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The Poker Game


But for a North Dakotan and a lucky hand of poker, World War Two may have had a different ending. Born in Minot, and a graduate of Annapolis, Joseph Enright received command of his own submarine, the USS Dace, in 1943. With orders to patrol a busy section near the Japanese mainland, he was certain to find plenty of targets. Enright wasn't disappointed. Shortly after receiving intelligence describing the exact location, speed and course of a nearby Japanese aircraft carrier, he began working the attack. But rather than follow his own gut instinct he went "by the book" and the carrier slipped right past. Later Enright learned it was the Shokaku, one of the carriers used in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Discouraged at his failure to sink what would have been a magnificent prize, Enright made a potentially career-killing move and asked to be relieved of command of the Dace. Then several months later, Enright was informed of his mother's unexpected passing. She had been so proud when he received command of the Dace. He decided he owed it to his mother to request another chance as a submarine skipper; however slim those chances may be.

One evening, while waiting for a response, he found himself involved in a poker game with other senior officers. Among those in attendance was Captain Pace, the admiral's subordinate commanding officer on Midway. If Enright wanted another submarine command, it would have to first go through Captain Pace.

Enright was only a decent poker player, but much to his surprise, by late evening he had earned a sizable stack of money. The final round of five-card stud came down to just two players - Enright and Pace. Enright later described the game: "Captain Pace had two jacks showing and a third card facedown. I had two fives showing, but my hole card was another five. Then the fourth round was dealt, Pace drew a six; I received a two. Seemingly no help to either ... [but] I knew in my gut that he had a third jack in the hole...I badly needed a five or a two. I threw down the gauntlet, matched his $20, and raised him $40."

Enright held his breath. The dealer turned the final cards. He could hardly believe his luck; it was a two! With a full house, Enright claimed the pot.

Pace stared hard at the North Dakotan. "Joe," he said, "would you run a submarine the way you play poker?"

"Absolutely," said Enright.

"Okay, Joe," Pace answered. "I like your spirit. You can have the next available submarine."

Ten days later, Enright was assigned command of the USS Archer-Fish. Within months, Enright and his crew sank Japan's largest warship and their last hope for victory in the Pacific, the top-secret super aircraft carrier, Shinano.

A few years after his death on this date in 2000, submariners from North Dakota, including Captain Joseph F. Enright, were honored with a monument in Fargo.


Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall


Captain Joseph F. Enright, USN. Shinano!: The Sinking of Japan's Secret Supership. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.

Goldstein, Richard. "Joseph Enright, 89, Dies; Sank WWII Carrier." The New York Times Wednesday, July 26, 2000, Section B, Page 9.

Henry, Ken, and Don Keith. Gallant Lady: A Biography of the USS Archerfish. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 2004.