Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog

As a kid, I loved the Looney Tunes’ Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog cartoons. Not as popular as the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, but every bit as entertaining.

Ralph (named after a Warner Bros. employee – Ralph Wolf) was essentially a wolf version of Wile E. Coyote, with brown fur, a wiry body, huge ears, and brand loyalty to Acme Corporation. Sam was a large, burly sheepdog with a mop of red hair covering his eyes; the diminutive Road Runner’s large, sedentary opposite with the gift of appearing at the right place at the right time.

According to Wikipedia:

The series is built around the idea that both Ralph and Sam are just doing their jobs. Most of the cartoons begin at the beginning of the workday, in which they both arrive at a sheep-grazing meadow, exchange pleasant chitchat, and punch into the same time clock. Work having officially begun, Ralph repeatedly tries very hard to abduct the helpless sheep and invariably fails, either through his own ineptitude or the minimal efforts of Sam (he is frequently seen sleeping), who always brutally punishes Ralph for the attempt. In many instances there are also multiple copies of Ralph and particularly Sam.

Sam_and_Ralph_clockAt the end-of-the-day whistle, Ralph and Sam punch out their time cards, again chat amiably, and leave, presumably only to come back the next day and do it all again. Both Ralph and Sam are performed by voice actor Mel Blanc. In “A Sheep In The Deep” the workday is interrupted by a lunch break, which they also conduct amiably.  

These wonderful cartoons are a perfect metaphor for many sessions at the poker table.

Many of the players are regulars; some are close friends. The same players reappear at different venues. We might invite poker-loving friends to join us at the games. We get to know each other, learn about jobs, families, other interests. Small groups go on road trips together, often sharing rooms. Like Ralph and Sam, we exchange pleasant chitchat at the time clock.

Then the workday begins. Each of us becomes Ralph, using whatever cunning means we have at our disposal to abduct the sheep (poker chips) from the meadow (each pot). We are aggressive and deceitful. We search for information that reveals exploitable weaknesses. We punish villains’ mistakes mercilessly, isolating the weaker sheep away from the flock.

Each of us also becomes Sam. We may look sedentary, yet we defend. We lay traps. We punish unbridled aggression in the worst possible way, when Ralph least expects it.

In between each conflict, we can resume the pleasant chitchat. “How’s your new job?” “Did you see the game last night?” “Let’s do lunch!”

Another hand is dealt. It’s back to battle, as if we are clocked in whenever we have live cards and clocked out when the cards go into the muck and our remaining sheep are safe.

We take breaks and wander away from the meadow to share stories over food and drink; celebrate or commiserate our respective role plays as Ralph or Sam.

I was reminded of Ralph and Sam at a private game recently when a regular player (for purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Rob”) was getting ready to leave. Rob had racked up his chips and was about to punch the time clock (cash out). One more hand. Rob attacked, like Ralph, with a raise. I defended, like Sam. The flop came out full house for me. Rob didn’t see the trap I laid, and it cost him dearly. That’s how we play the game.

I both like and respect Rob. Sometimes he wins and sometimes he loses, but he never takes the losses personally, never directs any anger at the other wolves or sheepdogs. Before Rob left, I met him at the door to acknowledge the brutality of that last hand and wish him happy holidays. He’ll bounce back. He always does.

I was reminded of Ralph and Sam again last night. For purposes of this blog, I’ll refer to the on-the-clock villain / off-the-clock friend as “Jayson.”

Earlier in the night there was a large pot, with one player all-in and Jayson and myself in a side pot.  I had AA, and put Jayson all-in on the flop.  He looked anguished, muttering something in Japanese or Arabic that sounded like “Suqma-deek.” He showed JJ as he folded. Because a 3rd player was already all-in, I still had to show my cards and watched the dealer deliver a Jack on the turn (probably from Acme Corporation). Lots of “oohs” and gasps from around the table.

Then the river card – an Ace! “Oooh! Wow!” How many Looney Tunes cartoons times do we have to watch to understand Sam Sheepdog always has it?

After announcing that I was leaving at a certain time, we reached what would be my last hand of the night. Once again Jayson and I morphed into Ralph and Sam. I made a nut flush on the river. Jayson bet, I raised all-in, and this time he smartly laid down his top pair / top kicker.

Tomorrow we’ll be friends again. Except when we aren’t. On the clock. Off the clock. Socializing near the meadow, transformed into wolf and sheepdog and back, over and over and over again.

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