You may have heard that Phil Hellmuth calls the best poker players “Eagles.” You may have heard that Glen Frey and Don Henley (of Eagles fame) played poker with Linda Ronstadt. I certainly wouldn’t take anything away from a man who’s won fourteen World Series of Poker bracelets and I like life in the fast line as much as the other guy. Nonetheless, there are some poker eagles I find a whole lot more interesting than even Phil and classic rock. Imagine yourself in Europe for a moment at the beginning of World War II…
The adrenaline still flows, putting your senses on high alert as you make your way from the hangar to the barracks, the thrill of the power and speed of the Supermarine Spitfire with the new Rolls Royce Griffin engine still coursing through you. The power of this plane makes the Hawker Hurricane with the Merlin engine seem slow and you can’t even imagine comparing it to the Miles Master plane the Royal Air Force used for training. You light a cigarette because by the time you sit down with the other pilots, you want to be calm and collected.
You’ve only been at this for months but it almost seems like decades. You weren’t even sure your squadrons would get to fly any combat missions but you’ve not only flown them but won critical victories for the British. There’s a rumor, too, that when the United States finally declares entry into the war all three of the Eagle squadrons will be transferred to the United States Army Air Forces, exactly where you would have tried to enlist.
Now, though, you have a moment of rest from the battles in the air and you’re ready to wage a different kind of battle altogether. Your buddies are already around the table, and it looks like the game is seeing a lot of action. You can handle the stress and nerves of high altitude combat. Now it’s time to see how you’ll fare with the daredevils holding cards in their hands…
There’s a bit of poetic license in that scenario, sure. Still, what the historical record tells us about the group of American pilots who joined the Canadian and then British Royal Air Force prior to the United States’ entry into World War II is clear. Poker was the pastime of choice for the American flyboys who did important enough work that when their native country entered the war, they were transferred with equivalent ranks and full privileges into the U.S. forces. There’s no doubt they continued their poker
traditions there as well.
Today, poker is so common it can be found just about anywhere. (Of course, I recommend a particular poker room in Houston that prides itself on providing a safe, legal and exciting place to play Texas hold’em. Did I mention this Houston poker club has an airplane theme? Did I…? I guess I should admit that subtlety isn’t my strong point. Please don’t use that against me at the poker table.) Poker’s worldwide popularity, though, can almost be directly attributed to United States servicemen and women who ended up in foreign countries and brought the game with them. It was such a common game that poker cards were used to educate troops. The pilots of the Eagle Squadrons had world-reaching impacts on World War II and on what would become the United States Air Force. Thankfully, today we can afford to take a moment to think about the impact they had on the game of poker.