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An essay by Heywood Broun

Altruistic Poker

Title:     Altruistic Poker
Author: Heywood Broun [More Titles by Broun]

Although Ella Wheeler Wilcox's autobiography is a human document throughout, nothing in it has interested us quite so much as her description of her husband's poker system in the chapter called "The Compelling Lover."

"In my early married life," writes Mrs. Wilcox, "he was much in demand for the game of poker," but a little later she explains, "Even in his love of cards and in his monotonous life of travel for the first seven years after our marriage, when card games were his only recreation, he introduced his idea of altruism. This, too, was a matter known only to me. He played games of chance only with men he knew; whatever money he made was kept in a separate purse, and when he came home he asked me to help him distribute it among deserving people."

Any new system is worth trying when your luck is bad, and yet it seems to us that there are fundamental objections to the scheme suggested by Mrs. Wilcox. At least, we don't think it would work well for us. If we drew a club to four hearts we might bravely push all our chips forward and say "Raise it," provided the risk was ours alone. We couldn't do that if we were playing for Uncle Albert. Our anxiety would betray us. Even if Aunt Hattie had been mentally selected as the beneficiary of the evening we should feel compelled to play the cards close to our chest. She is a dear old lady and not a bit prudish, but we're sure she would never approve of whooping the pot on a king and an ace and a seven spot.

Then take the debatable question of two pairs. Personally we have always believed in raising on them before the draw. Such a procedure is dangerous, perhaps, but profitable in the long run. Under the Wilcox system it might be difficult to take the larger viewpoint. It is more than possible that we would grow timorous if Cousin Susie's hope of a comfortable old age rested upon eights and deuces.

Some years ago we used to encounter, every now and again, a kindly middle-aged gentleman who was playing to send his brother to Harvard. It weighed on him. Whenever he looked at his cards he had his brother's chance of an education in mind. In fact, he grew so excessively cautious that anybody could bluff him out of quite large pots merely by reaching for a white chip. Some of the players, we fear, used to take advantage of this fact. As we remember it, the young man finally went to the C. C. N. Y.

Of course, Ella Wheeler Wilcox makes no claim that the system is a winning one. The implication is quite the other way. After all, she writes of her husband, "He was much in demand for the game of poker."

[The end]
Heywood Broun's essay: Altruistic Poker