- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2000

JEFFERSON, Md. A full house is a Thanksgiving tradition Jay Nusbaum can bet on but he would prefer a royal flush.

Turkey Day means Poker Night for Mr. Nusbaum and a dozen pals who will gather Thursday for their 22nd annual all-night game.

It started when they were juniors at Walkersville High School.

"Thanksgiving night, you're just bored," Mr. Nusbaum said. "We got together and played at 9 o'clock at night and pretty much played the whole night through. I think the next year, we said, 'Let's do it again,' and it just never stopped."

Most have married, bought houses, started families and built careers. Some live in other states or countries, but the game remains the same: 12 hours of cards and kidding around between swallows of chili and beer.

So who feels lucky? They all do.

"We've all moved on in our lives but never forgotten this tie that keeps us together," said Jeff Meyers, a Frederick computer salesman who has known Mr. Nusbaum since middle school.

Mr. Nusbaum, owner of a computer networking firm, said it's like a homecoming for those who live far away. That's especially true this year since he is the host a rotating duty just like the Thanksgiving night 22 years ago when the gang of student athletes sat down to play in his parents' basement.

Thursday's game will be in Mr. Nusbaum's garage a heated, two-car shed he built this year to house his company truck and beloved 1963 Corvair. He and wife, Angela, keep their regular cars in another garage attached to their spacious home eight miles south of Frederick.

"We're all probably worth 100 times more than when we started, but we still play for nickels and quarters," Mr. Nusbaum said.

The biggest pot he recalls was $125, but even with relatively low stakes, emotions can run high. One year, a player bruised his head on a low ceiling beam after leaping from his chair in disgust, Mr. Nusbaum said.

Mr. Meyers remembered fiercely contested hands that prompted card counts "to ensure that no one lost unfairly."

Nobody wants to be dealt out, though. John Krucenski, an international marketing executive, called in from Malaysia last year and probably will again on Thursday to play a hand over the phone.

As the players have grown older, the party has gotten tamer. They rarely smoke cigars anymore and the game breaks up after sunrise instead of stretching into an afternoon barbecue. "Each year, it gets more difficult on our bodies," Mr. Meyers said.

Mr. Nusbaum, knowing he will be sleeping until noon Friday, gives his six employees the day off as well.

Still, the players can't imagine Thanksgiving without poker.

"Of all the days that could have been chosen to do this, this wound up being the best one. We all still spend time with our families, and then we move on to the next part of the evening," Mr. Meyers said.

Angela Nusbaum said the wives take it in stride, as she learned to do more than a decade ago when her boyfriend at the time announced he would be leaving her parents' Thanksgiving dinner party early.

"If you see all those guys together and the camaraderie, you know how important it is to them," she said. "It goes along with Thanksgiving you have Thanksgiving, you have poker."

Each year, the men agree next year's game will be their last. Mr. Meyers thinks they still will be playing 30 years from now.

"As you move on in your life, there are only a few thing you do on a regular basis with old friends," he said. "This is one that brings old friends back together."

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