PENINSULA - A cell phone rang Friday night, barely noticeable amidst the groans, cheers and laughs and shakes of plastic dice. The phone was Kim Cutting's, and the poor soul on the other end was quickly greeted with, "I'm playing Bunco! What?!"

For one boisterous group of Peninsula ladies, Bunco is a monthly chance to bask in victory and laugh hysterically from outrageous defeat. The competition is friendly, but the real purpose lies within the camaraderie. The group provides top-notch support through bad times and acts as great cheerleaders for life's milestones. And if all else fails, most of them probably have a new joke to share.

While it is rumored that there are 10 or more Bunco groups on the Peninsula, this particular Bunco group began in 1995. Of the 12 original members, most were employees of Ocean Beach Hospital. Over the years, ladies have gone their separate ways, leaving four original members these days - Betty Miller, Jeannine Allen, Veronica Frink and Fern Long. In addition to Cutting, others include Birdie Etchison, Gwen Wagner, Linda Smith, Sherry Hash, Sandy Thissell and Laurine Newberg.

While every club conducts their games differently, here is a brief description of how one Bunco group plays the game.

The game consists of 12 people sitting at three tables - table one (the head table), table two and table three. Initial table placement can be determined by drawing numbers from a hat. People who sit across the table from one another are a team - two teams to each table. The head table is in charge of ringing the bell to start each round, as well as ringing the bell at the end of the round when their table reaches 21 points. Tables two and three may reach any amount of points, but the game is over when one of the head table's teams reaches 21.

With 12 full-time members, typically a game is held once a month at a player's house, giving each person a chance to host during the year. In addition to full-timers, there's a substitute list for when someone can't make it to the game.

Played with three standard dice per table, they play 24 rounds to each Bunco game. When the head table rings the bell, players take turns rolling the three dice together. In the first round, they keep a tally of how many ones each team rolls - for every ace rolled, the team receives a point. If a player receives three aces in a single roll, they get a Bunco, which is worth 21 points. [This is typically announced by flailing one's arms and shrieking, "Bunco!" She then receives possession of the oversized, stuffed pink die until someone else gets a Bunco.] Three of any other number is worth five points. A player may throw the dice for as long as they continue to score.

When a team at the head table reaches 21 points, the bell rings and the round is over. Teams compare their scores and the winning team at table three gets to move up to table two; the losing team stays. The winners at table two move to the head table; the losing team stays put. The winning team from the head table stay put, while the losers are sent to table three. At the end of each round, the pair remaining at the table will move to sit side by side so that they no longer play on the same team.

The rounds continue in sets of one through six. The rules remain the same as above, but in the second round they will be counting twos, threes in third round, fours in the fourth round, and so on. When the sixth round is over, they start again at one. Some rounds will last as long as five minutes or so, some rounds are over in less than a minute - it all depends on how the dice roll. No matter how quick the round, each player has to have at least one turn before the round's winners are officially determined.

Each person keeps tracks of their wins, losses and Buncos on a scorecard, which are tallied at the end of the night. Typically there are prizes for most wins, most Buncos, a "booby prize" for the most losses, and a prize for the person who rolled the last Bunco of the evening.

If there is a tie for any of the four prize categories, a "roll off" is held. For example, if two people have four Buncos, each of them has one chance to roll the three dice. The person whose roll has the highest face value receives the prize. For example, a player who rolls a six, a four, and a three (13 points total) beats a person who rolls a one, a five and a two (8 points total).

While the rules seem a bit confusing at first, new players tend to catch onto the game pretty quickly - and often win. Not an experienced game player? No need to worry - Bunco is a complete game of luck. How much skill can there be to rolling dice ... right?

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