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No bluff, these folks are having fun

GRAHAM MOORE PHOTO
Knowing when to hold ‘em. Around the weekly Senior Center’s poker table, from left, Henrietta Roberts, Andy Holm, Ed Mangiarotti, Alfred Roberts, John Babinski and Bob Springsteen.

Dealers choice. A $2 buy-in. One man stares over his cards across the table, a faded U.S. Navy tattoo on his weathered forearm.

One rule to live a successful life is never to play cards with a man named “Doc.” It might also include never playing with an old timer with a steely stare and a military tattoo named John Babinski.

But this is the weekly poker game at the Shelter Island Senior Activity Center, a friendly game where no one gets seriously hurt.

The other players around the table — Alfred Roberts, Bob Springsteen, Henrietta Roberts, Andy Holm and Ed Mangiarotti — study each other intensely, seeking a sign if their opponents are bluffing or holding the real thing. A large pile of chips is in the middle of the table

The backs of the cards and their faces are giving nothing away.

The Senior Center poker game has been going on for “years and years,” Ms. Roberts said. She and her husband Alfred are New Yorkers and old pros around a poker table, playing for decades, she said.

While the banter was friendly and comfortable among old friends, the game was gravely serious.

Almost.

“Let’s see those hands above the table,” joked Ms. Roberts.

“Check what’s hiding up that man’s sleeve,” cracked Bob Springsteen.

“You’re not leaving here with anyone,” Mr. Holm said to Mr. Babinski, slyly eyeing his substantial stack of chips.

According to The Market Research Company, which provides data for the gaming industry, about 40 million people worldwide play poker on a regular basis, and 23 million of those are in the U.S.

Ask any player and they’ll tell you that poker provides pleasant times with friends, bringing people together and facilitates meeting newcomers who sit down to try their luck. It sparks conversation and fun. But for senior citizens, it can have several other benefits.

Research cited by The National institute for Aging shows that card games, which employ strategy, stimulates memory and concentration and can help overall mental agility. A University of Wisconsin study indicates that people who play cards or board games during their middle years had higher “brain volume” than those who don’t.

But around the Senior Center poker table, the camaraderie and fun aspect of the session is the most apparent benefit. Experience and a good memory are keys to success here. Dealers choice means the game can change after every deal, called by the person who is about to shuffle and shoot the cards across the green felt, so players have to know the ins and outs of “Spit in the Ocean,” “Seven-Card Stud,” and several other games.

Spit in the Ocean is an arcane form of draw poker. When all the players have their final cards, and with a trophy of chips stacked high on the table, it’s anyone’s bet who will win.

One by one, the players lay down their hands.

“I can’t catch a break,” said Mr. Springsteen, as Ms. Roberts takes the pile of chips.

Once she’s gathered her winnings, it’s a new dealer, a new game, and for some, hopefully, better cards.

What all the participants certainly win is the vibrant community provided by the Senior Activity Center with events like poker. In between playful banter and intense games, each player interjects to check up on each other and talk about the goings on around town.

Poker is offered by the Senior Center most Thursdays from 1:30 to 5 p.m.

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