Saturday, December 8, 2012

Learning not to bust

By Bryan

A game that's been making the rounds at school for the past week is Chinese Poker. I play a lot of card games with students at school, but I came to this one a little bit late. Gregory was the first student to teach me.

Each player is dealt thirteen cards, all face-up (five cards to start with, then eight more one at a time) with which to make three poker hands (two of five cards and one of three). Once you have put a card into one of the hands, it cannot move. Each of your hands competes against the corresponding hand of your opponent, so it's possible to win once, twice, or three times per round. But the hands have to be stacked with the highest-scoring hand at bottom and the lowest one on top; otherwise, you bust, and lose points instead. While Gregory was teaching me, I lost.

As with most games, the rules sound more complicated than the play actually turns out to be. In fact, playing the game is fairly simple, but the strategy of the game takes a little practice to learn; you are looking at all the cards out on the table and you have to figure the odds fairly quickly of getting the cards you want. The day after I learned it, I joined a game that had been ongoing for most of the day with a rotating cast of players. I stayed for a couple of hours until I gave up. I had busted every round but one.

Fortunately, Gabriel, who had been playing most of the game, took me under his tutelage. "No one at that table was playing sanely except Maddy and me," he told me. "Everyone was being way too aggressive." Since he and Maddy were the second- and first-place winners, respectively, I figured he was right; besides, he plays so many games and thinks about strategy so much, he probably was seeing things about the play I hadn't even considered. He and I sat down to practice. He patiently walked me through the game-play and coached me as I tried to reign in my flailing strategy. The first round went pretty slowly, but by the end of our 45-minute lesson I hadn't busted once.

As I thought about it later, I realized that I can remember only once been taught a game by a student during the ten-plus years I worked in a public school. They were always playing -- computer games, board games, make-believe games, playground games -- but although I looked over their shoulders regularly and joined in often enough, I never really undertook to learn from them. As far as I know, it never occurred to them that they could teach me, either; but then, I didn't ask; and my guess is they didn't think they had permission to offer. I can't help but wonder what I might have done to make it clear they could have. 

This question just doesn't arise at Clearwater, and it's not because of anything I do. From Clearwater students, I have learned Magic the Gathering, Line Ball, and quite a number of computer games (not always very well). Admittedly, I live with one of these students, but I don't think that's the main difference.

I'm looking forward to the next game of Chinese Poker. I think I stand a good chance of not coming in last.

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