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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Poker and Card-Playing in Gambling with Love from Gambling on a Cowboy boxed set by Kaye Spencer #prairierosepubs #westernromance #westernromanceboxedset


Long about 2007ish, I entered an on-line writing contest sponsored by a book promotion company. It was a 3-Round competition. The first two stages of the contest were writing the first 1000 words of a two stories based on pre-determined story prompts. The third stage was to create a newsletter. At each stage, you posted your entry and readers logged-in and voted. Finalists went on to the next level. (FYI: I made it to the newsletter level with both of my story prompts, but I didn’t win. I think I placed third or fourth.) 

Anyway, Gambling with Love, which is included in the new boxed set from Prairie Rose Publications (released November 122, 2020) evolved from one of those story prompts. 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. 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.
  • 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.



Example of a trump/wild card
Image courtesy Creative Commons License


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 copy of Hoyle’s Card Games Rules

  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.

Why did I explain all of this? 

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 in the final Winner-Takes-All round of the card game between the heroine, Laine Conrad, and the villain, Ford Tolliver.

Here is a teaser from that scene.

It took Count Henri longer to pose for photographs than it had for the other gentlemen, and during those minutes of idleness, Ford stood at his place, stretched, and visited with his attentive lady-companion. A waiter refilled Lainie’s coffee cup. Camera flashes followed by applause signaled the game was about to resume. Larnéll assisted with arranging the chips she’d won from the last pot into her rack and, in doing so, a handful of chips toppled off the edge of the table.

As he gathered them, Larnéll whispered with some urgency, “The woman with Tolliver slipped him a cold deck. I would venture that a dealer accepted money in exchange for a used one in which Tolliver rightly assumed the same deck would be used in the championship game. The woman carried it so he wouldn’t be caught with it on his person should a search of pockets occur. Do you want to stop the game? I can have him ejected, and you will win by default.” Larnéll took his time arranging the errant chips into the corresponding rows of value in the rack.

Lainie’s heart pounded in her ears; heat rose up her neck. Damn him! Taking up the water glass, she sipped to cover the turmoil raging inside her. His daring to swap a deck he’d arranged himself in full view of this attentive throng of onlookers was incredible. His was an arrogant confidence she couldn’t fathom. She’d expected fancy finger work when he dealt, but had naively underestimated his nerve to ring-in a stacked deck. 

   She had to know how good she really was, and Ford was her ultimate test, both personally and professionally.

“No. The game continues.”

Larnéll nodded. “As the lady wishes.” 

Gambling on a Cowboy boxed set Available on HERE

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

Stay in contact with Kaye—

 Amazon Author Page | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | BookBub

Read 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 innumerable internet sources devoted to the game of poker, which are too numerous to list here.



  1. Ah yes, poker... I enjoy the game, but play it like I play chess, kamakaze style.

    On a more serious note, I loved the history you provided and the excerpt was outstanding. Keep on writing, the world needs your stories. Doris

  2. Doris,

    You're such a dear. Thanks for always encouraging me. *hugs*

  3. Wow, your excerpt is filled with tension, Kaye, really excellent! I remember playing 3 card brag with my older brother.
    The history of playing cards and poker are both interesting. I also am fascinated by Tarot cards and have a deck.

    1. Lindsay, I share your fascination for Tarot. I have several decks. We didn't play much poker. Pitch and Gin Rummy were our favorite card games. I vaguely recall playing Tripoli. Cribbage is my very favorite, but I don't have a Cribbage-playing partner, so I play against the computer, which isn't very much fun. haha

      Thanks for commenting. ;-)

  4. Fantastic excerpt. Such daring! And such research. I always thought that poker was too complicated for my simple mind, and this confirmed it. Great history, and even better research. It's great to see how far from an original prompt people can take a story prompt. Merry Christmas

  5. C.A.,

    Merry Christmas, to you, as well. Thank you for stopping in to comment. I'm not even close to being a novice poker player. Definitely a game that is too tense and stressful for me. hahaha

  6. I can see how poker could be derived from the French word poque because the way they are each pronounced appears to be very similar. I'm glad poker didn't originate in China because it seems like so many games originated there. What? They have nothing to do all day, but play games and invent gun powder? LOL
    I learned to play poker from my very first patient who slid off a bridge in a black ice situation and became a quadriplegic. He was a physicist for NASA and was driving back from Washington, D.C. when the accident happened. He had a wicked sense of humor. Anyway, he taught me poker and, as a nursing student, I had plenty of time to play cards with him every day I was in clinical.
    I enjoyed reading this history of poker. I found it so interesting. I think you should have won, by the by.
    All the best to you, Kaye. Merry Christmas!

    1. Sarah,

      You make me smile with your anecdotes and comments. Thank you for that. It's so 'you', from what I've come to know about you and your kind heart, that you would play cards with your patient to boost his spirits and help him pass the time.

      On the contest I wrote for... This was back in the day when newsletters were new-ish, and I didn't have one. I was a newsletter-fish out of water. The author who won was an old hand at newsletters. Her newsletter was impressive. Mine was milquetoast compared to hers. hahahaha Thanks for stopping by to comment.

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  7. Kaye, we played cards in our house too, but I never did learn to play poker and I always wanted to. I was a killer Tripoli player, though! I loved you story Gambling With Love--well, heck, I love all your stories. Now you've made me want to learn poker all over again...

  8. Hi, Kaye, loved the excerpt and the unique concept behind your storyline. My parents played a weekly poker game with my aunts and uncle while us kids rough-housed in the background, and we often played card games in the evening in my family. And my husband parents played Bridge weekly with friends. I don't know anyone in my adult life who does that anymore! I'm hopeless with any games like poker or chess that involve that kind of strategy. I look forward to reading your story!

  9. Really enjoyed the excerpt, but also liked the insight into your writing process for this story. Thanks for sharing.