August 24, 2001
A new era has begun.
No less than one day after New England Academy co-founder Ryan Thurston announced his startling leave of absence from Season 2 competition, a controversial private meeting between Thurston and fellow co-founder Keith Lane during an event at Our House last night paved the way for a rebirth in passion and understanding between the members of the NEA45s and the card game that had banded them all together in the first place. And the members don’t even know it yet.
After returning from a vacation in Washington, DC, Thurston publicly stated on 8/23 that he no longer had any love for the game and was taking his name out of contention for the NEA45s Season 2 Title. In his manifesto, Thurston detailed a number of issues, the primary of which being his distaste for the frightening rise in “zombie-like” play within the Academy. He blamed the game and its apparent lack of coherent strategy and, in his own words, cowardly stepped aside to ponder his card-playing future.
As if it couldn’t be melodramatic enough, Thurston also fielded insults and second-guessing from Lane and Season 1’s Grand Champion Kelly Kent, both of whom regarded Thurston’s resignation as a drastic movement based solely on selfish motives. Just recently, Thurston had played his 100th game of the season and had dropped a whole percentage point in the standings in a matter of just ten days.
Several Academy players were stunned by the announcement. David Varisco commented that Thurston would be back, despite his complaints and historic stubbornness. Meanwhile, Thurston and Lane discussed the stagnant nature of the Academy. Lane’s exact quote was, “The Academy isn’t growing. We’re not growing. And something needs to be done.” Thurston’s subsequent announcement dampened any chances of a turnaround in Academy interest.
All of this, coupled with a happenstance schedule and declining membership, seemed to point to a probable downward spiral for the NEA45s, possibly leading to its extinction.
These occurrences nipped at the minds of the Academy co-founders as they gathered at Our House last night, with Lane firmly in first place and Thurston sitting the event out in an attempt to observe the nuance and strategy employed by each Academy member.
We pick up the action in the middle of the second game, as Lane and a returning Jessica Shroder battled Varisco and Kerry Sainato. Kent was scoring even though she was not playing. This proved highly damaging, as she mis-scored the third hand and gave Varisco and Sainato a buck that belonged to Lane and Shroder. When Varisco recognized the mistake, a heated argument ensued. With the score 105-all, Lane and Shroder assumed they should have already won the game. Sainato and Varisco commented that they would have bid differently if the score had been updated correctly.
They finally ended the tiff by suggesting they start from the previous hand, meaning the score would now be 110-70 in favor of Lane and Shroder. Sainato scored 20 on her bid but lost the game in controversial fashion. “Shady,” remarked Kent.
Two games later, Gracie Doyle and Lane, ranked 1st and 3rd respectively, took on Sainato and Shroder, both of whom were under .400. You’d expect a Doyle/Lane rout, correct? Especially since Doyle and Lane earned the Team Award last season for the best regular season winning record? Well… let’s see…
Six hands in, Sainato and Shroder are up 30-10. That’s right. 30-10! Six hands in!!! Lane had managed a buck on the first hand and a set of Sainato’s 20-bid on the second. But then he and Doyle were set three straight times on 20-bids. On the third bid, Lane goes 20 in diamonds and finds the 5, J, Q of hearts in the kitty. Doyle manages to have the 5 of diamonds but they still get set. That’s the kind of game this was going to be.
Two hands later, Lane is holding two fives and a jack. Doyle bids 15 and it goes around. And she picks the one suit Lane didn’t have. Lane is pissed. Sainato, wondering why Lane is so pissed, decides to look at his cards, resulting in the rest of the people at the table mocking her for a good five minutes. Two hands later, Shroder gets a buck and they close the game out in 11 hands, defeating Lane and Doyle by the score of *-40.
Prodigal player Jeremy Bifano returns to competition in the next game, being scored on a green Our House placemat. He teams with Doyle against versatile team Kent and Varisco, who have played 20 games together this season – second only to Kent/Thurston’s 30 games.
On the third hand, Bifano and Varisco commit a gruesome dealing miscommunication that results in Bifano keeping his five cards from the initial deal. His only trump is the Ace of hearts, which is bled on Kent’s opening lead. Kent makes 25, the score now at 55-35 in favor of her and Varisco. A hand later, Bifano deals four cards to the kitty. But that’s alright… he had also dealt Kent six cards.
