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Senior groups help grow poker

I recently received an interesting email from Meichelle Culhane who lives in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

Like so many of us, she grew up playing penny-ante poker at the kitchen table with family and friends.

Currently, poker is her main form of recreation. She has been playing 3-4 times a week with a group of retirees at the Tulsa Hard Rock Casino, and is a member of the Ladies International Poker Series (LIPS) and the Poker League of Nations (PLON), both of which encourage and promote women in poker.

She had read my recent column in Robbie Strazynski’s CardPlayer LifeStyle blog about my theory that playing poker may prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Note: I believe that the mental challenge and exercise keep our brains healthy — just as do other forms of exercise to keep our bodies healthy. And I have observed that, of the over 200 members of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group in Los Angeles, not a single one, to my knowledge, has developed Alzheimer’s.

Others have told me that this is their experience too. Dr. Alan Schoonmaker, famed poker psychologist, has quoted me on this in his book, Play Poker; Stay Young.

Until the coronavirus pandemic closed the doors at her local senior activity center, Meichelle had volunteered by giving poker lessons. Starting with one 80-year old gentleman, 18 months later her group had grown to 28 retirees playing Texas hold’em. Of her members, she writes, “my oldest is an 89-year-old woman. In fact, of the 28 players, 19 are women between the ages of 65-89. The 89-year-old woman won our monthly tournament in January.”

Referring to my theory, she reports that “none of my poker students have memory problems at this time.” That is good news, but we still need a lot more data about elderly folks who play poker at least once a week and have done so for many years. Thus far, I know of no regular poker players who have contracted Alzheimer’s.

Getting back to Meichelle’s seniors poker group in Oklahoma, since the coronavirus pandemic has prevented playing at their senior center, she has introduced them to online poker tournaments.

“It has kept them connected, interactive and have something to look forward to every day,” she said.

Hopefully, they will soon be able to go back to their senior center for poker and other activities.

As for Meichelle herself, she recently made the headlines when she was named one of nine women in the world who has an inspiring story to tell.

“Mine,” she wrote, “was about my seniors poker group and their skills.” She has been nominated as a “Women’s Platinum Pass Finalist” — along with Jan Fisher, my long-time poker friend who is co-founder of Card Player Cruises.

I am sure that Oklahoma Johnny Hale would be proud of his fellow poker player from the beautiful state of Oklahoma. He was the founder of the Seniors World Hold’em Poker Tournament, held in conjunction with the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and created the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame (to which I was elected many years ago. Johnny died last December at age 92.

In closing her message to me, Meichelle tossed a plaudit my way: “You sure were an inspiration to me,” she said. “When a new player comes in to see what poker is all about, especially if they have never played the game, I give them an article you wrote a few years ago about your Seniors Poker Group and all the benefits of the ‘poker brain.’ They are all amazed and, so far, they have all stayed to play,”

I so appreciate Meichelle Culhane taking the time to tell this story. We wish her well, and that her Seniors Poker Group will prosper and continue to grow.