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What it’s Like to Play Scuba Poker

Underwater, what's the hand signal for all-in?
By Zanny Steffgen | Updated On February 19, 2023
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What it’s Like to Play Scuba Poker

Playing scuba poker underwater

Even in the midst of snow, this group gathers each year to play scuba poker for a good cause!

Zanny Steffgen

Despite the fact that it’s a cold November day in the mountains of Colorado and I’m standing in an indoor swimming pool the size of my living room, it somehow feels natural to wear a wetsuit and BCD. One of the dive shop workers throws a mesh bag full of poker chips in my direction. “Good catch!” he says.

See also: Where to Go Scuba Diving in Colorado

Of the four of us diving today, only three are certified—the fourth is a member of the air force who plays in this Veteran’s Day poker tournament every year. The proceeds go to a charity that handles veteran benefits so, aside from the tournament winner, none of us will win anything but the chance to be underwater while there’s snow on the ground. It was that chance—plus the fact that my husband and I are both avid divers and poker players who’d never before had the chance to combine these hobbies—that drew us to the tournament in the first place.

Soon we deflate our BCDs and head to the bottom of the swimming pool where our poker table awaits. It’s a normal round plastic table—one that wouldn’t look out of place in someone’s garden—just that cords wrap around the legs and connect to a heavy pile of weights on the swimming pool floor.

Our seats are overturned plastic buckets wrapped in weight belts. There are colorful plastic dishes nailed on top of the table, and poker chips in order of value are glued to the center as a guide. Next to these chips, a pack of regular playing cards sits under a weight.

Weighted poker table and buckets for chairs

When you play poker underwater, everything has to be weighed down!

Zanny Steffgen

Normally, as I descend into the blue I feel like a mermaid released into her natural habitat. But here I feel awkward and clumsy as I attempt to mimic normal movements to walk to my seat and sit down. With a weight belt on my lap some of the discomfort disappears—until I need to take the chips out of my bag and sort them. Each neatly arranged tower of poker chips collapses if I move the water around them too much, and the cards in the center float around as one of my opponents starts shuffling.

At least my poker instincts kick in enough for me to fold a bad hand right off the bat, so I have some time to get adjusted. After one less-than-graceful hand as dealer, I get the hang of it and soon win a large pot from my husband with a two-pair queen and king.

We keep playing, pointing to determine the winner of each hand, rapping the table in slow motion to check, and gesturing “all in” by pushing our hands towards the center of the table.

Out of habit I check my air level every once in a while, but I have barely used half of a tank when the bell rings to signal the last hand after a 50-minute game. At the surface, my own smile is mirrored in my husband’s face as we hand over our chips to be counted. Neither one of us makes it to the final table, but we drive home satisfied, excitedly replaying the action hand-by-hand.

The author gives an okay!

Zanny gives the "okay" signal. Ready to play poker!

Zanny Steffgen

If you’re thinking of setting up an underwater game, make sure to have enough weights on hand for the table, chairs, players, and cards. Most plastic poker cards are waterproof, but it may be worth it to double check and invest in some that are especially heavy.

It’s a good idea to establish rules and hand signals before starting—at the tournament I played in, we passed around one card with tournament rules and another that outlined chip values so we were all on the same page before getting in the water. There was a reminder of the chip values on the table as well in case of any confusion. Although we didn’t discuss poker-specific hand signals, I wish we had!