Extreme Poker

I have friends who go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City and bet hundreds of Dollars on games that favor the house. I, on the other hand don’t like to gamble, and when I went to Vegas, I bet and lost a grand total of $2.25 in slot machines, and I still feel bad about it. I have, however, been playing poker about once a week for the last 40 years.

About fifteen years ago, a friend came back from Las Vegas. He tried to teach me a poker game called Texas Hold’em. It was a stupid game for high stakes suckers. For a nickel-dime stakes game, it is a waste of time. Bluffing plays less of a roll than a player’s fear of losing his stakes. When your stakes are about 90 cents, every game is played out to the end and the pot is distributed randomly rather than to the better player.

My weekly poker game is usually hosted by my friend Jim Callan. We started in High School playing a card game called Rook. In college we played Bridge. We started playing Seven Card Stud, Chicago, and Baseball (the card game) in the 1970s and eventually joined a poker group that played a game based on Pass-The-Garbage called Goldberg. We eventually refined Goldberg into a game called Hot Tuna.

If you want a game with the complexity of bridge, the intellectual challenge of Chess, and the danger of Bullfighting then try Hot Tuna.

Hot Tuna

Jim and I have invented some extreme games with odd rules borrowed from other games. Hot Tuna, our current game, has components borrowed from Five Card Stud, Pass The Garbage, Roll Your Own, and Follow The Queen.

The name of the game comes from one of our favorite Rock/Blues musical groups. We listen to Hot Tuna (vinyl - never CDs) drink Callans (vodka and bitter lemon, stirred with a sharp knife) and enjoy a card game with rules and maneuvers that go by odd names such as the Zevon and Weltschmertz (with an occasional Shmertzwelts or Fred Mertz).

Hot Tuna uses two decks. We thought, when we started that two decks would make creating good poker hands easier. There are twice as many cards available for making straight flushes and full houses. We discovered that the opposite is true. There are twice as many cards that will not help your hand as well and it becomes harder to fill in a straight or turn two pair into a full house.

Each player gets three hands. You can move cards from the hands on the right to the hands on the left. Again, we worried that this would make getting high hands easier. However, since you can only pass a down card, you often wind up destroying a hand by making a bad decision in an early round.

All games are high-low. This means that the high hand splits the pot with the low hand.

The Low:

A perfect low hand is Ace-deuce-trey-four-six. We feel that if the six were a five it would be a straight and not a low. Low hands are valued starting with the high cards. A seven low will beat an eight low. A perfect sixty-four will beat an imperfect Sixty-five. Lows must be natural, which means that wild cards have no meaning in a low. We played wild lows for a while but it was ridiculously easy to make a hand so we banned wild cards in the low.

The High:

The highest hand is five of a kind such as five Aces. Next is a straight flush. The two decks make it easier to build a straight flush, than five of a kind. Hot Tuna generally has high hands because of the wild cards, but once or twice a night, a straight or three of a kind will win with the help of a good bluff. In the rare cases of a tie in the high hand, a natural high (no wild cards) will beat a hand made with wild cards. Otherwise, the pot is split.

Wild Cards:

Queens are always wild. When a player rolls a queen from the down position, the next card to be rolled (and all like it) will be wild. If the ten of clubs follows a queen then all tens will be wild until a new queen is rolled. Each time a queen is rolled, the will card will change. If, on the last round, the last hand rolls a queen, a card is dealt from the top of the deck and this card determines the wild card, but it is returned to the bottom of the deck.

Rolling a queen on the last card is called Zevon. This is done to change the wild card when an opponent has a good hand and changing the wild card will hurt it. Sometimes, a player performs the Zevon out of perverse humor, just to shake up the game.

The Ante:

Each player antes 30 cents - ten cents for each hand. It is a tradition that each player declare that they are undaunted at this point, no matter how much they may have lost in the evening, so far.

The Weltschmertz:

Before the first deal of the evening (or when someone finally remembers) the dealer cuts the deck and the exposed card is the Weltschmertz card for the evening. If this card is rolled, the player who rolled the card can take twenty-five cents from the pot. If he forgets to do this by the end of the current round, he loses the opportunity. It is in the best interest of the other players not to remind the one with Weltschmertz. This gives everyone something to do while a player is permutating about his next move.

The deal:

Each player is dealt three cards face down. The player to the left of the dealer gets one option card dealt face down on his first (rightmost) hand. This hand is often called “the garbage” hand. The purpose of the garbage hand is to feed good cards to the hands on the left, but retain the bad cards. Occasionally, the garbage hand will win, though, so don’t discount it automatically.

The first player contemplates the card. This process is called permutating. The player will have two down cards and he can move either one or keep both. The player decides if he should keep both cards or pass one to his left. There are two reasons for passing a card. One reason is to give another hand a good card. Another reason for passing is to get rid of a bad card. Cards which have been rolled (see the roll) cannot be passed.

If a player wishes to hold onto both cards, he declares “Keep”. If a player decides to pass a card he moves it to the hand to his left and pays twenty cents. Keeping a card is free.

If the player keeps both cards, a fresh “option” card is dealt face down to the next hand to the left. Now, the player must decide in his next hand to keep both down cards or move a card to the left.

When the player reaches his third hand, he must either keep both cards, or pass a card to his opponent on the left. He must contemplate if the card he passes will help or hurt the player.

