Chapter 24 (round 10-4)

Copyright ©Hans Olsson

Chapter 24

 

I stand my ground but it's effete.

 

 

 

Ashbury Heights – Smaller

 

 

 

"Their hearts are beating like quivering drums. Very few of them ever admit to why they're here. I'm not interested either, and don't ask. We all have our own agendas. Without vision, we stagnate and die like leaves drying in the breeze.

 

"We live in exciting times and I hope we take two steps forward, without stepping backwards again like society usually does. The generation growing up now can carry on, or they can rot in old ruts. Take the opportunity you've been offered. Everybody can win. But only a few can become legends."

 

 

 

Peter was sitting amongst the best of the best. Or amongst the luckiest of the lucky. There was hardly any difference. Their croupier was called Edgar and his distinct feature was a thin moustache and icy-cold, penetrating grey eyes. He dealt their first hand and Peter looked down at 10♥4♦.

 

"I'll fold."

 

"You're here again. For your second time," Ryo stated, nodding at Korhart. "Why?"

 

Korhart didn't answer. Peter wasn't sure if he'd heard the question or not. Instead, everyone concentrated on their cards. Ryo, Dana and Carmilla joined.

 

"Bet 240,000," Carmilla said, deciding the pace at the table.

 

"Call," both the others replied.

 

Edgar turned over the flop, J♣5♥5♦.

 

"OK. Who is it with the full house?" Ryo wondered. "I'll bet 400,000 in any case."

 

"You can keep it," Dana said, tossing his cards.

 

"Call," Carmilla said in a monotonous voice. Peter was fascinated by her icy eyes that appeared to burn the others around the table like cool acid. He had no desire to go heads-up against her. Ryo was even more fascinating. He looked like he'd just woken up and taken his first coffee of the day. He appeared to be frighteningly strong and unaffected. He was the total opposite of how drained, tired and exhausted Peter felt.

 

Edgar dealt the turn, 8♦.

 

"Check," Ryo said quickly.

 

Carmilla pondered for a moment. "Bet 760,000," she said.

 

"All-in," Ryo responded immediately. Carmillas gaze became completely dark.

 

"Call," she said after waiting a couple of minutes, having carefully examined her stack.

 

"Are you really ready?" Ryo asked, and turned up his cards: J♥J♠.

 

Carmilla said nothing. She revealed her 5♣K♥.

 

"Not bad," Ryo whistled. "Or what do you say, Carmilla?"

 

No reply. And Edgar turned up the last card without any mercy: 7♥.

 

On the table lay J♣5♥5♦8♦7♥.

 

No help for Carmilla and just like that, she was out of the tournament. She stood up and the guards came at once, leading her to the stage. Something was different this time. Apart from the ones around the table and the guard escorting Carmilla to her death, it was completely deserted in the hall. It had never been so apparent that the path in the tournament only led straight ahead; Peter was stricken by fear. Safety was close now. So close. But so far from his reach.

 

"Who was she?" Ryo wondered, shrugging. "She wasn't so lucky."

 

As the gun shot fired, it echoed louder than ever in Peter's ears.

 

Ryo was now leading when it came to chips around the table, and together with Korhart and Sirielda bet 240,000 to get to see the next flop.

 

Peter quickly discarded his hand, 9♣2♥.

 

The atmosphere at the table rapidly shifted when Korhart had placed his chips. There was an awkward and tense silence.

 

"Check," Sirielda said.

 

"Check," Ryo agreed.

 

"Bet," was the toneless and ominous response from Korhart. "500,000."

 

His face revealed absolutely nothing. Not a single movement, and no expression. His black sunglasses glared ominously.

 

"Call," Sirielda said after a long wait. "I don't think you have anything better than I do."

 

"I'll fold," Ryo said, leaning back so suddenly that the chair nearly toppled over. "I'll come and get you Korhart. Soon."

 

Edgar revealed the turn, A♠.

 

"Bet 800,000." Korhart tossed the chips in like a robot over the line.

 

Sirielda pondered for quite some time before finally making up her mind. "I'll fold. What do you have?"

