I can honestly say that I have had a tremedous amount of fun in my life and it is attributable to a wide variety of activities. But looking back on the years, there is one activity in particular that stands out as having given me more fun, and especially more intense fun, than any other. And that is playing cards.

Now I fully realize that there are some folks in this world that do not approve of playing cards, for several reasons, not the least of which are either religious or practical and this latter derives primarily from the gambling aspect of card playing. But I, for one, have never in my life played cards for money. (It is true that I have played BlackJack but I consider that gambling and not card playing because it is never played for fun) And even though there are some (not general authorities, though) members of my faith that frown on card playing, I do not agree that there is any inherent downside to the kind of card playing that I have done over the years. On the contrary, the many hours of pure enjoyement I have experienced, as well as the outrageously intense laughter I have experienced have undoubtedly added time to my life. I say this because numerous research studies have shown that laughter does have this effect on longevity.

To elaborate a bit more fully, let me say that I have played and still do enjoy a number of different card games and here are the names of most of them: Canasta, Whist, Widow Whist, Euchre, Five Hundred, Hearts, Contract Bridge, Sixty Six, Solitaire, Gin Rummy, Cribbage, Go Fish (only with kids), Kings in the Corner (only with my aged mother), Oh Hell!, and Pinochle. There is even one game I played with kids years ago that I called Wahoo but I do not see it listed in a card game list so it likely is not actually called that. But I guess the name is not important at this point.

There are two games here that stand out in my mind: Bridge and Hearts. To be fair, I was never very good at Bridge because I cannot memorize every card that is played. And while I do enjoy Bridge when played with people of my skill level, I fully realize that there are folks out there in the world that play it at a level so far above me, due to their ability to remember everything that happens, that I would have no chance at all to compete. There is no question in my mind that Contract Bridge is the most challenging, the most sophisticated, and the most stimulating card game ever invented. And that makes it the best, in my opinion. But there is one other card game that ranks right up there near the top, and that is Hearts, at least when modified to some extent.

Now, everone knows that there is a certain amount of luck in card playing and this is true in Hearts, just as it is in other games. But if the rules are modified just a bit, some of the luck is taken out of the equation and the game becomes just a bit more of a skill test, which to my mind, makes it more fun. The key rule change that is most important is that of allowing the participants to pass 3, 2, 1, or zero cards before every hand is played. This prevents a player from being penalized by being dealt poor cards and not being able to fend off the damage that can otherwise be done by receiving 3 cards from another player that maximizes the problem. There are a couple of other minor rule changes that I also favor but this one is the most important. The simple fact is that playing by the official rules does open the door to bad luck which will in most cases, sink the player to a level that can seldom be overcome. This simple change makes the game less about luck and more about skill, especially when played 3-handed, with just two opponents. In my view, this combination is the very best possible card playing situation, outside of Contract Bridge, and leads to more fun than any other accomodation I can imagine.

Now, Hearts is another of those games that can be taken advantage of by someone who is able to memorize every card played. But the truth is that people who have that ability seldom bother to play this game and if a person is able to count the cards played in each suit, something that I have done successfully many times over the years, Hearts becomes a game of skill that rises to the level of great fun. When played with others of a similar skill level, I do not know of any other game that satisfies so completely and gives out so much pure enjoyment. I have lost track of the many times when I have laughed myself speechless at the card table, playing what we have come to call Hearts, by Erwin rules.

As those familiar with the game will know, the crux of each hand is the sluffing of the queen of spades on a trick taken by another. And that moment is one that more often than not leads to great fun. Here is one simple example: one evening when my brother Steve and my daughter Retta were playing with two others in my dining room (I do not remember for sure but the other two might have been my son Ben and my son Shawn) we were making a lot of noise with our laughter. And my wife was trying to sleep in the bedroom nearby but was being kept awake by the loudness of our enjoyment. There came a time when she rose from her bed and came into the living room adjacent to the dining room and loudly complained about the noise, asking us to please be quieter. At this moment, my daughter Retta said: "But mom, I just bombed Uncle Steve", at which point my wife said, while turning around and heading back toward the bedroom: "Oh, ok, that's all right then." If you understand that my brother Steve is considered one of the best Hearts players in the world, at least by Erwin rules, you will then not be surprised when I tell you that all of the rest of us immediately split a gut with our laughter! I doubled over with such mirth that I thought I would never recover.