VACAVILLE — Stan Katzman was faced with a tough choice. He’s lived with his decision ever since.
He was in the middle of winning a cribbage tournament. The clock was ticking. He had a dinner date with his wife. Rather than make her wait, he forfeited the game to another player. Then went to dinner with his wife.
“After that I agreed with my wife that I would no longer leave (a tournament),” he said.
Some players still give the Rio Vista resident some good-natured ribbing about his choice.
Katzman is a member of the Solano 29ers Cribbage Club. Playing the game is serious business every Wednesday inside a room at the Leisure Town Town Hall. But not so earnest that fun isn’t allowed.
“OK, who won $100, baby?” asked one player as he arrived Wednesday night. The question drew no response. “How about $5?” he inquired. Again, no one answered. “How about $1?”
The group started at the Fairfield Senior Center in the mid-1980s and played there until a few years ago when a rent increase sent the 15-member club looking for a new home.
“We were their favorite cash cow,” said cribbage player Jackie Doppelt, jokingly, about the senior center.
Members travel from Benicia, Rio Vista, Fairfield – and Stockton – to play.
“The drive by (shooting) capitol of the world,” said Jay Sorenson, who lives in Stockton.
The trip for Denzel Watkins is pretty easy. The 77-year-old lives in Fairfield.
He learned the game from an uncle.
“I was having trouble counting,” Watkins said. “He showed me how you can count with cards.” He joined the Solano 29ers about 16 years ago.
The game is believed to have started in early 17th century England. All that’s needed for play is a deck of cards, a cribbage board and pegs.
Cribbage took off in America, during World War II, Doppelt said. Military personnel found it was a great way to pass time, she said. Submariners indulged in cribbage while on patrol for Japanese boats.
Some members of the club recently trekked to Reno for a big tournament that drew almost 900 players.
“Numbers geeks love the game,” Doppelt said.
When asked what she gets from playing cribbage, Doppelt laughed and said, “a slightly leaner pocketbook. The gray cells keep going.”
“There goes my health care money,” Katzman said, jokingly, after losing to Doppelt. “It was almost a pleasure,” he added.
One really never masters the game, Doppelt said. There is so much going on and so many variables. And a lot depends on the luck of the draw from the deck of cards.
“There are people who win consistently,” she said. “They have memories at 74. I don’t.”
Fairfield resident Rich Doyle learned to play the game in the Navy. His father was a cribbage player, too.
While the Solano 29ers play with traditional wooden cribbage boards, there are many other types. Doyle has one that is made of redwood and shaped like a train. A variety of shapes and sizes can be found for sale on the Internet. Not all are made of wood. Some cribbage boards are carved from ivory.
Pegs are used for scoring. They, too, can be made from a variety of materials. Doyle’s favorite are onyx. They were given to him by a fellow cribbage player prior to her death. He doesn’t like to use them for that reason.
Like his fellow cribbage players, Doyle said he’s there mostly for the camaraderie.
“We’re like family,” he said. “If anything happens to one of us, we help each other out.”
He, Doppelt and Thelma Weber also play in Napa.
“It keeps your mind active,” Doyle said. “It’s better than sitting around and watching reruns of ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ ”
Those wishing to learn the game can start online, Doppelt said. There are a multitude of resources, including for youth who wish to learn.
For more information on the club, call 447-7568.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.