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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

'Gambling with Love' - How this story came about by Kaye Spencer

Long about 2007, I entered an on-line writing contest sponsored by The Romance Studio. It was a 3-Round competition. The first two stages of the contest were writing the first 1000 words of a story based on a pre-determined story prompt. The third stage was to create a newsletter. At each stage, you posted your entry and readers logged-in and voted. If you 'finaled', you went on to the next level. (FYI: I made it to the newsletter level, but I didn't win. I think I placed third or fourth.)

Anyway, Gambling with Love, my latest release with Prairie Rose Publications (tomorrow, March 9th) evolved from one of the story prompts of that contest. Here's the prompt:

Character A is in law enforcement and must find and arrest Character B. These characters have a romantic history that went sour. Character A's feelings are still strong for Character B. Write their reunion scene with the arrest in mind.

Gambling with Love is set in 1883 in Denver, Colorado against the backdrop of a high-stakes poker tournament. The heroine, Lainie Conrad (Character B) is a professional poker player seeking revenge against the gambler responsible for her husband's murder. Her plans for revenge are compromised when U.S. Deputy Marshal Nick Foster (Character A) shows up to arrest and escort her back east to stand trial for suspected murder.

While I grew up in a card-playing family, I've never played much poker, although I'm comfortable with a "friendly" game now and then. So, in order to write the poker scene in Gambling with Love with historical accuracy, I needed to refresh my memory with the basic rules and etiquette and also  research the history of cards and poker to put it into historical context. I was not disappointed in the plethora of websites, blogs, and books on both topics.**

Here's where I started:

  • Playing cards date historically from as early as 10th century Asia;
  • 14th century Europe saw a variety of playing card designs develop;
  • By the late 15th century, the 52-card deck was popular as the standard preferred deck even though many card games only called for 20-32 cards, which limited the number of players in a game;
  • 15th century England and France saw the evolution of  the four suits of Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs; and
  • Court Cards—King, Queen, Jack—were influenced by English and French royalty.
  • Another interesting aspect of cards is the Joker, also called the Jack of Trumps, Imperial Trump, and Wild Card. This card may have evolved from an Americanized version of the European card game, Euchre, which required an extra card (called the trump card or Jack of Trumps). Consequently, in keeping with the royal court cards, the Joker came to represent the Court Jester or Fool.
Example of a trump or wild card

The Joker has a paradoxical appeal because it carries special properties as the Imperial Trump or Wild Card and, in that role, can resolve problems and win “tricks”. The Joker is as powerful as it is insignificant. It can represent any card and yet it represents nothing without a purposeful designation.

Taking the trivia-history of poker a bit farther...

Poker’s hazy origins are of some debate among those who study this sort of thing. There are arguments supporting its creation in the ancient Orient to the game evolving as a pirate’s pastime. However, there is some agreement that poker’s historical roots reach back to a French card game of vying, bluffing, and betting called “Poque” in which one said Je poque to open the betting.

In America, Poque dates back to the French settlers of early 1800s New Orleans. As the game of poker spread northwards along the Mississippi River, it followed the expansion of the American frontier with the rush to the California gold fields in 1849 and later with the further opening of the west after the Civil War. “Brag”, a three-card British betting card game with a drawing component, influenced the rules of Poque and the “draw” was incorporated into the game. By the mid-1800s, the game was known by its American name, Poker, and was increasingly played with all 52 cards to allow for more players. The term “Draw Poker” was first recorded c. 1850.

Kaye's 48th Edition copy of
The Official Rules of Card Games by Hoyle
According to the Hoyle 1854 edition, these were the accepted hands:

  • one pair
  • two pairs
  • straight sequence or rotation
  • triplets
  • flush
  • full house
  • fours
Apparently, Draw and Stud Poker rules appeared for the first time in the card games rule book, The American Hoyle, in the 1875 edition. The 1887 edition noted that four of a kind was the best hand when straights were not played. Interestingly enough, for many years, straights were not generally accepted poker hands.

Hoyle’s rules stated that when a straight and a flush came together, it outranked a full house, but not fours. Until the 1890s, the highest possible hand was four Aces or four Kings with an Ace kicker (a.k.a. wild card, imperial trump or “cuter”). Not only was this hand unbeatable, it could not be tied.

Obviously, the player holding four kings and an ace couldn’t be beaten, however, a ‘cuter’ was a specific type of wild card in that it often bore a dangerously close resemblance to the ace of spades. More than one old west legend sprang up about gamblers losing high stakes pots to this clever imposter when they erroneously thought they held all four aces.

I incorporated a ‘cuter’, aka imperial trump, into the big poker game as a devious little plot twist in Gambling with Love to keep the players on their toes.

Gambling with Love is a re-release that underwent significant plot changes to become the story it is now.

Available March 9, 2017

Now, for the extra fun part.

I'm giving away sticky note holders. If you'd like one...
  • Send me an email at kayespencer @ (omit extra spaces) with your physical mailing address and include the words STICKY NOTES in the subject line so I don't overlook your email. [Protect your privacy. Please don't post your contact information in the comments.]

Then I will send you this sticky note holder through the U.S. postal service. Sister Prairie Roses, you're included in this giveaway, and I will also mail internationally. So, Win-Win for everyone.

(Your email and physical addresses are safe with me. I will only use them to send this complimentary gift to you.)

Until next time,

Writing the West one romance upon a time

Twitter - @kayespencer
YouTube Channel

**To read more about the history poker in the American Old West, refer to the Time-Life Books series on The Old West, specifically the volume devoted to “The Gamblers”, or visit the internet sources devoted to the game of poker, which are too numerous to list here.


  1. Good morning, Kaye. What an interesting post about poker and how playing cards came to be. Your story sounds wonderful! And I already have a collection of sticky notes like the ones you're giving away. I love them! Very useful.

  2. Kristy,
    Ahh, thanks for the kind words about the story. On the sticky notes... I have somewhat of a sticky note obsession. In fact, I have sticky notes for my sticky notes. This little sticky note holder is a great way to feed my addiction. lol

  3. Hi Kaye: Interesting how stories evolve! My first published story was the result of a teacher's writing program for which I'd "won" a fellowship. Never thought of writing for publication until then. Gratefully I sold my first submission, and I was hooked! And loved the trivia about poker and cards... fascinating history. Good luck!

    1. Thanks, Gail. It is interesting how stories evolve. Sometimes all it takes is a passing comment or an image to spark an entire plot.

  4. Sticky notes; a person can never have enough, especially when you use them as bookmarks!

    I truly enjoyed the post. As a fickly poker player, it caught my interest. Of course anything history and I'm all about reading it. Thanks for the great lesson. Doris

    1. Stick note... I know. I write notes on the edges of sticky notes and attach them to particular passages in books so I don't have to search that topic in the index. lol

      Thanks for commenting.

  5. Very interesting details about poker. And, your book looks like a winner. Best of success.

    1. Thank you, Robyn. I appreciate your kind words.