There is an old saying about you can’t change the cards you are dealt; it’s how you play the hand.
Jeff Menzel has been in a tough game of life since he was four years old when he had his right leg amputated because of bone cancer. Like most kids, he dreamed of playing football, and got a game in the mini league for Central District against Port Adelaide at Elizabeth Oval. With scores level, and the siren seconds away, he lined-up in the goalsquare, hobbled in, and the ball slid of his wooden leg out on the full. The Port fans gave him heaps.
And amazingly, he kept playing football until he was 17, retiring with Australian football legendary status as the only player to have had his leg broken three times in a season without missing a game.
“I played B-grade for Freeling until I was 17 when the leg just could not handle it any more,” Jeff said. “Back then, they made them from what was called Botany which is really solid wood, and if you didn’t kick the ball right it put too much pressure on the leg and they snapped at the knee.
“I sure could run in those days; they couldn’t catch me. Yeah, I got stirred, but I always took it in good fun. I didn’t care about anything; I was just happy to be out there.”
Jeff laughs about the misfortunes, including the few times during his 21 years working in the Adelaide Casino when, having stood too long, he suddenly told his supervisor: “I’ve broken my leg.” Of course, at first the chap went to ring an ambulance instead of the maintenance man to get a screwdriver.
Now 48, and after all these years of throwing his leg as he walks, Jeff is literally in the game of cards that’s dealt to you as a tournament director of the Texas hold ’em poker nights for the Australian Poker League / 888 Group at the Middleton Tavern on Mondays, and the Yankalilla Hotel on Tuesdays when the card sharks don’t know when to throw their hand in.
And what an odd pack of characters they are… if you are new to the venue you think everyone is named Greg because, if you forget to put your blinds out – chips to start each hand – everyone says “come on Greg” after the chap who forgets every time.
Then there’s Mrs Innocence with the auburn hair who plays bridge during the day with the ladies at the home and tells new players she doesn’t know what the different coloured chips are worth, but later she has them all when she wins the weekly game.
Bit of nonsense really, but it’s a taste of what these nights are like – a lot of fun for as little a $20 to enter the game starting at 7.30 sharp with a chance of winning an average $240 at Middleton and Yankalilla, plus second and third prizes. Players receive points based on their finish over a 10-week period, and the leaders get invited to be part of bigger games in town where you might win more than $1600.
There is no doubt those who drive past these venues and see the “Poker tonight” signs and think of them as a gambling hall or definitely not something for those who may have a gambling problem. But as Jeff explains, for some it’s their “fix” for the week and losing a maximum $20 for possibly 3-4 hours entertainment amongst friends causes no damage; there is no further cash buy-in so the losses don’t mount. They have a good night; it’s not about chasing the dollar and hard-nosed gambling.
Jeff, who lives at Noarlunga Downs, has been working these poker nights for eight years, and several weeks ago started operating a new venue at the German Arms Hotel, Hahndorf.
“Everyone gets to make a lot of friends at these places,” he says.
Close friends really; some very close. We’ve already had one beaut couple at Middleton who met here and recently had their first child, and another couple has one on the way. That’s like dealing two full hands that don’t beat a routine.
There are also married couples that play, father-and-sons, mums-and-daughters, pensioners and three out of four are men.
The great thing is, no one can recall someone getting out of hand, so to speak, with unruly behaviour. Any hint of trouble and Jeff sends you to the naughty corner.
Newcomers to Texas poker are sometimes miffed by the card talk. When Kevin the Scot goes “all-in” meaning every last chip into the pot with Michael Jackson (Jacks ‘n five), you’ve got a dog of a hand (K9), another player calls with with pockets (two cards the same) and Kevin gets another five on the river (last card turned over by dealer) and wins, you really hear some new lingo. But rarely swearing; after a warning you’re out of the game.
However, as much as these card players are all very nice in every-day life, you have got to wonder why any one of them would doubt the honestly of the innocent, would-never-bluff face of yours truly. But they do, and as serious as the games can be, it’s part of the intrigue or fun.
Like the life of Jeff, poker is not so much about what cards you are dealt, but how you play them. The best hands are often folded, and the rubbish hands triumph with the pressure of too many chips.
Jeff says when he plays a social game with mates he never tries to bluff. “They know I haven’t got a leg to stand on,” he laughs. You’ve gotta love this bloke.