Magically, Bifano and Doyle set Varisco on two straight 20-bids and then score a buck. So with her team down by 85 points, Kent goes 20 on the King of spades. And that ends up being high card. But Bifano and Doyle score ten on the next hand and win the game, ending Bifano’s four-game (three-month) losing streak.
At the same time, Lane and Thurston are conducting a secret meeting where they discuss the state of the Academy, Thurston’s true reasons for walking away from the game, and what they should do about it. No one is sure exactly what is said between the co-founders. But when they return to the table, both are unexpectedly motivated, and Thurston quickly declares that he wants to be jacked in on the next game.
First, Lane and Sainato have to play Shroder and Varisco in a 13-hand marathon that sees 6 sets. The first set was a perfect example of shit-luck, as Lane and Sainato are holding J, AH, A, K, Q on Varisco’s 20-bid. They get 20.
Nine hands later, Lane bids 20 and thinks it has gone around. So he calls spades. But Varisco stops him and says that he had gone 25. Lane lets him go… and Varisco goes in spades. That’s right… Varisco gets set. This is part of a streak of 3-straight 25-bids, all of which resulted in sets. Needless to write, Varisco and Shroder take the win, *-40.
So Thurston comes out of his week-long retirement to play with Kent against Doyle and Bifano. Thurston promises some interesting things if people pay attention… which they don’t. Lane sits next to Thurston and the two quietly point out notes to each other as Thurston makes suspect moves and experimental throws. Thurston lucks out; and he and Kent take the win, even after a convincing comeback by Doyle and Bifano.
The Bulls are teamed together in the next game against Sainato and Varisco. Bifano sits next to Thurston and begins to understand the cryptic comments being made by Thurston and Lane. He notices the bizarre techniques the two are displaying. Varisco and Sainato have no clue… and they don’t need a clue. Thurston and Lane drop the ball big time and get blown out, (45)-*.
Thurston and Varisco are paired next, this time against Doyle and Sainato. Some timely bidding from Thurston is met with shear crap from Varisco, and Doyle and Sainato claw their way to a *-70 win. Meanwhile, Lane has led his three cohorts around the bar, searching desperately for another table. When they succeed in finding a location, Kent and Lane proceed to dismantle Bifano and Shroder, leaving Bifano in last place on the Season 2 leader board.
Doyle and Thurston, far and away the best team this season, go up against Varisco and Sainato in the final game of the evening. Varisco is set twice… and he starts to see what Lane and Thurston had been conversing about earlier in the night. Uncharacteristic throws by Thurston help trick Varisco and Sainato into confusion over what cards he and Doyle are holding. The result is a convincing win, *-5, for Doyle and Thurston, who are now 13-1 on the season.
All in all, the night turned into a delightful surprise, as eight members joined the foray for the first time since May, some controversy entertained the audience, and Thurston reneged on his resignation after a covert pep-talk from his former teacher, Lane.
Lane dropped below .600 but maintains his stranglehold over the top spot in the Academy. Doyle pressed on, coming to within a hundredth of a point of overtaking second-place from a resurgent Thurston. Varisco stayed at .500. Sainato and Shroder played well, but both are still low on the board. Kent again finished with a mediocre record, and it seems to be a longshot that she will make the Finals, primarily due to the incredible amount of games she has played. (She barely rises or falls if she wins or loses.)
Lane and Thurston have promoted a new era for 45s in the coming weeks, as they have both sworn to re-instill the dynamic nature of the game that five years ago propelled the experimental ’96 Olympics into the stratosphere, becoming the first known sanctioned 45s Federation events.
Now, after the Federation crashed and burned four years ago, the co-founders have made a desperate attempt to avoid the same fate for the NEA45s. New-found interest from Academy non-members from all over New England may not be enough to save the organization. The heart of the Academy rests in the games that are played. Lane and Thurston have proclaimed they are committed to the Academy; and to save the game of 45s… they have elected to change the way the game is played.
Expect the unexpected.