Chapter 11 (round 5)

Chapter 11

 

I wear my bomb near to my chest

 

Is it moving?

 

Cold, hard, no time to stop

 

And never soothing

 

 

 

Neuroticfish - The Bomb

 

 

 

“It’s the guards’ fault! They’re way too incompetent and don’t understand what I’m saying. It’s not my fault that the other players are such idiots that they don’t even know the rules of poker. I have to hold their hands and help them back on track again. How would it otherwise look when they can’t even play? They should get their own rule books when they arrive. I don’t understand why some of them are even here. I tried explaining to them, but the guards are cretins and refused to listen to me. Back in Persia, I’d never have had to put up with that. I’ve already seen how King’s Hope could be improved, it has the same issues as my company. It’s all about rules and routines.

 

"The rules, for the first thing. When you’ve been given three warnings, you’re disqualified and in that case you don’t get any money for taking part in the tournament. That’s a good thing in my opinion, people don’t cheat then. But they shouldn’t have given me a warning. The staff are stupid and incompetent. It’s not my fault they can’t get it right.

 

"The other thing is the routines. When players arrive, they must of course be registered and checked in. After that, there should always be somebody to take care of the less talented ones. They could have a pool of servants that are always available by the elevators, for example. The servants could explain the rules, fetch coffee or show them to their tables. If it was well-defined, then it would work fine. If they don’t deliver results for a week or so, then they should be fired. The contract must therefore be drafted well in advance of starting to work as guides here at King’s Hope. It’s important never to lose control, if you do, then you appear weak and then the contract should be terminated. Everything should be according to written agreements; otherwise the guidelines are not good enough.

 

"I really hope you see this, Cid, because then you’ll be able to take a much firmer hold on the tournament. Mark my words, you need to remain in control, otherwise it’s your fault when the players don’t know the rules.

 

"What was I saying? Oh yes. The Routines here are weak, and if they’re not corrected then there’ll be a lot of problems in the future. In my company, I often see problems when lazy people are given too much freedom. Many people blame missed deadlines on misunderstandings. Either that or they don’t deliver what I ordered. A good tip is to take out large fines for breach of contract, at least then you rake in a lot of money to cover their wages. I’ve earned loads of money by suing the ones that don’t deliver, but I need more to make my business succeed. I can’t keep the staff, and I don’t understand why. Things were better before, when people didn’t argue and they felt obliged to stay at the same place. Today, people have quite simply too many choices.

 

"I can’t understand why it’s going so well for other companies like mine. It’s a complete mystery and unfair, but I’m convinced that sooner or later they’re going to make mistakes and go bankrupt. You see, they don't have clear, strict routines. When I’ve won, I’m only going to employ people that do exactly what they’re told, and who deliver right from the start. Mark my words, because I know exactly how things should be.”

 

 

 

Simona had the dealer button, and Ted and Sandra sat with the blinds of 600 and 1,200. Once the cards had been dealt, Mally sneaked a peek at his cards and then discarded them. Peter cautiously looked at his own, K♠J♦. It could be worth seeing the flop with those, and besides, he’d be able to get an impression of the players at the table.

 

“Raise,” he said and pushed 3,400 into the pot.

 

“Raise again,” Franko declared and tossed 6,800 over the line. That bet was larger than most of the pots he’d seen the past few hours. At that moment, he knew that this round would be much tougher that the earlier ones. Ardo muttered under his breath and folded. Simona joined and the rest of the players folded, including Peter. Two players.

 

Play smart. Remain calm. See what happens.

 

The flop was K♣3♥10♥.

 

He would have had the top pair, but there was also the chance of a flush or a straight on the table. It was good that he’d folded, so he could see what kinds of opponents he was sitting with. Franko was first to act after the flop.

 

“Bet,” he said, and counted out 7,000. It was a standard bet, but despite that it caught Peter’s attention. Franko was broadcasting strength. Simona called.

 

The turn was 3♠.

 

Peter wished he could see their hands so he could interpret their reactions more easily. His gut feeling told him that Franko had better cards. Maybe he had a King as well, or a ten?

