A Pinochle Game That Ended on a Handball Court
By T. A. (Tad) Dorgan (Circulation, April 1923)
Back in 1910, when Jim Jeffries was training for his fight with Jack Johnson, the scene of battle was changed from San Francisco to Reno, Nevada, and the mob of boxers, trainers, war correspondents and others had to grab the rattlers for a long ride from Frisco.
It happened that I was in Jeff’s car, and with him were Jim Corbett, Sam Berger, Joe Choynski, Eddie Leonard, the minstrel, Walter Kelly, the Virginia Judge, and a host of others.
Among the “others” was Billy Jacobs, who was writing stuff for a Frisco paper. I had known Bill in high school. He had been in my class and was noted as an athlete.
After our baggage was stored away, and we got on the caps and had lit the pills, Mr. Corbett suggested a four-handed game of pinochle. He said he and Walter Kelly would challenge any other pair in the car.
I accepted immediately, and knowing that Jacobs was a pip at the game, took him as my partner.
Corbett and Kelly got quite a lead on us in the first few hours, and, as the dough piled up in their favor, Jim would have the scorekeeper announce loudly just what we owed.
There was much laughter and razz as the train rattled along, and, try as we would, Jacobs and I could not break our run of bad luck.
“What do they owe us now, Sam?” Corbett would yell over to Sam Berger, who kept the score.
“Fourteen bucks apiece now, sir,” Sam would pipe back, and Jeff and the mob would roar with glee.
Bill and I, of course, felt like a couple of hicks, but we took the abuse and kept on with the game.
Some time later our luck changed and we got even with them.
Berger then announced that the score was even and that we didn’t owe the Kelly-Corbett team a cent.
This announcement was greeted with absolute silence. Corbett appeared as though he hadn’t even heard it. He was extremely busy lamping his hand.
A bit later Bill and I got the jump on them and were in the lead. We had good hands. We made them and soon had the score so that it was in our favor to the extent of $8.00 apiece.
Eddie Leonard, who was looking on, yelled across to Berger: “Sam, how does the score stand now?” And Sam with a smile said; ” Why, right now Corbett and Kelly owe Tad and Jacobs ten bucks apiece.” Instead of cheers, there were just smiles around, and Corbett, looking over at Berger, said: “DON’T BE HOLLERING OUT THAT SCORE, Sam. We can’t play cards if you fellows are all talking.”
We played in silence after that, except when Kelly and Corbett would get to crabbing about the cards.
The game broke up later on with Kelly and Corbett owing Bill and myself $12.50 each.
As the jack was not forthcoming immediately I said to Mr. Corbett: ” Well, kid, how about settling up?”
Corbett raised his bushy eyebrows and, in the most innocent way, chirped: “Say, you didn’t think we were REALLY PLAYING for MONEY, did you?”
Well, you could have knocked me for a goal with a corset lace.
Bill and I both howled and yelled, but it did no good.
Corbett finally made a proposition. It was this:
He said that he’d beat any man I mentioned in a game of handball next day or pay me double in cash on the spot.
I knew that Jacobs was a curly wolf at that game and I accepted. When I told Corbett he was on I noticed that both he and Jacobs pulled a sneak on us and stayed away half an hour or so.
Everyone on the train heard about the big game, and next morning at 10 o’clock in Jeffries’ handball court the game was played. It was the most exciting for me, I’m sure of that.
It was a see-saw game from start to finish, with hair-raising plays, wonderful stops, and a finish that none but P. T. Barnum could have thought out. Corbett won the game by one point, amid the cheers of the mob.
He shook hands with Jacobs, and then, after kidding with the mob, went over to Walter Kelly’s cabin to clean up.
Half an hour later I went over to the cabin to tell Jim that I thought he had earned the $12.50. I wasn’t a hard loser. A fellow hardly could be after seeing that thrilling game.
When I got near the cabin I heard voices and laughter. Then more laughter.
I walked inside, and there on a lounge were Corbett and Kelly as red as lobsters from laughing. Kelly was about to have a fit he had laughed so hard.
“Sit down,” piped Corbett, as he stopped howling for a moment. “I’ve gotta tell you the joke, now that it’s over.”
I grabbed an old chair, took a load off my feet and listened to the story:
“You know, after you fellows won that money from us last night, I took your partner Jacobs aside and made a proposition to him. I said: “Bill, look here, I’ve got a good joke to play on Tad, and if you’re with me I’ll see that Kelly pays you the money he owes you.
“Now, you let me win that handball game, so that we’ll skin Tad out of his money; then I’ll get Walter to pay you, and we’ll all give Tad the razz. Get me? Jacobs fell like a load of brick. He let me win that game and he double-crossed you. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!”
“Jacobs was in here a few moments ago looking for his money,” continued Jim.
“I said to him: ‘Billy, we fixed Tad up good, didn’t we?’ He laughed at me and said: ‘ Yes, it was a great joke, but where’s my jack?’
“I said: ‘YOUR JACK? Why, you didn’t think I MEANT TO DOUBLE CROSS my partner Walter, did you?’
“‘Why, no, Bill, I was only KIDDING.
“‘I’d NEVER DOUBLE CROSS WALTER, no matter what YOU DID TO TAD! ‘”
Now I play my pinochle SINGLE HANDED.