 

Korhart's head didn't move the slightest. It was an interesting hand, Peter thought. Korhart's mere presence at the table demanded respect, and if he was so much as in and sniffed at a pot then it would be dangerous for the others to join. You had to be either really one hundred percent sure of winning or be ludicrously lucky. If you flopped the nuts a couple of times in a row then, sure, it could work.

 

For the next half hour, Peter kept himself in the background for several hands since he considered what he was dealt to be rubbish. The speakers soon sounded again. This time, the sound echoed in a strange, ghostly fashion around the empty room.

 

"It's now midnight and the blinds are going up to level twenty-nine, 50,000-100,000 with an ante of 10,000. King's Hope wishes you good luck."

 

Meanwhile, chips were changing owners and Korhart took a lot from both Sirielda and Ryo. Before too long, Sirielda was all-in against Dana and she lost with a pair of queens against a low straight. Her face was completely vacant as the three guards joined up behind her. The gun shot sounded a few seconds later, and the thud as her body hit the floor was so close this time to their table that Peter felt vibrations from the impact. Or at least he imagined he did. Both Sirielda and Carmilla had played well in his judgement. It hadn't helped them.

 

There followed a couple more hands in which Peter bled chips before he was finally dealt good cards. He had about 3,000,000 left and he peered down at A♣K♠. He knew he'd probably be forced to go some distance with that hand.

 

The dealer button was in front of him, and Dana and Korhart had the blinds.

 

"I'll raise to 300,000," Ryo said; he was under the gun.

 

"Call," Peter said, suddenly unsure how he wanted to play the hand.

 

"Call," Dana chipped in after a certain hesitation.

 

Korhart discarded his hand straight away. His black glasses were directed at Peter and for a brief moment, Peter was absolutely certain that Korhart could read his every thought.

 

Edgar turned over the flop, Q♣Q♥A♦.

 

Two pairs. The queens were scary. If any of the others were sitting with three of a kind, or even four of a kind …

 

"Check," Dana said, then he coughed. "You know, don’t you think the atmosphere around the table is a bit dull? Two have left before we've even introduced ourselves."

 

"Sure," Ryo laughed. "Is there anyone who knew the girls? I didn't. I'm from Shimodo in Japan and I'm here to win. It's the ultimate challenge. Cold play is rewarded, and you don't get any second chances."

 

"Nice," Dana continued, nodding encouragingly. "I worked for a long time as a businessman and investor but realised somewhere along the way that it was never exciting enough. This is the fourth year I've applied for the tournament and finally I was accepted. As an investor, I place money in new companies. Some of them go well, some not so well, but there's always something that goes well enough so I can continue to invest. Money has not meant that much to me for a very long time. On the other hand, here you risk literally everything. It's a completely different feeling, isn't it? How about you?" he asked, pointing at Peter.

 

"I'm here for The Book …" he began, but he didn't know how to continue without having to explain himself. "And the prize money, of course," he said evasively. "And I made a royal straight flush," he added to change the subject. "I've never had one of those."

 

"Was it really you that got that?" Ryo asked. "I've heard about it. You didn't win anything with it, did you?"

 

"No, not very much."

 

"Shame. Really. How about you?" Ryo wondered, looking encouragingly at Korhart. "Why are you here again?"

 

Korhart said nothing.

 

"Check," Ryo said and shrugged as Edgar gave him a time warning.

 

Peter stared at the cards on the table. He had good cards in his hand.

 

"Bet 500,000," he said. His stomach turned at once. Strange, he'd been sure that he'd accepted the rules of the game by this stage. The survival instinct is very strong.

 

"I'll fold," Dana said after some time. Dana had relatively few chips left.

 

"Take this one," Ryo said, placing his arm up on the back of the chair and nonchalantly tossing his cards over the line. "I'll wait for better cards."

 

Peter sank back in his seat and allowed his aching neck to relax.

 

"Congratulations," Dana said, nodding slightly at Peter.

 

"Thanks," Peter replied. "It's sweaty every time."

 

"Ha, isn't it!"