 

“All in,” Franko said and threw in his remaining chips. The pot was huge, about half of what Peter currently had. He could get rich at this table. Or ruined and murdered. Simona took her time and fingered at her chips. In the end, she pushed her cards over the line without showing any signs of what she was thinking. Franko revealed his cards – 5♠K♦. Two pairs with the threes on the table.

 

Peter couldn’t help but be impressed by Franko. If Peter had joined and taken Simona’s place, he would have won the hand with the higher kicker to the two pairs, but since Franko had bet so heavily pre-flop, it wasn’t worth the chance. Both players appeared to be loose-aggressive. He made a mental note. The dealer button moved on to Ted, leaving Sandra and Mally with the blinds. Peter was under the gun. Tess quickly dealt the next hand and Peter peeked at his cards: A♠J♣.

 

“I was watching you during the last round,” Ardo said to Franko. “How can you play like that? You’re supposed to bet higher each round, to scare away your opponents earlier. What if she’d had a better hand? What would you have done then? Listen to me, I’ll teach you the correct signals.”

 

“Signals? Do you mean signs?”

 

“That’s what I said!”

 

Franko didn’t respond and Peter, who was sitting under the gun, was only half-listening while he counted up chips.

 

“Call,” he said, matching the big blind.

 

Franko looked at his cards and then tossed them in casually with a flick of the wrist. Ardo raised to 3,000. Simona folded. Ted and Sandra joined the fight. Mally fingered his cards, but then discarded them. Peter’s feeling was that the others wanted to hang on cheaply to see the flop.

 

“Call,” he said, matching Sandra’s bet. Four players on the second hand. With a gigantic pot in the middle.

 

Tess collected the chips, burned a card and turned over the flop, 3♦Q♦8♦.

 

Sandra started by adding a further 6,500. Peter hadn’t made any match, and since he was up against three players it was a recipe for disaster, and there was absolutely no point in trying to bluff.

 

“I’ll fold,” he said, feeling a bitter taste at the back of his throat.

 

“About time!” Ardo said, staring angrily at Peter. “It’s your fault that I have to take a piss soon. You take too long. Call!”

 

Ted folded. Two players remaining when Tess flipped over the turn: 5♠.

 

Sandra glanced at Ardo, and then checked by knocking on the raised leather edge.

 

“You’re also playing wrong,” Ardo complained, looking at her in exasperation. “Why do you bet so much to start with, and then stop showing any strength? You’ve got it all wrong.”

 

Sandra laid her head thoughtfully to one side, but Ted responded on her behalf. “Pull yourself together. Do you think it’s her fault you’re a bad player?”

 

“I’m not bad,” Ardo protested. “I just say it like it is. She should've bet faster instead of checking. I said I’d teach you all how to play.”

 

“You didn’t say that at all,” Sandra added. “You said you’d teach Franko how to play.”

 

“That’s not what I said,” Ardo exclaimed, hurt. “I said I’d teach you all how to play, because you’re all doing it wrong.”

 

“Shut up,” Franko said. “I’m certain that you said you’d teach me how to play. Can’t you keep your word?”

 

“You’re not listening. Learn to listen!” Arno hissed, checking by mistake since he was tapping his hand on the table. “Now you made me check, as well! I was going to lay bait. Show me your cards then!” he whined.

 

Ardo then did something that made Peter raise his eyebrows; Tess stiffened and two guards nearby became alerted. Ardo stood up, leaned over the table and grabbed hold of Sandra’s cards as if he was about to turn them over.

 

“Don’t do that!” Sandra shouted, grabbing hold of his hand.

 

“What?” He asked in surprise. “Show your cards now. I’m just helping.”

 

“The round isn’t over, you stupid idiot!”

 

“Oh,” he muttered, let go of the cards and sank back into his seat.

 

“I am now giving you a second warning for attempting to look at another player’s cards,” Tess said. “After your next offence, you will be disqualified.”

 

“It was her fault,” Ardo complained, pointing. “I didn’t want to check. She should show her cards as compensation.”

 

“The rules are clear,” Tess said. “You checked.”

 

Ardo crossed his arms and pouted. Tess turned up the last card, 5♣.

 

3♦Q♦8♦5♠5♣ now lay on the table.

 

“Check”, Sandra said.

 

“Check”, Arno mumbled.

