my take on things - comments about all the world and his brother
by Ephraim Kishon
Published on July 5, 2009 By utemia In Books

This is one of my favourite Stories by Kishon, a great humorist.

Jewish Poker

For quite a while the two of us sat at our table, wordlessly stirring our coffee. Ervinke was bored. All right, he said. Let's play poker.

No, I answered. I hate cards. I always lose.

Who's talking about cards? thus Ervinke. I was thinking of Jewish poker.

He then briefly explained the rules of the game. Jewish poker is played without cards, in your head, as befits the People of the Book.

You think of a number, I also think of a num­ber, Ervinke said. Whoever thinks of a higher num­ber wins. This sounds easy, but it has a hundred pit­falls. Nu!

All right, I agreed. Let's try.

We plunked down five piasters each, and, leaning back in our chairs began to think of numbers. After a while Ervinke signaled that he had one. I said I was ready.


All right, thus Ervinke. Let's hear your number.

Eleven, I said.

Twelve, Ervinke said, and took the money.

I could have' kicked myself, because originally I had thought of Fourteen, and only at the last moment had I climbed down to Eleven, I really don't know why. Listen. I turned to Ervinke. What would have happened had I said Fourteen?

What a question! I'd have lost. Now, that is just the charm of poker: you never know how things will turn out. But if your nerves cannot stand a little gam­bling, perhaps we had better call it off.


Without saying another word, I put down ten piasters on the table. Ervinke did likewise. I pondered my number carefully and opened with Eighteen.

Damn! Ervinke said. I have only Seventeen!

I swept the money into my pocket and quietly guf­fawed. Ervinke had certainly not dreamed that I would master the tricks of Jewish poker so quickly. He had probably counted on my opening with Fifteen or Six­teen, but certainly not with Eighteen. Ervinke, his brow in angry furrows, proposed to double the stakes.

As you like, I sneered, and could hardly keep back my jubilant laughter. In the meantime a fantastic number had occurred to me: Thirty-five!

Lead! said Ervinke.



With that he pocketed the forty piasters. I could feel the blood rushing into my brain.


Listen, I hissed. Then why didn't you say Forty-three the last time?

Because I had thought of Seventeen! Ervinke retorted indignantly. Don't you see, that is the fun in poker: you never know what will happen next.

A pound, I remarked dryly, and, my lips curled in scorn, I threw a note on the table. Ervinke extracted a similar note from his pocket and with maddening slowness placed it next to mine. The tension was unbearable. I opened with Fifty-four.

Oh, damn it! Ervinke fumed. I also thought of Fifty-four! Draw! Another game!

My brain worked with lightning speed. Now you think I'll again call Eleven, my boy, I reasoned. But you'll get the surprise of your life. I chose the sure-fire Sixty-nine.


You know what, Ervinke- I turned to Ervinke - you lead.

As you like, he agreed. It's all the same with me. Seventy!

Everything went black before my eyes. I had not felt such panic since the siege of Jerusalem.

Nu? Ervinke urged. What number did you think of?

What do you know? I whispered with downcast eyes. I have forgotten.

You liar! Ervinke flared up. I know you didn't forget, but simply thought of a smaller number and now don't want to own up. An old trick. Shame on you!

I almost slapped his loathsome face for this evil slander, but with some difficulty overcame the urge. With blazing eyes I upped the stakes by another pound and thought of a murderous number: Ninety-six!


Lead, stinker, I threw at Ervinke, whereupon he leaned across the table and hissed into my face: Sixteen hundred and eighty-three!

A queer weakness gripped me.

Eighteen hundred, I mumbled wearily. Double! Ervinke shouted, and pocketed the four pounds.

What do you mean, double? I snorted. What's that?

If you lose your temper in poker, you'll lose your shirt! Ervinke lectured me. Any child will understand that my number doubled is higher than yours, so it's clear that. . .


Enough, I gasped, and threw down a fiver. Two thousand, I led.