 

What was most frightening about the previous hand was how Korhart had played. He'd pulled out at once, just as if he'd really read the other players' minds.

 

In the following hands, Dana took it easy and it was probably then that Peter seriously realised that he was at the last Table. The Final table. With a capital F. Together with the last players. The players around the Final Table played professional poker. They didn't hesitate to go all-in when needed, something that Peter had already seen. It was also incredibly hard to bluff. Peter tried to raise with the amount of the big blind on one occasion, but Korhart was there at once, raised and forced Peter to reconsider his move. He'd folded.

 

It was also apparent that Korhart ran the table. Soon, Dana was down to 4,000,000 and he was starting to look dejected.

 

"The cards aren't with me for this final battle," he said. It was also Korhart who knocked him out a short while later. Dana went all-in and Korhart called. When the river came up, Korhart had made a straight and Dana had two pairs.

 

"That's as far as I get," Dana sighed. "I wish you all good luck, but especially good luck to you, Korhart. I think you'll make it again this year. You'll soon be famous, for real."

 

Korhart's facial expression didn't alter one bit, but he nodded at Dana.

 

That gun shot was the loudest so far, and Peter's eardrums were vibrating for a long time after it had gone off.

 

"What a nutter," Ryo exclaimed. "You won't have good luck. You're going to lose all your chips."

 

Korhart gave no sign that he'd heard.

 

"Are you a machine, or something?" Ryo asked, leaning forwards to look.

 

The dealer button was in front of Peter and Edgar dealt a new hand. Peter looked down at 5♣3♥ and folded.

 

Meanwhile, Ryo and Korhart were circling around each other like wild animals, both looking for an opening to attack the other's throat. They both placed in 1,500,000 pre-flop and when the flop came, Korhart pulled out at once when Ryo bet 3,000,000. Peter didn't have any clue what cards they had, but he had the feeling anyhow that Korhart knew precisely what he and Ryo had. It was particularly apparent a few hands later, when Peter once more sat with the dealer button in front of him.

 

"No thanks," Peter said, discarding 4♦9♥.

 

"Bet 300,000," Korhart said.

 

"Raise to 600,000," Ryo said quickly.

 

"Call," Korhart replied, seeming cool.

 

The flop was 3♣6♣10♦.

 

"Check," Korhart said.

 

"Bet 700,000," Ryo replied, pushing in a large stack over the line.

 

"Call," Korhart said once more.

 

Peter carefully studied their faces and how they bet. He thought that Korhart had made a hit on the flop. Maybe one of the lower pairs. The question was, what did Ryo have? Probably also a hit, or the chance of a flush.

 

Turn was 7♥.

 

Did that help any of the them?

 

"Check," Korhart said, more mechanically than ever.

 

"Bet 1,400,000," Ryo said.

 

This time, Korhart hesitated. His black shades appeared to almost flash as he thought. "Call," he said after a couple of minutes.

 

The river was 5♣.

 

On the table, there now lay 3♣6♣10♦7♥5♣.

 

There was the chance of a flush for one of the them. Perhaps Ryo was sitting with a flush?

 

"Check," Korhart said.

 

"Bet 2,700,000," Ryo said, after having toyed with his chips for a moment.

 

Korhart didn't say a word, but he studied his opponent for a long while. And Peter understood why. There was something about Ryo's tactics that didn't make sense. If Ryo had been sitting with two kings, it would have been more likely that he'd checked back on the river. The fact that Ryo placed a bet got Peter's gut feeling reacting, despite him not being involved in the pot. He could of course have a flush, but what Ryo was trying to pretend he had in his hand didn't make sense with his actions.

 

"You don't have a flush," Korhart said all of a sudden. "Call."

 

Ryo turned up Q♥8♦.

 

Korhart calmly revealed his 9♠10♣.

 

Korhart won with a pair of tens and thereby frighteningly proved that he knew what his opponents were up to.

 

During the next half hour, Peter managed to increase the size of his pile of chips. Above all, he managed to win a number of pots after the flop when the others didn't seem to be keen to continue. The dealer button was wandering around, keeping pace with the clock on the wall, and there was a compact silence around the table. They'd soon been sitting there for an hour and the speakers burst to life again.