 

All the players around the table leant forward to see what they both had.

 

Sandra had 7♥7♦.

 

Ardo had K♣A♥.

 

Peter whistled quietly to himself. “Not bad hands,” he said. “But it looks like you played it wrong, Ardo.”

 

“It wasn’t my fault. You made me check when I wasn’t intending to.”

 

“Yeah, right,” Sandra smiled, collecting her chips. “Just admit that you’re bad at this.”

 

“I’m not,” Ardo snarled, and then fell silent and stared enviously at her stacks of chips.

 

Peter had learnt a lot in that hand, but it had cost him.

 

When Tess had dealt the next hand, he looked down at 3♣7♦ and folded. The others had already pushed the bet up to 7,200. Only Franko and Simona were in the game. Ardo tapped nervously on the table with his hands.

 

“Come on,” he said. “You’re too slow! Play faster so I can join in again.”

 

Peter rolled his eyes. Ardo was like an impatient, grown-up child. His tongue was sticking half-way out of his mouth, and he sat and played with his chips.

 

“Grow up,” Franko scowled. He’d picked up the same signals as Peter. “Are you for real? What do you think this is, a kindergarten where you’re the star? Behave like an adult and play the game like everybody else.”

 

“That’s what I’m doing,” Ardo replied stubbornly. “You listen to me. You’re playing wrong, that’s all I have to say.”

 

Tess turned up the flop, 10♣9♣10♥.

 

“As long as your chips are moving over the table to my side,” Franko said lightly as he flipped one of his chips between his knuckles, “then I'm not playing it wrong. Don’t you know that?”

 

Peter could see how Ardo’s brain whirred into action, and he opened his mouth to say something. In the end, he made do with a snigger and then stared at the table.

 

Meanwhile, Franko and Simona had finished the hand. Simona won the pot of around 20,000 with an aggressive bet on the turn, 4♦, which forced Franko to give up.

 

A little while later the dealer button was in front of Ardo, and when it was Peter’s turn he stared down at 6♠Q♥. His frustration was building. He needed a playable hand, and he needed to win a large pot so that the others would stop eyeing his chips like hungry predators. He tossed his cards over the line.

 

Ardo and Ted remained to fight over the hand, Ardo having matched the big blind and Ted who’d checked. Ardo had managed to recover, and was up at around 13,000. Ted, on the other hand, had lost a few chips and had about 6,000 left.

 

The flop was J♠7♣7♦.

 

Ted, who was first out after the flop, stared a moment at Ardo’s stacks of chips. “How much do you have there?”

 

“Much more than you,” Ardo said stubbornly, but then he began to shuffle his chips.

 

“12,700,” Tess said. With her eagle-eyes, she knew exactly what was going on around the table.

 

“Why did you tell him? It’s up to me to count. Now I lost myself!”

 

“Every player has the right to ask the total of their opponents’ chips at any time. It’s by the book,” Tess answered mechanically.

 

“Didn’t you play wrong, now? You should have bet more before the flop,” Ted said provocatively, jiggling his eyebrows at Ardo who just pursed his mouth in response. “All-in.”

 

Ardo smiled confidently, just for a brief second but Peter saw it. Was that a clumsy tell, or was he so sure of winning that he could afford to send that sort of signal? Ardo reached for his chips and then hesitated. Peter became convinced: Ardo was certain he was going to win, but he seemed to hesitate in calling anyhow.

 

“OK, I’ll call,” he said and turned up his cards: 7♠J♣.

 

Ted turned up his cards very slowly: 7♥K♦.

 

“Full house. I’ve got a higher full house that you! Ha ha!” Ardo was so vindictive, he stood up and danced around behind his chair. Ted didn’t show any reaction.

 

Behind them, the guns sounded twice. It was a sweaty reminder of how close they were to dying at any moment.

 

Tess flipped up the turn, K♠.

 

Ardo’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. “It can’t be!” he shouted shrilly, and then sank back in his chair looking distressed. “It’s not possible.”

 

“Ardo,” Ted said. “I have a question. A king is higher than a jack, isn’t it? I mean, you know this game. In that case, I think I’m in the lead. I might have just folded if you’d raised more before the flop …”

 

“It’s your fault, you all distracted me. Otherwise I’d have folded before the flop,” Ardo screamed. His nostrils were flaring and his tongue was hanging out, as hard as a frozen chicken breast. After that, Ardo fell into a gloomy silence.