When any player declares keep, all hands that have passed cards and are unfilled are filled with a fresh card face down. A hand is not filled until a player declares keep (and all 20 cent fees for passing are paid.) This is to prevent a player from seeing the fill cards until he is finished passing.

The last player (the dealer on the first round) will pass to the bottom of the deck if he wishes to pass on his leftmost card.

The roll:

When all of the players have passed or kept and all passed cards have been filled, each player will have two cards faced down.

Starting with the first player to receive a card, one of these cards will be turned face up. Each player turns up one card in order. Once turned up, a card cannot be passed. A wrong decision will ruin a hand at this point.

If a player rolls a queen, the next card to be rolled (and all like it) will be wild. All queens are always wild. If the queen appears on the last card then the wild card is in suspense until the next round. Any previous wild cards will remain wild until then. If a queen is rolled on the last card of the last round, the dealer will show the top card of the deck and this will determine the wild card (the Zevon). If it is a queen, then only queens are wild.

A player can fold hands at any time. This becomes important near the end of the game when it is unlikely that a new queen will appear. If the player has a queen down in the rightmost hand and the player wishes a card in his leftmost hand to be wild, he can only do this by folding the middle hand.

The bet:

The player with the highest hand has the first bet, but the betting begins with the rightmost hand of that player. If a queen has been rolled, it is likely that there are several hands tied in the first round. If there is a tie, the first player with a tying high card to the left of the dealer starts the betting.

Betting is normally limited to a maximum of 15 cents per hand. If a pair is showing then the maximum is 20 cents. After the last card is dealt then the maximum is 25 cents. Very often, in early rounds, it is hard to read your hand, and everyone passes, or a minimal bet of nickel-nickel-nickel is made.

There is no sandbagging, which means that a player cannot raise after passing. A player can check on one hand and bet another, though. Otherwise, a player that has checked or passed in any hand cannot raise. There are only three raises allowed. (The purpose of Hot Tuna is to win by skill. The stakes are too small to win by intimidation betting.)

Continuing the deal:

The first hand to the left of the dealer with the highest hand receives the first card of the next deal. Dealing will proceed from the high hand, just as it did from the hand to the left of the dealer in the first round.

Following each deal is a round of rolling, again starting with the highest hand.

The Shadenfreud:

The highest hand comes first because there is distinct advantage of being the last hand on the last round. The last hand to roll a card is so powerful that it has its own word. Any card made wild by the Shadenfreud will remain wild. The ability to declare the wild card makes this player a possible winner, if he has a queen.

The pot in Hot Tuna grows in three ways. First, players wish to improve their hands so they will invest by passing down cards. Sometimes a player will spend 60 cents by replacing one card in each hand. The dealer should then give the player a hale and hearty “good luck” and give him his down cards immediately. This move is good for the other players because it means that a player has three bad cards and is replacing them with three cards that have a high probability of being bad cards.

A pot will grow because of betting, but betting on a very good hand will usually just force marginal hands out of the game. It is better strategy to lull other players into a false sense of security so that they will continue to try to improve their hands. A good player will let other players bet for him.

The buy:

The final way a pot can grow is the buy. After the last betting round, the dealer offers the player to his left the option to buy a down card for each one of his hands. The cost is 75 cents which is usually more than the player has spent so far on any hand. Buying is considered a good thing for the other players as it raises the pot, but is only marginally useful in improving any hand. There are only a few instances where buying a card makes sense. The buy card remains face down. If a player buys cards in more than one hand, he can buy and look before making the decision to buy in another hand.

The final bet:

The final round of betting follows the buy. Each player should fold his poor hands and raise in his good ones. Each player will have 4 cards up and one or two cards down and a player should be able to judge his ability to win. The final bet is a maximum of 25 cents.

The declare:

Starting with the player who made the last bet. Each player declares each of his hands to be high or low. If a player declares high and it turns out by some accident that he also has the lowest hand, he does not win the low. Sometimes the only low will actually have a straight flush, but declared low because it looked like another player had five of a kind, and a low straight flush looks can look like a perfect low.

It is possible, with wild cards, for a player to go both high and low in one hand. If a player declares high-low in one hand then he must win both. If he loses in one, then he automatically loses in the other.

The split:

The pot is split. Half goes to the high hands and half is split among the low hands. Any odd amounts go to the high, but if a low or a high is split and there is left over change it remains in the pot.

The next game begins with all players declaring that they are undaunted (or daunted).

Special notes:

Robert Peloquin is not allowed to touch the bank.

One must declare “Damn near broke even” at the end of the evening.

Bob and Don must always try for the low.

One must announce after each game: I am not Daunted

Preferred Music:

Hot Tuna
Django Reinhardt
Johnny Winters
Link Wray
Muddy Waters
John Waites
Puccini – La Bohème preferred
Charlie Parker
Frank Sinatra (early stuff)


seven-ish or eight-ish, Fridays or Sundays (now usually Thursdays).


Upper Nyack, NY.

Y’all are invited.


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I started reading Science Fiction in the 1950s. I started Writing SF in the 1960s. Then, I had a life. Now I am retired, raising chickens and keeping bees. I am still an avid reader and I have sold about 70 stories in the last 20 years.
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