Two thousand four hundred and seventeen, thus Ervinke.

Double! I sneered, and grabbed the stakes, but Ervinke caught my hand.

Redouble! he whispered, and pocketed the tenner. I felt I was going out of my mind.

Listen - I gritted my teeth - if that's how things stand, I could also have said 'redouble' in the last game, couldn't I?

Of course, Ervinke agreed. To tell you the truth, I was rather surprised that you didn't. But this is poker, yahabibi, you either know how to play it or you don't! If you are scatterbrained, better stick to cro­quet.


The stakes were ten pounds. Lead! I screamed. Ervinke leaned back in his chair, and in a disquietingly calm voice announced his number: Four.

Ten million! I blared triumphantly. But without the slightest sign of excitement, Ervinke said: Ultimo!

And took the twenty pounds.

I then broke into sobs. Ervinke stroked my hair and told me that according to Hoyle, whoever is first out with the ultimo wins, regardless of numbers. That is the fun in poker: you have to make split-second de­cisions.


Twenty pounds, I whimpered, and placed my last notes in the hands of fate. Ervinke also placed his money. My face was bathed in cold sweat. Ervinke went on calmly blowing smoke rings, only his eyes had narrowed.

Who leads?

You, I answered, and he fell into my trap like the sucker he was.

So I lead, Ervinke said. Ultimo, and he stretched out his hand for the treasure.

Just a moment - I stopped him - Ben-Gurion!

With that I pocketed the Mint's six-month output.


Ben-Gurion is even stronger than ultimo, I explained. But it's getting dark outside. Perhaps we had better break it off.

We paid the waiter and left. Ervinke asked for his money back, saying that I had invented the Ben-Gurion on the spur of the moment. I admitted this, but said that the fun in poker was just in the rule that you never returned the money you had won.

on Jul 05, 2009

Interesting. I have never seen English versions of Kishon's stories. I didn't know Yossele is "Ervinke" in English.

Incidentally, "Ben-Gurion" became as a word a phenomenom in Israel in the 60s and 70s with people saying his name in the same sense as "oh my god" or "unbelievable!". That's why "Ben-Gurion" is even stronger than ultimo.


on Jul 05, 2009

Oh that is why. In my book (in german) it is Yossele as well, but I found this online. There isn't a story from Kishon that I don't like, they are all so true to life, especially the one with the box of pralines.

on Jul 05, 2009

Oh that is why. In my book (in german) it is Yossele as well, but I found this online. There isn't a story from Kishon that I don't like, they are all so true to life, especially the one with the box of pralines.

I read all his books in German. My Hebrew is not nearly good enough to read Kishon. (I can converse and read comic books, but not living in Israel lack the practice I need.) He wrote in Hebrew and German.

Do you know his film "Der Blaumilchkanal"? The title's joke works only in German. It's a SFB (Radio Berlin) movie.

The street it's set in is Allenby Street which really does end right at the beach.



on Jul 05, 2009

Haven't seen it, no. I don't have a TV, so I can't catch it if they show it sometime either. And no TV means no Tatort as well, a true gem of german culture, which is hard since today is Sunday night.

on Jul 05, 2009

This is Allenby Street and surroundings:

Pictures were taken during the day, but Tel Aviv's sun is very bright and my iPhone camera is not ideal for the light.



on Jul 05, 2009

This is the beginning, it explains the concept well:

When the screaming starts most of the talk is about it being five o'clock in the morning ("bechamesh beboqer").

From that point the situation escalates as both the government in Jerusalem and the city of Tel Aviv are trying to seem as if they knew what is going on and finally Tel Aviv sends more workers to get the work done quicker.

At the end the street floods because nobody in the bureaucracy noticed that digging a canal in Allenby Street is a dumb idea or even considered the possibility that the project was started by an escaped madman named "Blaumilch".


on Jul 05, 2009

Oh Gott! man willl gar nicht hinschauen.. I have to watch this movie in a version I can understand, thanks for reccomending, it really looks hilarious.