 

The river was 10♣.

 

On the table, there was now J♠7♣7♦K♠10♣.

 

Ted had a big smile as he began to sort his winnings.

 

Peter rubbed his eyes. Tiredness was creeping up on him, and with each hour that passed it would become all the more difficult. He couldn’t afford to lose focus, and above all he musn’t despair when the cards that landed in front of him were not good. The tournament went on.

 

“Come on, come ooon,” Ardo said, as he and Mally were waiting for the river. Ardo won that hand with a pair of tens and managed to double his stack. He was yoyoing up and down more than Howard had done.

 

A few hands later, Peter was at last dealt cards that were worth betting on: J♠J♦.

 

The dealer button was in front of Franko. Ted had limped cautiously, Sandra and Mally had folded.

 

“Raise,” Peter said, counting out 3,200. Tension bubbled inside him. The others had far too many chips. He had to win this hand to catch up with the winnings.

 

Franko gave him a brief glance and folded. Ardo groaned, but called. Simona threw her hand and Ted joined. Three players.

 

Tess turned over the flop: 2♣10♣6♥.

 

It was perfect. Ted was first to act. He checked. Peter eyed the pot that already contained about 10,300. He measured up Ardo’s stacks by eye and guessed there was about 15,000 there. Peter had about 30,000, after having bled a few blinds and discarding a few bad hands. He wanted to try to milk the others, especially Ardo who didn’t seem to have a clue. Although at King’s Hope, you could never be sure. If poker players’ aggressiveness could be measured on a scale of one to ten, King’s Hope would place most players at about minus three. Especially the ones that didn’t have so many chips.

 

What about Ted? He had about 20,000 left. Would he see a large raise? Peter didn’t think so. He reached for his chips and rolled them under his fingers, the chips clicking and rattling as they moved. It felt good.

 

“Bet 5,000,” he said, and pushed a pile in over the line. He felt the tension in the pit of his stomach. From the corner of his eyes, he saw how the others drew breaths and how their eyes lit. They smelled blood. Peter could sense the sweet smell of chips.

 

“What are you doing?” Arno whined. “You’re supposed to check. You’re doing it wrong.”

 

“Don’t you dare to join?” Peter teased him. “Are you afraid of doing it wrong?”

 

“I’m not doing anything wrong. If I am, it’s your fault,” he muttered. Then he sat, staring at the table until Tess coughed.

 

“You have one minute left of decide.”

 

“Calm down. I’m thinking.”

 

The seconds passed by slowly.

 

“Thirty seconds until your hand is forfeit.”

 

“All-in. No, wait. Or, yes – all-in!” Ardo exclaimed in exasperation.

 

At King’s Hope, the first bid could never be recalled. Ardo, however, didn’t seem to be aware of the potential mistake he’d just made.

 

Ted leant back, looking calm. He picked up his cards, looked at them and knocked them on the table.

 

“You two are going to have to fight it out between you. Good luck!” He discarded his hand.

 

“Call,” Peter said confidently.

 

“You may turn your cards up,” Tess said.

 

Mally whistled when Peter showed his jacks: J♠J♦.

 

“Well played,” Franko grinned. “Whose fault is it now, Ardy?”

 

“My name’s not Ardy. Can’t you read?”

 

“But you spelt ‘lightning’ wrong. Are you sure your name’s Ardo? Not Ardy, or Alvo, or anything else? Show us your cards, now.”

 

Ardo glared at Franko, but then turned over his cards: A♣3♣.

 

Tess burned a card and slowly revealed the turn: 5♠.

 

Ardo whimpered and sank down lower in his seat; Peter sat up straight in his chair. Tess burned the last card and turned up the river: 4♦.

 

2♣10♣6♥5♠4♦ now lay on the table.

 

Peter shuddered. He’d not even seen the straight draw.

 

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Franko exclaimed, patting Ardo on the back. “Who’d have thought that you’d be hanging around a little longer?”

 

Well played, but it didn’t help!

