Confession 006 — Used Cats as Chips

I confess. I’m a sucker for a good poker story.

The strangest poker game ever played in western New York was fought back in December of 1903 by Pete Snelling of Brockport, better known as the “Cat Hermit,” and “Old Man” Booker of Clarkson, likewise a recluse and something of a cat fancier. The two men lived about one mile apart, with the town line between them. It was in reality town against town, with cats for chips.

The game grew out of professional jealousy, each of the players pretending to be the boss hermit in point of years, hard luck, and number of cats. The previous August, Old Man Booker happened to meet Pete at the village store, and the subject of poker was raised.

“I am strong on it,” Booker announced. “I haven’t played for years, just because I know there is no one hefty enough to make it interesting.”
 “If you dig up my past you’ll find I’m quite a cuss with the pasteboards myself,” said Pete.

“Dare you to meet me,” cried the Old Man.
 “I’m for that. What shall we play for?” asked Pete.
 Old Man Booker scratched his rough chin and thought deeply. Then he had an inspiration. “How are you fixed for cats?” he asked.
 “Got about fifty, and twenty kittens,” replied Pete.

“All right; let’s play for cats,” said Booker

So it was agreed, and the game was pulled off. Booker collected his feline assets and carted them over to Pete’s tumble-down farmhouse. Pete had his chips mellowing and spitting in an empty room and no time was lost in bringing out a greasy deck of cards, and the game began on a kitten ante and two cat limit.

Two big boxes with stout covers were brought in, one for kittens and one for cats.

On Booker’s deal it went into a jackpot and both put up a kitten, as neither had openers. “Change a cat for me,” requested Pete. Booker pushed two kittens across the board.

On the next deal Booker opened for two cats and Pete drew cards and boosted the sweeting one kitten. Booker drew to a pair of queens and caught a small pair. Pete split a pair of jacks and found a straight.

“Oh, I’ll bet a kitten,” said Booker
 “See your kitten and raise you two cats,” Pete came back.
 Booker called and lost.

For the next six hands they simply swapped kittens back and forth without getting any action.

Then on a jackpot Booker opened for one cat, holding pat a club straight, nine high. Pete discarded a queen of hearts and caught the ten of diamonds, which gave him a diamond straight, ten high. Then the cats flew into the box fast and furious. The boxes began to get a bit crowded and a vacant room was used to accumulate the chips.

Both men left their cards on the table and stood by their respective cats. As each called his raise he would grab the limit by the scruffs and toss them into the pot.

“See here, Snell, I’m out of cats, but I’ve got a show for my stakes,” announced Booker as he threw in two kittens and went shy a cat.
 “Well, Book, we’ll show hands now, or seal up the cards until you can raise more cats. It’s a shame to take your cats. I wish you’d call me.”
 “Not by a long chalk, Snell. I’ll never lay down on this hand. I’ll die first. Give me ten hours to hustle in for more cats and then we’ll show up.”

This was agreed to and inside of six hours Booker drove up with twenty cats and six kittens. The limit was raised and the whole bunch of furry chips were deposited, and the cards were unsealed.

Thus did Snelling win the cat-poker championship of western New York and incidentally break Old Man Booker.

December 25th, 1903 — The Herald and News (Newberry, S.C.)


This weekly column serves as a guide for those who are interested in online bitcoin poker but haven’t yet taken the plunge and for those who are just dipping their toes in the water.

I talk about online bitcoin poker from a beginner’s perspective with the goal of demystifying the various poker game forms as well as all aspects of online play, table and lobby etiquette, and anything else related to this space. I’m enjoying spending time with you.

Please send all questions, comments and suggestions to

I appeared on the Fish Fry podcast and tournament (12/30/15) at

My opinions and observations are my own do not reflect the opinions of SwC management. I will respond to all messages and I welcome your feedback.

Originally published at