“Would you like another card, Frank?”

“No thanks, Andy, I’m good.”

How had it come to this? 727 was Andy’s game! He usually won most of his hands playing this very simple card game, which bears very little resemblance to poker. You use the same cards, you bet after each round, and the pots can get pretty big. On this Tuesday night before a 4th of July holiday, Andy was getting pummeled at his own game.

Five guys gathered in Andy’s basement tiki lounge to play cards on Tuesday night: Andy, Mike, Tim, Kevin and Frank. All God-fearing, Christian men; not terribly religious, but faithful guys who are good husbands, fathers, and involved in their community. Andy, Mike and Tim attend church together, fairly regularly. Frank was raised in the Christian faith, but he’s still searching for answers for how to best raise his two boys. Kevin lives across the street and doesn’t attend church regularly, but his faith has been tested recently as his father passed away not long after his son was born last year. He’s a good man.

When Andy hosts card games, it’s a low-key affair. Nickel-dime-quarter stuff, quarter max bet, dollar cap raise. Nobody makes a fortune and nobody loses so much money they can’t pay their bills. Tim was the big winner so far this Tuesday night, up about $20 going into this last hand of the night. Andy was down at least that, but he was having fun anyway. It’s always about fun.

“Last hand, Frank. What are we playing?”

“I think we’ll try 727 one more time.”

“Up or down?”

“Why, roll your own, of course!”

727. One of many games with funny names the guys like to play when they get together on nights like this. Games like Follow The Queen, Midnight Baseball, High Chicago. These are all games based on 5-card or 7-card poker. Once in a while, somebody wants to play Texas Hold ‘Em, but that’s a little highbrow for this crowd. Better to play Screw Your Neighbor, The Cross, or Moose Cock. Yeah, Moose Cock. There’s something about a bunch of grown men yelling out “moose cock” that makes them sound like a bunch of giggling schoolgirls. It’s all in good fun.

727 is a fun game. The premise is simple. You start with 2 cards, and you keep drawing cards until your hand adds up to either 7 or 27. There are two winners: the one closest to 7 and the one closest to 27. The 2 winners split the pot between them. Face cards are worth half a point each, and the ace is worth either 1 point, 11 points, or both. In theory, one person can win both high and low, if their hand consists of a 5 and two aces (5+1+1 or 5+11+11). Finally, low beats high, so a hand of 5-A-J (6-1/2 points) beats a 4-3-K (7-1/2 points).

Although the rules of 727 are simple, the strategy is more nuanced. Starting with the choice of how to deal the first two cards: 1 up and 1 down or both down, where you “roll your own.” By giving each player the chance to decide which card to turn over face up, roll your own is the first shot of a raucous hand of posing, bluffing, cajoling, intimidating – you know, stuff guys are good at. This is why Andy loves this game so much.

“Are you sure, Tim? You don’t seem very sure!”

“I said I don’t need another card, Andy. Which part of that didn’t you understand?”

“I don’t know, I just thought you might be going high. You usually do.”

Andy loves when the dealer deals both cards down and announces: “roll your own.” The pot humor is lost on him, since Andy’s not a big fan of smoking dope. Come to think of it, none of these guys must be, or there would be more schoolgirl giggling around this phrase. Kind of like Cheech & Chong riffing about big buds in Nice Dreams. No, Andy immediately focuses on the task at hand: Which card to show the world that says, “I’m going for 7.” You see, it’s usually pretty easy to stay low when your dealt a 6-J or 7-K. It’s tougher to win the low hand if your dealt a 9-A, but if you turn over the A, nobody knows what the down card is. What if it’s a 6? Let the bluffing begin!

“Wow, I’m starting to like this game!” Tim exclaimed as he hauled in his share of the pot.

“That’s like the 3rd time tonight you’ve split the pot, isn’t it Tim?”

Tim used to hate 727. As cards go, he’s definitely the most experienced player in this group. Tim is probably the only one who could walk into a casino and hold his own. Poker is his game, especially Texas Hold ‘Em. Tim likes to call a poker-related game when it’s his deal. He’s rarely ever called for playing 727. Does Tim think this simple game is beneath his skills? It was agreeing with him on this night, but was he happy about it?

“Okay, this is the last round of betting unless somebody takes a card. Do you need one Andy?”

After a long pause and a short sigh, Andy caved: “Yeah Kevin, you better give me one.”

