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While attending college, my granddaughter (who created the Esther Bluff) worked at the historic Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, a highly acclaimed attraction on Hollywood Blvd. (Hollywood, Calif.) Perhaps you too have visited the site – and also been dazzled by the sights and objects within.

Ripley’s is an American classic frequented by both tourists and residents in the area. Starting with the iconic dinosaur on the roof, inside it displays bizarre events and items so strange and unusual one might question the claims. Is this for real? It was the brainchild of Robert Ripley, an American cartoonist, famed author, entrepreneur, amateur anthropologist, and world traveler.

Interestingly, and by pure coincidence, he was born on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 1890 and was laid to rest on May 27, 1949 in the uniquely named Oddfellows Lawn Cemetery in Santa Rosa, California.

What does this have to do with poker?

That’s a reasonable question. I am not at all surprised you might question the relevance. Answer: Playing poker, we often encounter strange and rare situations – too often, it may seem, when the cards go against you. Hard to believe.

I vividly recall a hand I played a few months ago at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Casino in Gardena, California. It was a hand I will never forget. I was dealt pocket-Jacks, caught a set on the flop, and then quad-Jacks on the turn. Wow! I was so sure that pot was mine, so I made a special effort to build it up as best I could. But then, on the River – ah, the River – the dealer slowly, deliberately, and calmly placed the Ace of spades on the board – right before my eyes.

That card gave an opponent a royal straight flush! Strange – rare? Of course. My opponent had just two outs when he caught the nuts, slaughtering my quad-Jacks. Egad!

Believe it or not, that’s exactly how it happened. When you think about it, actually it’s quite conceivable and totally logical that two players can each catch a monster hand at the same time (one may well be the nuts). In any case, I’ll never forget that “believe it or not!” poker hand. But I saw it – and so I believe it.

Earlier today, playing limit hold’em with our seniors poker group at the Freda Mohr Senior Center, Judy was dealt pocket tens. She bet it all the way. When she was not called on the River, she flashed her charming smile and showed her hand for all to see: The board had delivered runner-runner tens, giving her quad-tens on the river. Exciting – as well as very rare. Believe it or not! Needless to say, Judy won the big prize for earning the most chips at our session. Her eyes popped wide as she saw the winner’s big prize, and her bright smile lit up the room!

If you think about it, you may recall one or more similar experiences at the poker table. Very rare, indeed – sometimes unbelievable. And, then, when it is you who is the winner, it sure feels so good. Lucky you!

As for Robert Ripley, he was an incredible man who led an incredible life, full of adventure and excitement. He accomplished so much during his life – it’s hard to believe!

Perhaps, above all, he will forever be remembered and honored for coining one of the most recognized and widely used phrases in the English language – one that is so applicable to our favorite game of poker – Believe It or Not!

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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