Life Stories

The epic card game that turned out to be one of the most pivotal plays of my life

You know how certain moments in life stand out and are etched in your memory forever?

This one comes up when I feel defeated, my back is up against a wall and I just feel hopeless …

When I was 8-years-old, my family was immigrating from the former Soviet Union to the United States. As part of the immigration process, we were forced to stop in a few countries before we were allowed to move on our journey.

The living conditions weren’t bad if you’re ok with living in “hotel/hostels” and sharing one bathroom with the entire floor full of other families. But hey, we were lucky that we even had that opportunity.

During one of these hostel stays, I was in the courtyard playing with the other kids. At one point, a group of us decided that we would play a very popular Russian card game called Durak, which means “fool.”



In fact, I was so excited to play that I said something to the effect of “oh, I’m really good at this game because I play it all the time.”

… Wrong thing to say to a bunch of 7 to 10-year-olds …

As soon as those words left my mouth, their mean comments began to flood.

“Oh, you think you’re so good?”

“You think you’re better than us?”

“Let’s see how good you are when we all play against you!”

You get the point …

This card game has no winner – only the loser that is left with all the cards after everyone else has run out.

… Their strategy was to gang up on me and make me the fool (durak).

As a kid, I was so sensitive and so fragile (kinda of like how I still am! LOL), that it took all the willpower in the world to not cry.

I just wanted to play a silly card game with my new found “friends,” but little did I know, I was about to engage in one of the most pivotal plays of my life.

The lump in my throat was building up and the tears wanted to start making their way down my cheeks … but I somehow managed to hold back.

Their words made me feel small, insignificant, stupid, alone …
… but I still wanted to play. I chose to stay in the game. 

The cards were dealt and the game started. The play consists of a series of bouts. During each bout, there is an attacker (who may be helped by other players) and a defender (who defends alone).

After all the cards in the “undealt deck” are gone … the final attacks happen. If you, as the defender, can’t beat the cards the other players are attacking you with, you pick up the attacking cards. The game ends when only one person has ALL the cards.

And there it was … the final attack after all the undealt deck cards were gone and they couldn’t wait to take me down.

Six cards in my hand. Six of them attacking me.

One card attack after another … one verbal attack after another.

They had so much fun attacking me as a team, it truly turned into a mob mentality.

With each card coming at me, my heart would skip a beat. Adrenaline was rushing through me and my mind was on overdrive.

Looking at my hand, I tried to strategize each attack the best I could.

I was panicking on the inside.

What if I can’t do it? What if I can’t pull through?

These kids will never let me live this down. I’m going to feel like such a loser.

What if I lose?

But as each card came at me, I silently beat each attack one by one, never saying a word.

… 5 cards, 4 cards, 3 cards, 2 cards left in my hand…

The whole table got silent.

There was one more card left in my hand and everything was truly in slow motion.

“Oh, wait! I have one more card to attack her with,” exclaimed one of them …

I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. I could feel the heartbeat in my chest.

He placed his attack card in front of me …

… and I trumped it with my Ace. 

The Ace that I saved as my last card, knowing that it could bring me my win.

All the cards in my hand were gone and there were no more cards to draw from.

There is no “winner” in this game, but clearly, I won …

… and they were the fools.

“Wow, you really are good at this game,” one of the kids said.

I just smiled. I wasn’t ready to utter any words because I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to cry or not.

Somehow, I managed to beat these six kids in a silly card game.

Some of it was luck. Some of it was strategy. But most importantly … there was a lot of courage. I didn’t back down from the game.

Somehow, at the very young age of 8, I showed myself what’s possible.

This is the memory I go to during some of my most trying times and darkest moments.

I remind myself that the most important thing is to stay in the game.

Sometimes it will be luck that will save me, sometimes strategy and sometimes maybe the fact that I actually know what I’m doing, even if I don’t always feel that.

So who’s up for a game of Durak? 🙂



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