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Avid crib player draws once-in-a-lifetime hand

Stella Pelletier couldn’t believe what she was seeing, and neither could her group of friends at Chateau Mission Court.
2710 perfect hand rn CC
It's down to the wire now! Ray LeFrance [right] draws a card in a close game of crib. Oliver Hesse [far left] cuts the deck while Marie Jolicoeur-Hodge [centre left], and Stella Pelletier [centre right] watch in anticipation. RACHEL NARVEY/Gazette

Stella Pelletier couldn’t believe what she was seeing, and neither could her group of friends at Chateau Mission Court. 

An avid cribbage player, Pelletier and her friends — Marie Jolicoeur-Hodge, Ray LaFrance, and Oliver Hesse — get together each morning to play a few rounds. The morning of Oct. 14, Stella found herself holding a perfect hand. 

“I didn’t even notice at first,” Pelletier said. “When I did, I was shocked.”

“Right away, we started checking her pockets!” Hesse added, laughing.

A perfect crib hand is 29 points. To get this hand, a player must hold three fives and a jack that matches the suit of the “cut” card, which must also be a five. While the odds of getting a perfect hand in a two-player game are about one in 200,000, those odds decrease to around one in 650,000 with four players, like in Pelletier’s game. 

“You could almost call it a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence,” said Adam Kashlack, assistant professor of mathematical and statistical sciences at the University of Alberta. 

While the perfect crib hand garners similar odds to the royal flush in poker, Kashlack put the chance of the 29 hand into perspective another way. 

“The rare occurrence cliche is your chance of getting struck by lightning, which is about one in 500,000 every year,” Kashlack said. “So according to the Centre for Disease Control and prevention (CDC), it’s slightly more likely you’ll be struck by lightning than get a 29 hand in a single draw. Of course, you might have lots of hands, which will increase your chances.”

Pelletier, Jolicoeur-Hodge, LaFrance, and Hesse have certainly upped their chances. Meeting to play crib, rain or shine, each person sees about 20 hands each day. At that rate, Kashlack said a perfect hand would come around about once every 89 years.

This is not Pelletier’s first lucky break. The group said their only crib tournament — an activity that included the whole building — resulted in Pelletier taking home the trophy. 

“I won about $10, and of course, bragging rights,” she said. 

The public address system (PA) had just been fixed that day, making Pelletier’s win the first announcement on the updated system.

“Everybody congratulated me,” Pelletier said. 

In addition to playing crib, the residents of Chateau Mission Court also enjoy shuffleboard, darts, pigeons and crows, and playing beanbag toss. Many of the activities are organized by planner Jade Simmons, who sometimes joins Pelletier and her friends in crib games. 

“We’re all kids at heart,” Jolicoeur-Hodge said of her friend group. “There’s times when we play [crib] and Ray and I will win four or five games, or Oliver and Stella will win, or [our friend] Loretta will. We tease one another, but it’s all for fun. It keeps us on our feet."

Reunited in retirement

Two members of the crib group, Pelletier and LaFrance, have known each other for decades. Originally from St. Paul, LaFrance moved to St. Albert in 1949 and was in plumbing wholesale for 35 years. During his time working, the 91-year-old helped install water bowls for the thousand pigs on Pelletier’s farm. 

“Everything was working nicely, but [the farmers] came back one day because the pigs had eaten through the plastic pipe,” LaFrance said. "They had to haul the water by pail, and [Stella] was the water hauler.”

“I’ll tell you, out went the plastic and in went the steel!” Pelletier laughed. 

A farmer for life, Pelletier said she was still driving a combine when she was 65. Now 90, she is the lucky lady of Chateau Mission court, with both a perfect crib hand and tournament win under her belt. 

Hesse was born and raised in Rivière Qui Barre, and has been at Chateau Mission Court for about a year-and-a-half. Jolicoeur-Hodge has been there a bit longer — about two years — and moved to St. Albert from Ontario to be closer to her daughter.

“I’m glad I came here from Ontario,” Jolicoeur-Hodge said. “They’ve made me feel welcome, the staff is wonderful, and we laugh every day. A day does not go by that we don’t laugh and tell jokes.”

For Jolicoeur-Hodge, this sense of community has made feeling at home quite easy. There is never a dull moment, she said, with late-night crib games that often feel like pyjama parties. That togetherness amounts to strong bonds, and a feeling of constant support. 

“We’re really here for one another,” Jolicoeur-Hodge said. “We have each others’ backs.”

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