 

"It's now 1 am. The blinds are going up to level thirty, 60,000-120,000 with an ante of 15,000. King's Hope wishes you good luck."

 

The voice disappeared, and Peter shook his head lightly. Cid Andrew's tone of voice made it sound like they'd be sitting there a lot longer. But he didn't think so.

 

Peter was soon afterwards dealt cards he could bet on, Q♣9♣.

 

He had the big blind at the time, and Korhart was first to act since he had the dealer button.

 

"Bet 360,000," he said tonelessly.

 

"Call," Peter rapidly said.

 

"Call," Ryo agreed.

 

Edgar turned up the flop: 4♣2♣A♠.

 

It was potentially a really good hand, the flush was within reach.

 

"Check," he decided upon. How would the others play?

 

"Bet 550,000," Ryo said, and did something with his hands that Peter had never seen before. With his left thumb, he pushed at the uppermost chip on his stack up into the air. His right thumb was waiting, resting beneath his forefinger as if it were the hammer of a gun and he hit the chip in a volley that sent it out on the table. He did that with about ten chips which all landed inside the ring, span and then landed in place. When the stack was too low, he counted out the remainder by hand. He leaned back, placed his right arm over the arm rest and raised one eyebrow at Peter.

 

"Pew, pew," he said, making shooting sounds and pointing with one hand like a gun.

 

"Raise to 1,100,000," Korhart said expressionlessly, picking up a pile which he placed down inside the line. Ryo's trick was cooler, but the mechanical and precise motions that Korhart made were scary.

 

Peter stared suspiciously at the pile on the table. It equalled a large part of his total stack. What could they have? Maybe higher flush draws. Or an ace in the hand. His own cards were good, but Korhart's raise made him think twice. Korhart, quite simply, had the perfect poker face. He wished he could see the man's eyes, but the dark glasses revealed nothing.

 

"I'll fold," he muttered in the end, tossing in his cards.

 

Ryo cocked his head and studied Korhart. "I don't think you have anything special. Call."

 

Edgar dealt the turn, 5♦.

 

"Check," Ryo said, quizzically raising one eyebrow and waiting for Korhart.

 

"Bet 1,700,000," he said in his robot voice.

 

"You have nothing, not with those cards," Ryo said, pointing. "Call."

 

The river was 10♦.

 

"Check," Ryo muttered.

 

"Bet 3,800,000," Korhart said.

 

Peter thought it was a tricky bet, but then he realised that Ryo was too far into the pot. If he lost that hand, he'd be short-stacked at the table.

 

"Let's see now," Ryo exclaimed, moving forward in his seat. "Call!"

 

Peter held his breath as Edgar signalled to them to reveal their hands.

 

On the table lay 4♣2♣A♠5♦10♦.

 

Ryo turned over A♣5♠. Two pairs.

 

Korhart turned up 3♥6♥. He'd made the straight.

 

"Oh!" Ryo exclaimed, sinking back in his chair in disappointment. "Well played. But you're lucky with it. You aren't as frightening as you were a few years ago."

 

Korhart didn't reply, he merely collected his winnings. His mountain was now starting to take on unclimbable proportions.

 

Korhart had known he had the straight since the turn. Peter believed that he'd bet small to keep Ryo in the pot. Korhart seemed to be impossible to beat.

 

The atmosphere at the table became more intense after that hand. Ryo became surly and mumbled inaudibly between the hands. Korhart remained silent and Peter was too tired and terrified to say anything. Chips changed owners as they all discarded a number of hands without betting. Peter managed to win 3,000,000 from Korhart on one hand, meaning he surpassed Ryo in chips.

 

Two hands later, Ryo went all-in when he had the dealer button. Ryo wasn't a bad player, quite the contrary. He almost certainly had good cards. Peter was next to act and he glanced, tired, at his cards. 3♣8♦. No.

 

"I'll fold."

 

Korhart had already made up his mind.

