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Published: Sunday, 7/16/2006

Deal them in

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Liz Newsome, left, checks her hand while Kayleen Ohneck deals in a game of Spoons. Liz Newsome, left, checks her hand while Kayleen Ohneck deals in a game of Spoons.
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On a warm summer day in the cool basement of her home in Temperance, Christine Spader, 16, and seven of her friends sit around a table on which seven large, gleaming spoons are perfectly centered.

Drawing from a double deck of cards, the dealer sends a swift stream of cards, face down, to her right. Players glance at each card, keeping it or pushing it to their right. This is the only quiet time during the game of Spoons.

Within a minute for so, somebody will accumulate four-of-a-kind, and as stealthily as possible, will slip a spoon off the table. Then, it's pandemonium, as the other seven players grab for spoons. But like Musical Chairs, one will be left empty-handed.

Intensity gives way to hoots, shouts, and laughter.

Christine and her friends, juniors at Bedford High School, grew up with high-stimulation electronic, hand-held, and video games, but it's easy to see the appeal of a simple low-tech card game such as Spoons. For one, it generates laughter and rowdiness. It's playfully competitive, and can accommodate a range of ages. In between hands, there's time for bits of conversation.

And it goes well with food. Tracy Spader, Christine's mother, brings down a plate of chocolate chip cookies that fly off the plate as fast as spoons off the table, and she's preparing a couple of pizzas.

Enjoyed for hundreds of years around the globe, card-playing is alive and well among teens and young adults. With poker leading the way, other favorites include euchre, bunco, pinochle, rummy, hearts, spades, and games with special decks such as Uno and Phase 10.

Christine's friend, Nick Chetcuti, 16, plays Texas Hold 'Em and a similar poker game, Omaha, every couple of weeks with five or six buddies. And Kayleen Ohneck, 15, grew up playing euchre, gin rummy, and fish with her family. "My grandparents are sharks," she said.

Geoff Kuester, 19, of Sylvania, comes from a euchre-playing family. "It didn't actually stick until high school," said Mr. Kuester. He hasn't noticed much euchre action at Miami University, where he's a sophomore, but there's lots of poker being played for money. "It's hard to get a group together who will agree if they'll play for money or not," he said, adding that he's in the latter category. He enjoyed learning Magic: the Gathering, a "collectible" card game a friend at college introduced him to.

The comeback of playing cards is attributable to televised poker tournaments such as Celebrity Poker Showdown, which convey a veneer of glamour that has influenced youngsters, said Scott Kling, vice president of business development at the United States Playing Card Co. in Cincinnati.

"I think the market tilted too much toward video games," said Mr. Kling. "It's really interesting that something as tactile and social as cards are getting more popular."

Sales of playing cards are "way high," said Mr. Kling, but he would not provide sales figures. Poker, euchre, spades, and solitaire are being played, and dominoes are on the upswing.

His company, which makes Bicycle, Aviator, Bee, Hoyle, and Mohawk brands of cards, is devising new decks keyed off hot online games, such as versions of solitaire called Ancient Tripeaks, Aloha, Klondike, and one called Spider, in which the deck has a single suit. "Maybe we could make a deck with just one suit," he suggested.

A pink and powder-blue deck has sold well to women under 40, he noted, adding that despite the easy allure of online card games, the slide, slip, snap, and shuffle of hand-held cards has perennial appeal.

"People still like the tactile nature of playing with real cards."

In May, a table of students played a quick game of Yu-Gi-Oh! in the Bowsher High School cafeteria during lunch. Student athletes sometimes play tonk, a rummy-type game, in locker rooms. Card games can be found at college student unions and fraternity houses from coast to coast.

"We need face-to-face interaction," said Mark Simmons, publisher of Games Quarterly Magazine and founder of National Games Week (during Thanksgiving week).

Non-electronic games, which include card and board games, had North American sales of about $4 billion last year, said Mr. Simmons. Electronic games, with their hefty price tags, sold twice that sum, he said.

Appealing to youth are two types of games: collectibles, such as Magic: the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Pokemon (which had $1 billion in sales in 2000); and "regular" card games, played with a 52-card deck or a special deck, such as Phase 10, Five Crowns, or Uno, said Bob Friedland, public relations manager at Toys "R" Us. Texas Hold 'Em is still a brisk seller, he added.

Collectible card games have been popular for about a decade, especially among males, said Mr. Friedland. They require strategy, the cards feature excellent art, and fans can build their collection by purchasing booster and expansion sets.

Bridge players, who include the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, tend to be an older crowd: the median age is 65 among the 160,000 members of the American Contract Bridge League. Contract bridge was last popular with college students in the 1950s and 1960s, but the league wants to attract a younger bunch with its www.bridgeiscool.com site.

John McLeod, a card aficionado for 40 years, started www.pagat.com in 1995. The site spells out the rules for hundreds of card games from around the world, and card-game history. Rules to some games can also be found at www.uspc.com.

Internet card-playing has introduced many people to new games, said Mr. McLeod, who lives in London, England, and responded to an e-mail interview with The Blade.

"Also it has helped to hold people's interest when either through isolation or just laziness they would not get together for a face-to-face game. It has also helped to spread certain games. For example the American game Spades is now known throughout the world.

"I personally find that online card playing is a very poor substitute for

a face-to-face game. ... I don't think that online gaming has reduced the amount of face-to-face playing. It may even be helping to revive face-to-face card playing by stimulating interest in card games. Those who have been introduced to cards by playing online may realize that a face-to-face game would be even more fun."

Contact Tahree Lane at:

tlane@theblade.com

or 419-724-6075.



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