The other night, my older son grabbed a deck of cards and said, "Hey, Dad, how do you play poker?" He's 9.
I used to play regularly with friends when we lived in New Jersey, but I haven't picked up a game since we moved to Connecticut a couple of summers ago, so I have no idea how he heard of poker. And I didn't ask too many questions; the more I dig around what's happening in his head, the quicker he loses interest. I needed to act fast or potentially lose him to the "Shark Tank" my wife was watching. (#goodparenting)
He's a clever kid, so I brought up a Web page on my iPad that lists poker hands in order from worst to best. We talked about what each one meant for a few minutes, and then I dealt a hand. Two for him, two for me, I laid down three, then another and, finally, the river. I had a pair; he had two pairs. Then we started again.
"Dad," he said. "Yes, son," I answered. This was a Hallmark moment, just me and my oldest, sitting around the table, playing poker, smoking cigars, sipping a couple fingers of whiskey. I'm kidding, relax. He hates whiskey. I thought calling him son, which isn't one of the nicknames I generally use, was a nice touch.
"Isn't there betting in poker?"
Like I said, he's a clever boy. Both my kids know that I like to write about gambling and go to Vegas when I can. One year, we visited Los Angeles and went to see a friend who works at "Jimmy Kimmel Live." Across the street from El Capitan, roaming in front of TCL Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, were many out-of-work actors dressed as superheroes. If you gave them a dollar, they would let you take a picture with them. My younger boy was too scared to stand next to them, but he was obsessed with superheroes then. He kept asking them questions, which meant I had to keep giving them money just for entertaining him. At one point, he asked "Batman" where "Robin" was. "Batman" answered, "He's in Vegas."
"Wow," my son said. "My dad likes to go to Vegas."
Both kids know enough my interests to ask, on an NFL Sunday, "Who do we want to win and by how much?"
So I wasn't surprised he asked about the betting -- not really too concerned either. At least not yet. We broke out a box of Starburst, anted up and played until bedtime, which coincided with me going all-in on a full house and him matching my bet with nada.
Seriously. He had a queen. I flipped him a yellow candy like I was tipping a dealer and sent him off. The next morning, when he headed off to school, he grabbed the deck of cards and shoved them in his bag. As he walked out the door he told me, "I hope we have indoor recess so I can play."
I have no aspirations that he will grow up to be Phil Ivey. But, admit it, stranger things have happened in this world. Joe Flacco is the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. The Nats are opening the season as one of the best teams in baseball, and the Yankees are struggling to find a storyline that doesn't end with the phrase, "out 8-to-10 weeks."
Meanwhile, the Clippers are contending, and in college basketball, unranked or lower-ranked teams are winning at a clip that is faster than any season in five years. Through March 3, two teams from the top 10 had gone head-to-head 15 times, the most in a generation. It is, according to some metrics, the most exciting college basketball season ever. And it is now featuring the most unlikely No. 1 team, the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
This is what happens when the best conference in the country, the Big Ten, beats up on itself night after night: A mid-major sneaks in and steals the top spot. For another metric, take a look at the Sweat Barometer, which I work up each week with the help of Sal Selvaggio from madduxsports.com. Way down there, outside the top 25, after teams like Oklahoma, Harvard and the Cal Poly Mustangs, are the Indiana Hoosiers. Meanwhile, who is hovering near the top of the SB, having feasted on a steady diet of Portland, San Diego and Loyola Marymount since losing to Butler nearly two months ago? Gonzaga.
That the Zags may be one of the safest bets in all of college hoops might be the only thing that makes sense about this crazy, mixed-up college basketball season. And if I tell my son this, I'm a little worried he's going to say, "Dad, maybe you should invest some of those Starburst on that team out west."