 

"Call," he said calmly, and turned his cards up straight away, 10♥10♦.

 

Ryo swore silently in Japanese and then revealed his hand: K♣A♣.

 

Edgar turned over the flop, 7♣4♣8♠.

 

"That's good, keep coming with the clubs," Ryo hissed.

 

The turn was 10♠.

 

If Ryo was eliminated now then Peter would be alone against Korhart. Alone in the world against the man he feared the most. More than the guards, more than the stage.

 

"Come on, more clubs!" Ryo shouted, agitated.

 

Edgar burned the last card and turned over the river: 2♥.

 

"Damn," Ryo said. "I have to admit it's impressive, you coming here again Korhart. It's an honour to lose to you. Good luck," he said and stood up. But before the guards placed their hands on his shoulders he reached out, picked up a fistful of chips and shot them over the table with his thumb. His fingers were so fast that Peter could hardly see them moving. The chips landed on the table, span around and landed flat in the pattern of a star.

 

"I'm the third star. See you!" Ryo raised two fingers to his temple and then followed the guards to the stage. The gun shot and thud were impossible to ignore since blood splashed out as far as their table. When the echoes had died away, Peter looked up and looked straight into Korhart's ice-cold, pitch black shades. He looked at his chips. His own pile was tiny in comparison with Korhart's, and Edgar was already in the middle of dealing the next hand.

 

Peter now had about 20,000,000 in chips. Korhart had 49,000,000.

 

"Right then," Peter muttered. "Good luck."

 

"Good luck," Korhart replied and for the first time, Peter was sure he saw the man smile. It was a crooked smile, but there was also an expression of amusement that gave Peter the creeps.

 

"I'm folding," Korhart said. He had the small blind.

 

Peter didn't even look at his cards before tossing them over the line.

 

It was a small, small step in the right direction. Towards living. Peter had no great expectations by this stage. He'd watched Korhart play and he knew the man had pretty much X-ray vision. Mostly, he was grateful and pleased that it would soon be over. Then he'd be able to rest, regardless who left the table as the victor.

 

"Why did you come, really?" Peter asked, without counting on getting any answers. Korhart surprised him.

 

"Everybody wants to know how I do it. There are two simple rules. First, make bets so the others crap themselves, and then never let go.

 

"The second is to identify the ones who want to live. If they have good hands, they'll bet about half their chips, and then you go all-in. Those that want to survive fight back. Hard. And all they can do is to throw their cards and wait for the next hand that might be better. And there you are, with loads of chips. Simple.

 

"I'll tell you why I'm taking part again. I'm already world famous, sure. I've got loads of money, sure. What am I going to do with it? What does winning here mean, really? You get a short moment in the limelight, then you're forgotten despite all the perks. I even built a palace, shipped large parts of it from one end of the world to the other. It stands there, on a piece of ground I bought. I entered the tournament again because I wanted to do what no one else has ever done. I'm going to become a legend, not just a meagre one-hit wonder. It looks like I'm succeeding," he added and patted his mound of chips as if stroking a dog.

 

Peter nodded. Yes, Korhart had overwhelming odds of succeeding, they were both aware of that.

 

Edgar picked up the cards, shuffled and dealt a new hand. This time Peter was given good cards once more, or at least sufficiently good to bet a little on heads-up: 10♥Q♠.

 

"Bet 360,000," he decided upon, since he had the small blind.

 

"Call," Korhart said calmly.

 

Edgar turned up the flop, 5♦10♦A♠.

 

He had the middle pair, but he didn't like the ace.

 

"Bet 10,000,000," Korhart said.

 

It was a ridiculously large raise. He couldn't really afford to discard hands that were as good as this one in a heads-up situation, but considering what he'd seen of Korhart's playing he didn't fancy his chances of being forced all-in this early.

 

"I'll fold."

 

Korhart laid his head to one side questioningly but said nothing. Edgar picked up their cards mechanically, shuffled and dealt the next hand. Peter wondered how many hands he'd played. According to statistics, the average was about six hundred played hands until the final table. After that it could vary considerably, and this year's final table had gone very quickly. In previous years, players had sat through hundreds of hands and the record stood at nine hundred and thirty-nine.

