If you had mentioned the word “bunco” to me fifteen years ago I would have immediately thought of “swindler,” oh…and the fat guy from the Bunco Squad chasing Robert Redford in The Sting. But then I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. It’s understandable because the game of Bunco (and fifteen years ago I didn’t know it was a game) began as “8-Dice Cloth.” (Don’t ask me why, ‘cuz it makes no sense to me, either.) It began in 18th century England and came to San Francisco as a gambling activity…they had Bunco Parlors, and the police were constantly raiding them, hence that term “bunco squad.”
Wikipedia (I know…not the most accurate reference source in the world) says Bunco is popular with “middle-aged housewives” – which apparently it is. But it also says that there’s no skill involved. And with this I have to vehemently disagree.
About ten years ago my good friend, Kay asked if I would consider subbing for her Bunco group. I’d never played the game but decided to give it a whirl. (Had I known that I would be required to keep my own score I might have declined…I told you, I’m not good at math!!). The group, at that time, consisted of Kay and her daughters and daughter-in-law and granddaughter; some of their friends and the friends’ mother; a mother-in-law and friend of a mother-in-law…and well, you can see where it was a fairly tight-knit group and I was a little concerned…because I’m shy.
(You can pick your chin up off the ground now and quit shaking your head…IT’S TRUE.)
Amazingly enough I was high scorer that first time. (Go figure.) There are prizes for High Score, Second High Score, Low Score, Second Low Score and they roll dice to determine which game gets the Bunco prize, and Last Bunco. And then everyone else gets a $5 gift. I don’t know if you’ve seen videos of wolf packs on the hunt, but imagine them closing in on a crippled deer, and you’d understand my feelings when I got high score. I’ll tell you right now that these are the finest women in the world, smart, funny, caring…good Christian women. But sit them at a card table with dice in front of them and they turn rabid and vicious.
Seriously. I mean it.
The object of the each game is to reach 21. The first turn is “onesies.” The second, “twosies,” and so forth. You can win by rolling (cumulatively) twenty-one ones or twos, or you can win by rolling a “bunco” which is three of whichever number you’re on. So if you’re rolling sixes, you get an automatic bunco when you roll three sixes. The faster you roll, the more the odds of winning. There are four women at a table, each taking their turn, frantically rolling the dice to get a Bunco. But some of these ladies are SKILLED in dice-rolling. I think it’s actually an art. Me? I’m just lucky to get a five when we're on fives.
During the game the noise level is incredible. Rock concerts? Airport runways? Building demolition? Soothing, peaceful, restful… It gets so bad at our Bunco Nights that you can’t even hear when someone yells “Bunco!” at the top of their voices. People are constantly stopping play because they think someone’s won a game. And then there’s more yelling when it’s discovered there isn’t a winner. And the comments!! The language!! Just to give you a (mild) example, I was congratulating one of the ladies for getting a Bunco last night and I was told, “Nedra? You can take your happiness and STICK IT!”
It’s all in good fun, really…and when I sub for Bunco I am able – for a couple of hours at least – to leave all my stresses and worries behind and just laugh like crazy. (And believe me, when I say “crazy” it’s a major understatement.) However, every time I get together with these women I expect the cops to show up…’cuz I think there’s a city noise ordinance or something…
I’ll let you know, next month, if I need help with bail.