LAS VEGAS, Nevada. Capitalizing on the runaway popularity of the World Series of Poker, Harrah’s Entertainment today expanded its franchise contest from men and women to man’s best friend as the first World Series of Canine Poker opened with 120 dogs plunking down their “buy-in” stakes at the Lucky Dog Casino.
“People think that dogs only play poker on cheap wall hangings you buy in strip mall parking lots, but we’re for real,” said Fritz, a Doberman pinscher who has traveled here from Flint, Michigan. He motions to Fifi, a comely French poodle waitress who is raising her mutt son by herself.
“What’ll you have?” she asks Fritz, whose eyes drift southwards to her décolletage.
“Just some Iams MiniChunks and a bowl of water, sweetie,” he says with a smile. She turns and walks back to the kitchen and not even his gambler’s instincts can tear his eyes away from her hindquarters as she goes.
“Play poker, would you?” says Ernie, a fat dachshund from Sweet Springs, Missouri sitting in the “button” or dealer’s chair whose belly is covered with carpet lint he picked up on his way to the tables.
“Sorry,” Fritz says, as he pitches the “small blind” bet–five Milkbones–onto the table.
The “big blind” player to his left, a well-groomed collie from Stillwater, Oklahoma named “Buffy”, moves ten Milk Bones across the felt.
Ernie deals two “pocket” or “hole” cards face down, and each player scrutinizes his hand with as little emotion as possible.
“I’m in for ten,” says a cautious Sheltie named Max from Oak Ridge, Tennessee as he bets the minimum. “He’s sitting on a pair,” thinks Fritz.
“See ya,” says a gruff Boston terrier the other dogs know as “Beans”, a nickname the prodigal scion of a family of Beacon Hill Brahmins has adopted as his nomme du poker. His real name is Terrence Wentworth de Groot Hollings, III.
Ernie matches the minimum bet. This hand is wipe open, Fritz says to himself, as Ernie deals the “flop”–the ace and deuce of clubs and the King of Hearts.
Fifi returns with Fritz’s snack, allowing him to camouflage his excitement as amatory. “Here you go, sugar,” he says as he tosses a Milk Bone on her tray. His tail is wagging like a metronome on espresso–he’s holding a deuce and the King of spades.
He could go all in, but he thinks there might be a bigger fish to fry if he plays it coy. “Fifteen Milk Bones,” he says to open the post-flop betting.
Buffy studies his hand and tries to psychoanalyze Fritz. It’s early in the tournament–Fritz must not have much of a hand if that’s his opening bet, Buffy thinks. “See ya and raise five,” he says as he tosses twenty bones on the table.
It worked, thinks Fritz, as Max, Beans and Ernie stay in the hand. It’s time for the “turn”, the fourth community card. Ernie stretches his chubby belly out onto the table and turns over-the four of clubs.
Hmm, Fritz thinks. Could somebody hit a straight or a flush on the river? Better not get in over my head. He clears his throat–Buffy thinks it’s a “tell”–and barks “Ten bones.”
Buffy looks at his hand–a bunch of dogs and cats, he decides. “I fold,” he says.
Max raises an eyebrow, and just as quickly forces it back into place. He hasn’t peed since he was walked this morning, and he’s feeling a little jumpy. “I’m in,” he says.
Over to Beans. He’s lost more money in his life than the rest of these mutts have ever seen, he says to himself. The night is but a pup, he thinks, recalling his prep school Shakespeare, mewling and puking in its mother’s arms. “I’ll raise ya ten,” he growls.
Back to Ernie, who doesn’t like the sound of Beans’ bark, and decides to roll over. “Too rich for my blood,” he says with a whimper.
Time for the river to flow. Ernie places a paw on the deck and, with more than a little ceremony, lays down–the King of Diamonds!
Ohboyohboyohboyohboy! Fullhousefullhousefullhouse! A drop of drool forms at the corner of Fritz’s mouth, and Beans takes note of it. What a slobbering fool, he thinks.
“I bet–30 bones!” Fritz says. Max’s bladder is about to burst, and he doesn’t like Fritz’s enthusiasm. “I’m done,” he says before running out the front door and relieving himself on a potted palm.
And then there were two–Fritz and Beans–mano a mano, or more precisely, perro a perro. Beans looks at Fritz with contempt, as if he’s a can of Friskies Fancy Feast Savory Salmon Cat Food someone has given him by mistake. “I’ll see ya and raise you twenty,” he says with an icy glare.
Fritz clamps his jaws shut in shock, biting into his wagging tongue. He realizes he may have underestimated Beans–beneath that purebred demeanor beats the heart of a pit bull. But there’s no turning back, and he’s not about to let someone steal a pot from him.
“I, uh–I’m in.”
“Whadda ya got?” Beans snarls.
“Full house, kings high,” Fritz says.
The color drains from Beans’ mug. “Flush,” he says, flipping his hole cards over to reveal two clubs.
Fritz lets out a howl that can be heard in Lake Tahoe, and Fifi comes running.
“Congratulations!” she yelps, and allows him to sniff her more freely than the highest roller in the joint.
“You were my good luck charm, baby-I owe you big time!” He takes out a 1,000 bone chip and drops it into her apron.
“Thanks,” she says, tears forming in her eyes. “You don’t know what this means to me.”
“You gonna be here all week?” he asks, looking for more than information.
“Yes–and I’m hotter than the Mojave Desert.”
“Sheesh,” says Ernie as he rolls his eyes. “Can we cut out the puppy love and get back to business?” He passes the deck to Fritz. “Your deal, dog.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Wild Animals of Nature!”