 

The dealer button was now in front of Korhart.

 

"Bet 360,000," he said.

 

Peter sighed to himself and peered down at 4♣3♦. He had the big blind so he called.

 

Edgard dealt the flop, 6♦8♦8♠.

 

"Check," Peter said.

 

"Check," Korhart agreed almost at once.

 

The turn was 3♠ and Peter had made a pair. He didn't like it when Korhart played so passively either. There was something lurking that he couldn't see.

 

"Bet 400,000."

 

"I'm folding," Korhart replied rapidly.

 

Peter wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers and picked up the small pile he'd won.

 

A few hands passed by where they merely exchanged chips until Edgar dealt him good cards once more, K♣K♦.

 

Korhart had the dealer button and was first to act before the flop. Different scenarios flashed by inside Peter's head. This was one of those hands where he'd either win or vanish. How should he play it? Especially considering that the game had been an anti-climax of slowness so far.

 

"Bet 360,000," Korhart replied calmly.

 

"Call," Peter responded, hoping that Korhart had rubbish cards.

 

The flop was 4♣Q♥10♦.

 

"Bet 380,000," Peter quickly said. He wanted Korhart to remain in the hand.

 

"I think you have a high pair," Korhart guessed. "Pair of kings, or queens. Interesting. Raise to 760,000."

 

He ought to have the best hand, and this was a brilliant opportunity to earn some chips. Despite that, his stomach was twisting. "Call," he said.

 

The turn was 7♦.

 

It was a messy hand. Although Korhart's couldn't have been made any better. Could it? Peter stared at his chips. Compared with Korhart's large pile it wasn't that much. And he had a pair of kings. At King's Hope, you always ended up pinning your hopes on the fucking kings.

 

"Bet 1,200,000."

 

"I reckon you've got a pair of kings," Korhart said calmly. "Fold."

 

Peter had an uneasy feeling and that didn't improve when Korhart showed his cards: 3♣J♦.

 

Peter stared at them. They weren't good cards and Korhart's hand was already dead. Why on earth had he raised? He discarded his and showed Korhart one of his kings. Korhart nodded in satisfaction. A slight grin was playing on his lips.

 

"Congratulations. Good guess, wasn't it? One king at least. I was right."

 

Peter nodded. Sure, nice guesswork. Spot on, even. Frightening like a lethal X-ray.

 

A few more hands passed during which they exchanged chips between them. His feeling of unease for his opponent grew stronger and was making him squirm; he wasn't playing at all like he did earlier when Ryo, Dana, Sirielda and Carmilla had been at the table. He now discarded very many hands. Twice, one of his cards had turned over as he tossed them in on the table. The first time it happened, Peter saw a queen. On the second occasion it was an ace. Korhart didn't make mistakes like that, he knew that. Korhart handled his chips with a precision that Ryo would have a hard time beating. That meant there was only one alternative, and that was that Korhart was toying with him. Why?

 

The next hand he wanted to play was dealt soon afterwards, he was looking at A♦4♦. Peter had the small blind and was first to act pre-flop.

 

"Bet 360,000."

 

"Call," Korhart replied.

 

Edgar turned over the flop: 3♥7♥J♦.

 

"Bet 400,000," Korhart said without any delay.

 

Those cards were no good for his hand, but he didn't think they were any good for Korhart either. He had an ace in his hand and also a potential flush draw.

 

"Call," Peter decided upon.

 

The turn was 4♣.

 

"Check," Korhart said straight away.

 

"Bet 800,000", he decided. A small bet to glean more information.

 

"I'll fold," Korhart said and tossed his cards. "I think you made a hit on the turn," he said apologetically and smiled.

 

Peter collected his chips and glanced at Korhart. The man was definitely toying with him. The scarier question was, how did he dare to?

 

They exchanged blinds for a few more hand before Peter was dealt cards he could entertain the idea of betting his life on: 6♥6♦.

