The boys at the table


By Ken Balsley

I’ve been playing a monthly poker game for almost 50 years. Although we have lost players and won players, the object of the game of poker is not often related to money. So who the players are has little impact on the game.

While our players have changed over the years, many of them have been at the table for decades. We have business owners and politicians. We have gentlemen farmers and real farmers. We have government employees and we have those whose professions and ways of earning a living are obscure. But we both have two things in common: we are all men and we all like to compete.

When I was younger and played in the band, we often played until sunrise on Saturday mornings. Now, when midnight rolls around, we start looking for an end time. We all drank and most of us smoked. Now only one of the players still drinks, but limits it to two beers. And only one member of our party still smokes but is trying to quit.

Before Covid, we met at each other’s homes, each taking turns hosting the game. We missed a few months of play due to the virus, but after the vaccine became available, we started playing again. We now have a common play area, powered by one of our players who owns a building.

For a short time, we had debates on political issues. When the group became concerned that the conversation was interfering with the game, we relegated political discussions to our mid-game break and the 15 minutes we chose to eat.

Previously, the person hosting the game had to provide the food at the mid-game break. Often, it was the spouse who did the meal preparation. Now that we’ve moved away from a private home, this mid-game break often comes complete with pizza or sandwiches at one of the many sandwich shops around town.

Even though the players have changed – the venue has changed – the food has changed and the drinking and smoking habits have changed, we still meet every month to play poker.

None of us are young. Our physical powers deteriorated and our mental state declined. We continue to play poker because it gives us the opportunity to meet other men and compete. Competition is the one skill men never have to learn. And no matter how old we are, we have to be competitive.

Money is just a way to keep score.

Ken Balsley is Thurston County’s longest-serving reporter. He writes regularly on his blog at and hosts “Coffee with Ken” every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. KGY 95.3 FM.


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