Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Playing Card Games
In my lifetime I’ve played so many card games I cannot readily name them all. From lively spades matches in Arkansas to the games of hearts I played with my family at Grandma Glenna’s old apartment in Fargo, North Dakota, I’ve spent countless hours playing card games. Moreover, if I have any say in the matter, I’ll continue to play them indefinitely. Much to my delight, from these matches I’ve learned numerous life lessons.
Do you like to play card games?
To begin with, there are, no matter how much you dislike losing, worse fates than losing at a card game, or, moreover, at most anything you attempt. You could, for instance, not bother trying. Since my primary vocation is writing, this would involve me never attempting to write an epic poem, a novel about betrayal and redemption, and silly limericks because I’m apprehensive about failing. Failure is, in card games and more serious endeavors, a continual threat. Unless you stack the deck and cheat, there remains the chance you will lose. With creative enterprises, I may be unable to fully realize my vision on the page regardless how diligently I work. Similarly, every time I attempt a new recipe, seek to make a new friend, and beyond, there is no promise of success. A part of me, incidentally, wishes there were, whereas another part savors the uncertainty because, on those occasions when I don’t fail, the taste of victory is often much sweeter than anticipated.
War is a great card game.
You’ve likely heard the expression about how, if life provides you with lemons, you can always make lemonade. Similarly, sometimes the best you can do while playing cards is learn how to play an unfavorable hand with a sense of humor. Such moments teach me the value in surrendering to instead of fighting my circumstances. After all, if I’m playing pinochle and my hand is overpopulated with nines and jacks, victory is presumably not approaching. Likewise, much can be said for making the most of unpleasant circumstances. As Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.”
Playing cards, like life itself, is a notoriously uneven affair. I cannot count how many times I’ve gone from being 200 points ahead in a pinochle match to losing so badly I am tempted to forfeit the game. Such instances remind me of the moments in life which are colored by swings of outrageously good and bad fortunate. A possible upswing could include learning, at a moment when your hope is so slender it’s barely perceptible, that, after four years of trying, you’re finally pregnant. In contrast, the downswings in life—such as getting fired from a cherished position to learning you have stage three cancer—may occur when everything else had been going remarkably smoothly.
Playing cards has taught me how often we’re forced to make decisions before we have sufficient information. When I used to play blackjack with my brother, I can remember deliberating while deciding whether to take a hit or stay when my score was sixteen or seventeen. While playing pinochle I groan virtually every game after learning that I’ve been saving the “wrong” cards. Of course, at the time I opted to keep one card and discard the other, I didn’t have enough information to make the wisest choice. In life the rubber meets the road in situations ranging from deciding what house to buy and whom, if anyone, you should marry.
Unsurprisingly, playing cards has taught me not to take all of my decisions so seriously. You could say, in effect, it has inspired me to lighten up. Even if I make a spectacularly poor decision, it’s rarely the end of the world. In life, incidentally, this is also generally true. There are, granted, exceptions, and I am not writing about the outlier cases in which your decisions place you in dangerous circumstances. Instead, I’m referring to the times when you may not have chosen as well as you would have liked, yet, since many decisions can be modified or undone or made more tolerable, the situation isn’t typically as dismal as originally assumed.
The play aspect of card games has taught me much about myself and those I’ve played with. As Plato once said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” No matter how much I savor animated conversations, I suspect that Plato is onto something. After all, I’ve been astonished and delighted by the quirks and nuances I’ve witnessed in others while playing card games. In fact, I occasionally feel as if I haven’t fully gotten to know someone until I play cards with them. By playing card games I’ve learned about my father’s gift for sly, subtle strategizing, my friend Marian’s often hidden sassiness, and my own tendency to laugh eagerly, whenever I am losing, at my unpalatable fate.
Finally, playing cards has taught me the value of taking sizable risks. In pinochle you must bid to see who takes the kitty and proceeds to name one of the suits as trump. My prevailingly cautious nature often inspires me to bid lower than I could; however, I’ve found ample satisfaction during rare moments when I’ve bid my opponent up far more than usual. Such audacious displays don’t always pay off, yet they are immensely satisfying. They teach me, among other things, the value of biting off more than I can possibly chew to see what might come of it. I’m reminded of the numerous times when I was unwilling to take more substantial risks, and how these acts of “living small,” although supposedly safer and motivated by prudence, forced me to hold back a portion of myself because I wasn’t willing to dare greatly and risk more.
I understand not everyone has such an entrenched affinity for playing card games. Yet, if you’re able and willing to consider life a game, hopefully these lessons will show you how to play hard, not take yourself too seriously, and consider failure as valuable, if not more priceless, than victory.