 

This time, Peter had the big blind and Korhart was first to act pre-flop.

 

"Bet 360,000," Korhart said.

 

"Raise to 750,000."

 

"Call."

 

The flop was 6♣A♥4♣.

 

Peter considered his options. He had a good hand, extremely good. What could Korhart have at this stage? A pair of aces? This was a good opportunity to set the thumb screws on him, since he was certain that he was in the lead.

 

"Bet 800,000," he said, trying to hide the fact that his hands were shaking.

 

"Raise to 1,600,000," Korhart said, completely calm, and pushed a large pile in over the line.

 

Peter hesitated. Did Korhart have an ace? Was his strategy to play so strangely and make Peter miss a situation like this, where he could end up falling in a trap? Although he had a three of a kind. He couldn't just throw it away.

 

"Raise to 3,200,000," he said, hoping his voice didn't crack. It didn't.

 

"Call," Korhart said, giving Peter a smile that was very difficult to interpret.

 

Even though Peter was certain he had the better hand, it felt like Korhart was leading him into a trap, but he couldn't see what it could be and that worried him. Was Korhart's strategy to stress him to death so that he didn't have to bother playing him out? It wouldn't be the first time someone had stumbled at the finishing line in that manner. Something was definitely awry, and he had no idea what. That thought was wearing him down more than anything else.

 

Edgar revealed the turn, 8♥, completely unconcerned.

 

An eight. That couldn't have helped Korhart. Or did it? And the pot was enormous. This was the end.

 

Peter stared at his pile. Just over half of it was left. He was still convinced that he had the better hand, but how much would Korhart be willing to be on it? Would he be able to double up again?

 

"Bet 7,600,000," he said, really pushing the boat out.

 

"Call," Korhart replied quickly.

 

The river was 2♦.

 

On the table lay 6♣A♥4♣8♥2♦.

 

It just couldn't make any difference. Peter stared at the gigantic pot and at his own stack.

 

"All-in."

 

"I'll fold," Korhart said.

 

He then leaned back and sighed, as if pleased. "Now we're just about equal in chips. Interesting."

 

"Right," Peter mumbled as his stomach turned a somersault. He tried to estimate how many chips they both had. He had about 32,000,000. Korhart had slightly more, about 37,000,000. The difference wasn't so great.

 

A few hands later, Korhart suddenly leaned over the table, directed his black laser glasses at Peter and stared for a long time before he leant back again. Peter felt as if he was being appraised like a piece of meat.

 

Edgar dealt them new cards and Peter turned up the corners of his: J♦J♥.

 

That was a monster in a heads-up situation. Korhart had the big blind and Peter was first to act.

 

"Bet 360,000," he said. He felt the sweat break out over his nose. These were cards he could win with, survive with, if Korhart continued with his strange style of play. It was for real, now.

 

"Exactly how many chips do you have there?" Korhart wondered, pointing a Peter's pile.

 

Peter began to count.

 

"Exactly 33,362,000," he said when he lifted his eyes from his pile.

 

"Interesting. Bet 33,361,000," Korhart said, and with a frightening precision he counted out the exact amount which he then placed on the other side of the line.

 

Peter's mouth fell open in astonishment. What was he doing? If Peter carried on with the hand, he'd go all-in, there was no other alternative. Save 1,000 in chips now? Hardly. With the cards he had, there wasn't much else to be done. Or was Korhart so sure of winning with the cards he had in his hand? It was time for all-in. Now it would be decided. He made up his mind.

 

"All-in," he said, pushing the remainder of his chips over the line. He hardly dared to look at Korhart, but he forced himself to keep a straight face and meet his gaze.

 

Korhart smiled, picked up his cards and looked at them. He shuffled them as if they were a deck, and then froze.

 

"You wondered why I'm here again?"

 

Peter nodded.

 

"I'll tell you. I'm going to do what nobody has ever done before. I'm going to become a legend. To become a legend, it's just not enough to win a couple of times. Any sufficiently skilled player could do that. Do you know what happens when you win the tournament?"

 

"No?"