 

Peter hardly heard him. He’d been so sure of winning the hand. It felt like a bomb had blown up inside him, he’d missed the ticking since it had been too close. The blast left a hole that sucked him down into the darkness.

 

Somehow, Tess managed to wave Ardo’s eager hands away from the table and counted the chips. Peter got 15,000 back. Considering the betting levels, it wasn’t that much.

 

Yes, she’d counted correctly, Peter thought to himself in despair. The greatest strength in poker is knowing when to fold. At the same time, it was impossible to defend yourself against the sort of luck Ardo had. He’d had rubbish cards right up to the river. Peter had acted correctly in the situation, hadn’t he? Yes, he’d held the best cards for almost the entire hand, and the aim had been to get as many chips as possible into the middle so he could take them. But the knowledge that he’d done the right thing didn’t make any difference, not when he sat so close to death. The gun shots echoed in the background.

 

I can’t end up like Mads. Pull yourself together. Focus and play rationally.

 

After that, he discarded a number of hands. It also seemed like the others never really got back on track after Peter’s big loss. Simona lost a large pot to Sandra. Mally nearly took all the chips from Ardo that he’d won from Peter, and Ted put Ardo all-in two hands later. Surprisingly enough, Ardo folded and the game continued.

 

Peter knew that he had to consider each hand as if it had no history. The chips in front of him were a weapon to be used in every situation. But it was hard to ignore the loss, a lot harder than he was willing to admit, and his meagre stack was constantly whittled away by the blinds that wandered past like hungry piranhas. He now needed to go all-in with whatever hand he could, since he hardly had more than 10 large blinds left. It was also becoming even more important to win small pots, since they meant a relatively large gain compared with his own stack. At the same time, it was against his nature to put his life on the table without a monster of a hand. Round five would soon be over. If you didn’t have more than, say, 50,000 at the start of round six, then you were in trouble. It was a statistical fact. Peter sighed and looked down at the table. He was dying, in exactly the same way Mads had been. And he was painfully aware of it. So, he bided his time and prayed to the poker gods for a starting hand that could save his life. All the while, gun shots went off behind him every so often. About thirty had perished on their floor.

 

Three hands later, Simona made a large raise from under the gun to 4,000. Ted re-raised to 8,000 and Simona matched the bet, while the rest of them scattered like seeds in the winds.

 

The flop was 4♣Q♥A♣.

 

Simona went all-in and several gasps were heard from table eighty-two, some of them natural and some put on. Ted sighed. Simona stared straight ahead without moving a muscle on her face. Ted clicked and counted his chips. He had a little fewer than she did.

 

“Call,” he said, throwing down his cards: A♦J♠.

 

Simona was expressionless as she revealed her cards: Q♠10♦.

 

“Now we’ll see,” Ted mumbled with determination. Although his voice was devoid of fear. Peter would have been envious, if his own fear of being knocked out hadn’t been growing like a thrashing hurricane.

 

Tess burned a card and revealed the turn, Q♣.

 

“An ace, come on, an ace!” Ted chanted quietly.

 

Tess placed down the river: 7♠.

 

It was over.

 

If Ted could be knocked out on one hand, what chance did Peter have? Of course, there was always a chance, but if you came to a gun fight without a gun, then the odds were against you.

 

Ted sighed. “Well played. But sooner or later, we’re all going up on stage. I’ll give you a word of warning on your way: Watch out for The Reactor. He’s here. I saw him during the third break and he had two bags. It’d gone that well for him then, already. Make sure you scrape together as many chips as you can. Don’t lose that pile, Simona,” he nodded at the mountain of chips she had on the table.

 

The players around the table looked surprised.

 

“The Reactor? You can’t mean that Reactor?” Franko asked.

 

The guards had already begun to shove Ted towards the stage and he raised his hand as a farewell gesture. Shortly afterwards the gun shot was heard, followed by the thud as Ted hit the floor.

 

“What did he mean?” Mally wondered as Tess started to deal the next hand. “The Reactor, that sounds familiar.”

 

“Yes,” Peter mumbled. “The winner six years ago went by the name of The Reactor. He was unstoppable. I saw it all on TV. It must have been from the third or fourth round that the cameras began to focus on him and his odds started to go down. Did you know that he’s one of eighteen players that have cleaned three tables by themselves before the second round was over? For a long time, there was some speculation that he’d cheated, that he had cameras in those jet-black sunglasses he always wore, but you know how rigorous they are with security. It’s not possible to cheat.”

