Another in my occasional series of poker stories…

When I started playing poker in St. Louis in 1999, I played in middle-limit stud games, but was quickly drawn to the most popular variant in town — limit hold’em. There were games practically every night, with the biggest having blinds of $20-40 or $15-30, both with a “half-kill,” where the blinds increased 50% if any player won two hands in a row.

The only chips allowed were red $5 chips, so in a multi-way pot with lots of raising, there would be a huge mound of them in the middle of the table. When you scooped one of those pots, it could take you five minutes to stack your winnings. On many nights, there would be four tables full of these games, but after the no-limit hold’em boom swept through town a few years later, followed in recent years by the adoption of pot-limit Omaha and similar games, there’s now a much smaller player pool for $20-40, although it is still played a couple of days/week, albeit on only one table.

One of the characters who played in the game way back when was a woman named Stella. I didn’t know much about her, but she reeked of money — always in nice clothes, hair (or wig) done just right, and plenty of jewelry. Someone told me she was a psychic, and since I’m a notorious skeptic, I jokingly asked her one night whether she was having visions of all the other players’ cards. She shot me a look that went right through me as she answered, “No, I would never use my powers for evil.”

That became more and more apparent as time went by, because she rarely left the table a winner, and there was nothing supernatural about it — she was just a bad player. But she seemed to get along with almost everybody (if you don’t count the dealers and opponents she put a “spell” on after losing a big hand), and I enjoyed having her at the table.

One night, I asked her if she was married, and she told me she’d had three husbands, but they were all dead. I wondered what happened to them, so she explained. The first one had eaten some poisoned beans. A few years later, the second one also died of poisoned beans. And the third husband? “He wouldn’t eat the beans, so I hit him with my frying pan.”

The table erupted in laughs as a big smile crossed Stella’s face.