 

"You get everything you ever dreamed of. So much money, you can't spend it all. You can do things that were only ever wildest dreams. Whatever you want, the palace for example. Have I grown tired of that life? No, not exactly, but there's something I want that money can't buy. To become a legend, you have to be greater than all that. To be a legend, you have to do the impossible.

 

"One man can change the world, but as things are outside right now, it's almost impossible. Very few want things to change. In one way, winning the tournament is pointless. When your year in the spotlight is over, companies stop sponsoring your name and start advertising the next winner. Then you just sit there. Full up and rich, certainly, but fading into nothingness. To really affect the world and make your voice heard, you need to be seen for more than just a year. That's why I took part again," Korhart declared.

 

"Like a poker hand," Peter pondered out loud. "You have to play the cards that you're dealt. What else can you do?"

 

"Precisely. What else can you do," Korhart stated, and slowly raised his cards in front of his face.

 

"I'm folding," he said, as he turned over his cards and let them fall on the table. He had K♥K♠.

 

Peter was completely flabbergasted, unable to understand. But Edgar showed him the palm of his hand, signifying that he'd won the hand.

 

"But …" he tried to say. The words got stuck in his throat.

 

"Yes."

 

"I have a pair of knights. You might have won with those cards."

 

"Yes, I possibly could have," Korhart agreed.

 

Meanwhile, Edgar had dealt them new cards. Korhart now had a few meagre, insignificant chips in front of him.

 

"All-in," Korhart said, without even looking at his cards.

 

Peter looked at his, 5♣J♦.

 

"Call," he said. There was not much else he could do. Korhart would have to win an improbable number of all-ins in a row to stand even a chance of making a comeback.

 

They turned up their hands. This time, Korhart had 3♥8♦.

 

Edgar turned up the flop: K♣7♥9♥.

 

Then turn: 9♣.

 

And finally, the river: 4♦.

 

On the table lay K♣7♥9♥9♣4♦.

 

M. "The Reactor" Korhart stood up.

 

"Congratulations," he said. "Good luck with the prize money." Then he turned and walked, holding his head high, up onto the stage. For a short moment, Korhart stood there with a small grin on his lips, his back completely straight, staring challengingly into the face of the world. Although he was standing up there, he'd got what he'd come for. He was a winner. A guard placed his gun behind the back of his head, and in the same second the shot was fired, a new signal came from the speakers. From the elevators, an orchestra welled out in a double row, all the way from the elevators up to the Final Table. A conductor beat in trumpets and drums. At the far end of the corridor of people, a man in a suit approached. He had short-clipped white hair, an androgynous face and a well-trimmed goatee. Cid "The Boss" Andrew, the founder of King's Hope, was drawing close. He walked up to Peter with decisive steps and stopped in front of him.

 

"King's Hope Casino congratulates you on your win. You are the last contestant of the ten thousand that took part. What is the first thing you are going to do with the money?"

 

Peter stood up, unsure if this was for real. The constant buzz of drumsticks rhythmically beating lay in the background, together with flutes playing softly. He opened his mouth to respond, but then shut it again. Instead, he turned around and walked towards the stage. The human corridor followed behind him.

 

With heavy footsteps, he walked the blue march to the stage.

 

"I'll remember you, Korhart," he whispered.

 

"And the rest of you. I'll remember you all: Miguel, David, Rogan, Sarah, Tonh Then, Katrish, Erik, Hamish, Amon, Tony, Michelle, Lev, Montagu, Vivika and Simon. Marie and Lennart." He mumbled the names like a mantra. "Dibley," he added. Then: "Moa. Morrie. I'll never forget you."

 

When he stepped up onto the stage, he knelt in front of Korhart's body. He was still wearing the black shades. Peter reached out to take them off. He touched them, stroking he dark glass with his fingers.

 

"You were right," he whispered, his voice quavering. "You are a legend. Good luck to you, too." Peter pulled away his hand without removing the man's sunglasses.

 

Then he stood up, turned around and was greeted by a new world, one in which he was king of the casino. The new world began in a corridor, lined with musicians.

 

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(c) Hans Olsson