“They play away and play it all away.” So wrote the great Virginia planter Landon Carter of his son’s penchant to win and lose fortunes at cards.
Today we can tune into ESPN and watch the ancient spectacle, reborn as the World Series of Poker: competitors waging a battle of wit, concentration and not a little luck to win the crown as the top card player.
It’s a spectacle because we love to watch. To admire the skill of the winner? That’s part of it. It’s the personalities, the strategies of deception and risk, and perhaps most of all, the thrill of witnessing the train wreck.
It wasn’t so different in the 18th century. Card games were a favorite diversion for many Americans, something to while away an evening with family or over drinks with friends at the tavern….