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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 17, 2010

Marveling over the hand life has dealt


By Michael C. DeMattos

The odds of an amateur golfer getting a hole-in-one are 1 in 12,750. The odds of getting struck by lightning are 1 in 6,250. The odds of getting a 29-point hand the highest possible hand in the game of cribbage are 1 in 216,580. I think it's safe to say that every cribbage player would rather score a 29 than get struck by lightning, but I suspect that the rabid cribbage player would brave a bolt to the head if it came with the promise of a perfect hand.

The 29-point hand has nothing to do with skill and everything to do with luck. In fact, most cribbage players go their whole life without scoring one. Last week I got lucky while playing a friendly game of cribbage against my father. The hand was special, but the real gift was getting to share the moment with my dad.

Dad is 84 years old and has played cribbage for most of his adult life. He has notched a 28-point hand, but never the famed 29. In fact, I do not think he had ever seen one ... until last Saturday. I got lucky, but it did not take long to wonder whether the right person got the cards. All my doubts were quickly drowned out by my father's laughter and washed away by his tears. I realized then that the real story of the day was not the hand, it was the moment.

I plan to frame my 29, but it's the experience that I will hold on to. I wasn't just playing with my dad; I was playing with my best friend. Like cloistered monks, ours is a life of ritual. The first thing I do when I arrive is complete all the tasks on his to-do list. Once the chores are done he'll ask if it's too early for a cold beer. I'll tell him that I think we earned it while grabbing the cribbage board and heading out to the patio. We pass the rest of the afternoon pegging up and down the board and talking story.

The game has become the medium for our relationship. We play our hands and take our points, hop-skipping our pegs to the finish line. We keep track of all the games played and by day's end one of us will claim bragging rights for the week.

Still, ours is a game for winners only. With each point taken, a point is made. Our time "on the board" is spent sharing our lives with each other and in the process we form our life together. We talk about the difficult times we have faced; we revel in each other's past and present glory; and we trudge through the daily grind of the average hand of life all the while knowing that we are not alone.

The odds of being dealt a 29-point hand in cribbage are 1 in 216,580. Last week I got dealt the second perfect hand of my life. The first was when my father became my friend. I am a lucky man indeed.