acquire thirty-one points won the game.

To play Thirty-one, the game’s participants had to be able to count. The rules of the game were strict and followed uncompromisingly. A player had the right to tell the dealer, after getting his first three cards from him, that he did not want another card. This was done if the player felt that another card added to those he already held, would take his score above thirty-one and thereby put him out of the game. If a player’s score went above thirty-one, he usually called out “boss” and handed his cards to the dealer. If no one attained the score of thirty-one, those players who held cards had to declare their card score. The player with the score closest to thirty-one won the game. Anyone who declared his score incorrectly automatically put himself out of contention for the pot.

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