Luck of the draw

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It’s a Monday evening late in the semester, and Stephanie Rivas ’14 has gotten together with a few dozen other students to unwind over a friendly game of cards. But when she sits down at the table, she is dealt a hand unlike any she—or any of the other players, for that matter—has ever seen.

In the upper left corner of each card is a number and suit that you’d find in a typical deck of 52. But when Stephanie turns the card upside down, the opposite corner has a letter. The objective, she and her opponents are instructed, is to use the numbers to play the best possible poker hand, or to use the letters to form the best-scoring word. Or, if they’re really good (or just really lucky) they can double down with both.

The game they’re playing is called SpPoker™ (as in spelling plus poker), and it’s the brainchild of brothers Dennis ’69 and Ken Fujka ’71, who are on hand this evening with a couple of their friends, including Sam Osborne ’72 and their partner Jerry Klein, to teach the students how to play. They’re also overseeing Denison’s first-ever SpPoker tournament, sponsored by the Denison Club for Students.

“At first, people were a bit confused,” Rivas tells. “But once they started figuring out strategies, they really got into it, jumping up and yelling with each winning or losing hand.” By the end of the night, the top three winners walk away with $75 gift certificates to the Denison bookstore, and all contestants receive their own deck of SpPoker cards, courtesy of their coaches.

As Ken Fujka explains, the idea for SpPoker started out in 2002 as one of those three-o’clock-in-the-morning revelations. A poker enthusiast, he awoke to the notion that there are 52 cards in a deck and 26 letters in the alphabet. There has to be a game somewhere in there, he thought, and called his brother. “That’s an interesting idea,” Dennis said. “But do you know it’s 3 a.m.?!”

So they slept on it, realized the idea had real potential, and got to work. Over the next several months, they experimented with all sorts of configurations and scenarios, seeking advice from several game-playing friends, and eventually came up with a system in which, if you played 100 hands, spelling would win 50 hands and poker would win the other half. They determined the card design was truly unique, the U.S. Patent Office agreed, and SpPoker received its own patent.

They introduced and subsequently got their friends hooked on SpPoker, and also won the support of a rather random business contact who coincidentally had experience and connections in Madison Avenue circles. This coming February, Ken and Dennis will be introducing SpPoker to the big-time market at the Toy Fair in New York City.

Don’t be surprised if you see SpPoker in stores or game rooms before too long. For Denisonians, however, who want to get in on the game early or are just looking for that perfect stocking stuffer, SpPoker decks are now on sale in the Denison bookstore.

Game on.

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