“I knew it!” Tim pronounced smugly. “Welcome to my world – there’s plenty of room up here near 27!”

Tim was finally feeling it with this game tonight. Too many times in previous gatherings with this group, he had tried to apply poker reasoning to 727. Unfortunately, it’s a different game altogether. The bluffing is much simpler, and less experienced players like Andy are pretty good at it. Even Frank was starting to figure it out tonight. It doesn’t take a genius to convince somebody else you’re shooting for 7, even if your cards are shit. It helps to be willing to lose a pot or two in the course of selling your hand. That way, nobody can be really sure what you’re thinking as you continuously pass on taking a 3rd card.

On this night, both Tim and Andy were getting lousy cards from the deal. The big difference was that Tim was immediately taking more cards to get to 27. Andy was stubbornly staying low, even though he wasn’t anywhere close to 7, in hopes of bluffing everybody else to go high. Unfortunately for Andy, both Kevin and Mike were getting dealt good hands, and both spent most of the night vying for 7 with the cards to win it. No amount of acting would help Andy win 727 on this night. He kept feeding the pots that others won.

“Frank, would you like another card?”

“Well Tim, I’m not really sure. Let me think about it.”

“C’mon Frank, what’s there to think about? Either you need a card or you don’t!” Mike was getting exasperated with Frank’s stalling.

“Relax Mike. Let’s just all settle down here.”

Frank is a piece of work! He’s not the smartest or most experienced card player, but he sure can bullshit with the best of them. Frank’s the type of guy who can take one little fact and weave a tapestry of nonsense around it, telling a wonderful story in the process. Too bad it’s usually complete fiction. For this reason, Frank should be a natural at bluffing at cards.

The problem is, Frank hasn’t been playing cards for very long. The guys loved helping him learn, because they considered him “easy money” the first few times he joined this group. Frank is starting to get better though, and with more confidence, his natural bullshitting ability is starting to serve him well. On this night, Frank’s game was starting to shine. Only the rest of the guys hadn’t quite figured that out yet.

“If he doesn’t make up his mind soon, I’m gonna fucking smack him!” Mike whispered to Andy, who was sitting to his left. Frank was sitting to Mike’s right and holding up the game.

“I dunno Mike, I think he’s starting to play you.”

Mike is a pretty straightforward guy. He’s not a big bluffer, but he knows how to play cards. Mike’s a pretty quick learner, so he picks up new games after only one or two hands of playing them for the first time. Not everybody shares this ability. Mike grew up on the south side of Easton, so his street smarts serve him well playing games of all kinds. And Mike is very competitive. He doesn’t like to lose.

It’s funny watching Mike and Frank interact. Mike lives in Bethlehem now, only 2 blocks down the street from Frank. They’ve become friends over the past few years, and they go running together every Saturday morning. Frank also joins Mike, Andy and Tim at their church’s Dads group meetings every Sunday morning. Frank just started coming to these meetings a couple of years ago, but he quickly became comfortable with the collegial atmosphere there. Mike doesn’t hesitate to give Frank a hard time at these meetings too! If Frank starts to go down some tangent during a discussion, Mike doesn’t hesitate to cut him off and bring him back to the discussion at hand. It’s almost like watching a married couple.

“Kevin, it’s your deal.”

“Thanks Andy. What should we play next?”

“How about something that actually resembles poker?” replied Tim.

Kevin is the outsider in this group. He’s actually the closest, only needing to walk across the street to get to Andy’s house. Kevin and Andy are good neighbors, but they don’t do a lot together. There’s the usual small talk at the mailbox or while cutting the grass. They watch each other’s pets when one of the families goes away for a few days. They both like to cook, so Andy doesn’t hesitate to run across the street to borrow a can of beans, or isn’t surprised when Kevin stops over to ask for some sugar.

Kevin has been over to play cards a handful of times, so he knows the other guys a little. When it comes to playing cards, Kevin’s second only to Tim in natural ability. He’s studious, methodical, and has played a fair share of cards in his day. While Mike and Frank carry on and Andy and Tim try to out-bluff each other, Kevin keeps a very even demeanor. Fortunately, he was getting dealt good cards tonight, so he and Mike took turns winning the pots Tim wasn’t taking. Kevin went home with a little bit more many than he first came over with a few hours earlier. Which is more than Andy could say about this fun night in early July!

“Welcome to A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge. Are you boys ready to play some cards? How about we start with a nice game of 727.”