Heads or Tails

Teen patti is losing its following.

For the next two weeks, even the disapproving gods will smile indulgently on frenetic gambling. Indian festivals, unlike our puritanical religions, have their own small windows of decadence; unabashed consumption of bhang during Holi and wild gambling during Diwali. Though a game of dice has led to the loss of a kingdom and a wife, traditionally, Lakshmi — the goddess of wealth — is supposed to shower riches on the card players' households for the rest of the year, or so the legend goes.

I've never had much of a head for cards. I started bridge last year with a great amount of enthusiasm, spurred on by the fact that guys like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are hooked to it and that it prevents Alzheimer's. But, after the fourth class, I still hadn't understood a thing. Friends who play regularly tell me it's the most engrossing game ever invented but I have yet to take to it. (I haven't ruled out trying it again.) But any half wit can master teen patti or flash, the game of choice during Diwali in India. Every player is dealt three cards, three aces being the best and a combination of two, three and five being the worst. Unless you're playing muphlis, or lowest to win. It's not rocket science, and I don't know why any of us continue with such a silly game. Still, maybe it's the silly season, and I continue to play it twice or thrice a year, more for nostalgic reasons than anything else.

There was a time we played every night, arguing madly over every round and every variation, for weeks before Diwali. The stakes were low enough to be comfortable but not so low that it didn't pinch when you lost. Everyone's characters and weaknesses were laid bare on the table, there's no better way to figure out people than to observe them gambling. Lately, or maybe we've just grown older, but I sense that cards, at least teen patti, is in danger of fading away. There are, of course, many glittering cards parties that continue to have lakhs, if not crores, exchange hands. But they're substantially fewer than before. Earlier, one heard the occasional, unsubstantiated rumour of so-and-so losing a crore, somebody else a car and I'm sure it happens. But surrounded as we are by political scams of gigantic proportions and an explosion of wealth, the sums one gambles with seem so trifling and petty that it's no longer worth the effort. Many teen patti stalwarts have moved to trendier games such as poker, bridge and roulette, and some disparagingly refer to teen patti as a ladies kitty party game. Serious players who've converted to poker have reason for switching, besides being just plain bored. The scope for cheating is little in poker, since you can lose with aces, unlike in flash. There are always some dubiously lucky people lurking around high-stake card tables who miraculously manage ace pairs, every time.

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