The Poker Club
These men have been dealing each other in for 40 years and never missed a game.
“The Poker Club” had its beginnings at a New Year’s Eve party some 40 years ago. At that time, a group of young men – they prefer the description “young bucks” – mostly Caledon neighbours, decided a regular poker game might be a good idea. Amazingly, the poker club has not missed a monthly game since the initial event at Trevor Hawkes’ Cedar Mills home in 1979.
Some context: In 1979, the other Mr. Trudeau was prime minister, at least for the first part of the year, two guys with local connections launched the wildly successful board game Trivial Pursuit, and the cost of mailing a domestic letter rose to 17 cents.
The gatherings started somewhat casually, but soon morphed into something more structured. A treasurer and a whip stepped forward, and a schedule was drawn up to cover hosting duties.
Members of the club come from all walks of life. There is a carpenter, an airline pilot and trainer, an electrician, a university professor and author, an engineer and a teacher, as well as sales reps and a few corporate executives. “Because we have such a mix of career paths in our group, there is never any shop talk,” says Trevor. “This, plus the fact that we rarely socialize with one another outside the poker club, are in my view the two prime reasons for the club’s longevity. And while the razzing and kibitzing is nonstop, it never seems to get nasty.”
“Well, there was the dispute over snacks,” pipes up Doug Doyle, another original member. Apparently someone once tried to switch to healthier snacks, such as veggies and dip. The proposed change was greeted with loud derision, and instructions to revert immediately to the usual chips, nuts and pretzels.
The addition of an annual bash to the club’s routine was the inspiration of Stu Richie. Every month since the early 1990s, the players have tossed money into a pot to pay for a year-end event, a black-tie affair that took place for a time at the old Royal Canadian Military Institute on University Avenue in Toronto. The evening began with beverages at the bar, continued with a five-course dinner that included special wine pairings with each course, and went on to include speeches – and even some poker.
Limousines were hired or wives and family members were conscripted to transport the members safely to and from.
One year Trevor’s daughter Robine volunteered to pick up some of the players. The story goes that the group in her car were somewhat the worse for wear, impossibly loud and full of “helpful” comments on her driving. Robine’s solution was to turn up the heat to full blast. Apparently her passengers were all fast asleep before they hit the Queen Elizabeth Way.
Since Stu’s death, the venue for the annual event has bounced around between a pub in Kleinburg, Mono Cliffs Inn in Mono Centre and Gourmandissimo in Caledon East, but the black-tie attire and traditions have remained the same. The first toast at the event, made by Doug Nicholson, honours the club’s departed. Each member then follows with a personal toast, some witty and wide-ranging, but most sober and touching, with reflections on what the club means to them.
Out of the dozens of kinds of poker games, this group plays about 20 to 30 different ones, dealer’s choice. “But we never play Texas hold ’em,” says Trevor. “That is an elimination game based on trying to take all of someone’s money and eliminating them from play. This doesn’t sit well with what our group is all about.”
“Wait a minute. This group couldn’t keep track of 30 different games,” says longtime member Doug Nicholson. “I’d be surprised if we’ve played more than eight different games since I’ve been a member.”
Club members even came up with a mission statement and objectives, namely, “Poker pals from Palgrave and parts who participate periodically at their poker parties, not for the possibility of parlaying their paltry pots, nor for the potential profits that people presume poker playing pals play poker for … but purely for the pleasure of the company.”
How about that?
In the early days, the guys played for pennies. As the years went by, the ante became nickels, then dimes, and they are now up to quarters.
Each player brings his own money container, always a tin can, with the level of coins rising or falling depending on whether it’s a good or bad night. Poker club lore includes the story of Geoff Dilley, who at one time needed two containers for his cash. “But,” says Trevor, “due to superior play by others, this was brought back to the normal one container in short order.”
The amount an individual wins or loses is usually in the $20 range – this group really isn’t in it for the money.
When an occasional dispute arises over the rules of a particular game, the club defers to “Hoyle,” the 18th-century compiler of rules for various games. (Although Edmond Hoyle died decades before poker was developed, his name lives on in the expression “according to Hoyle” and is still invoked in the titles of some rule books, such as The Rules of Neighborhood Poker According to Hoyle.)
“There has never been a resignation from the group over differences of opinion,” says Trevor. Doug Nicholson adds, “The primary objective is to have fun, but each member of the group is secure in the knowledge that if ever the chips were down, other members of the club could be counted on for support. And it’s an unspoken rule of the poker club that whatever is talked about at the monthly game is never talked about elsewhere. It takes a while for new members to understand the depth of trust our members share.”
Although some club members head south for the winter, others spend the summer at cottages, and one member accepted a foreign career posting that resulted in his taking a leave of absence, the monthly game has never been called off for lack of a quorum (five players).
The core membership has remained stable through the years. Original members still playing are Trevor, Geoff, Doug Doyle and Tom Jones. Also on the regular roster are Ken Weber, Doug Nicholson and Gary Westlake, who have each been with the group for 35 years. John Pesce, a relative newbie, has been a member for two years.
“Of the original members, Stu Richie, Harvey Bottrell and Jim Strachan have left us and are now playing poker in the happy hunting grounds,” says Doug Doyle.
Occasionally members’ paths do cross beyond the poker table. Some of their children played in the sandbox together and eventually touched champagne flutes at one another’s weddings.
Other changes have also taken place over the years. The amount of food and alcohol consumed has dwindled dramatically, and the group now packs it in at about 11 p.m., rather than at one or two in the morning as they did years ago. Many members also now have a little less hair – and what’s left has turned a lighter colour.
Still, except for rare occasions when the date shifts, the first Friday of every month will find most of the same men gathering for an evening steeped in the comfortable camaraderie of a group of friends sharing a history developed and nurtured over four decades.