 

“Or he found a way that the casino didn’t know about,” Franko added.

 

“Sure, but it’s hardly likely.”

 

“No.”

 

“In any case, he wiped the floor with his opponents. It was probably just the final table, or just before, that he wasn’t chip leader around the table. In the end, he won. And Ted here is saying …” Peter stopped himself and cleared his throat, feeling concerned. “Ted said he’s back.”

 

“Why should he have come back?” Simona asked. “If you win, you get everything you could possibly want. You get Aladdin’s magic lamp for God’s sake, without the limit of three wishes.”

 

Peter shrugged. “Yeah, I know. It can’t be him. Ted must have seen a wannabe.”

 

“How do you remember all that stuff?” Sandra wondered.

 

“Because he’s in The Book, of course. Everyone who plays on after the top hundred are in The Book.”

 

“Aren’t there better things to memorize?”

 

“Like what?”

 

The question forced her into silence, then she smiled for the first time during the fifth round. “I’ve no idea.”

 

“Who wants to be in The Book?” Ardo wondered. “It’s ridiculous.”

 

“You leave something permanent behind,” Peter said.

 

“Ridiculous,” Ardo insisted, shaking his head.

 

“When you’re gone, what will you leave behind you? A bad taste in the mouth, and even that’ll disappear after some time. The Book doesn’t disappear.”

 

Ardo muttered something in response that Peter couldn’t hear. Meanwhile Tess had dealt the next hand, but Peter had lost interest in playing. He just wanted to go home. He wanted to go home and sleep. The loss of that large pot had drained his energy more than he’d thought possible, and the memory of Moa broke its way into his thoughts.

 

Maybe it’s just as well that I get knocked out now, when I don’t care?

 

But he glanced at his cards – J♠3♦, and discarded them when it was his turn. No, he wasn’t ready to commit suicide yet. Maybe he was too much of a coward for that. Maybe it was quite simply that the survival instinct was stronger than the need to sleep.

 

The truth of the whole situation hit him with full power. He’d die here at the casino, together with at least nine thousand nine hundred others. Had he actually believed otherwise?

 

One evening, what felt like hundred years ago when he was nineteen and he’d moved out, he’d gone home to visit his parents one weekend. His mother had become rapidly worse that year. They didn’t talk about it, but it was obvious that the incident with Moa had taken its toll on their family. Dad didn’t say that much. He kept out of the way, silent and broody. His mother didn’t say much either, but her body had been affected by what had happened. She was slowly withering away. It seemed like they’d kept up appearances until Peter was big enough to stand on his own two feet in the outside world. Once he’d moved out, they’d collapsed into dry, tattered shells. They’d done their bit.

 

During that visit, they’d talked about the contrasts. Peter remembered fragmentary images of how it had been before the drought down in Europe. When it swept over Portugal and devastated farmland, everything had changed. The drought was not natural, that’s why they couldn’t prevent it. Water bombs had no effect, as if the ground itself cast off the water in protest. The problem was overuse of the new, highly effective fertilizer krontol. Krontol had been produced using biotechnology, and contained a mixture of minerals and phosphates that were extremely environmentally friendly. Apart from the side-effect that moisture was absorbed by the fertilizer, and it was too slow to release it back to the ground again. Huge arable areas were destroyed, and many countries that also used krontol pulled on the brakes in horror. The warm sea breezes spread the krontol further inland, and Spain was hit particularly hard since large areas became contaminated. A lot later, traces had been discovered as far as France. Other countries that had used krontol didn’t dare to irrigate the land to the same extent they’d done before. Global food production diminished.

 

After two years, the worst panic had settled and the world had adjusted to new conditions, but people could no longer be sure that they’d have food on the table every day. The rich managed without any greater problems and probably hardly even noticed the Portugal Drought Incident. The ones that were hit the hardest were the middle class, who were now put into a strange state of randomness. Lorries, carrying genetically modified crops that now were standard, were sent back and forth according to savings schemes that the general public had no knowledge of. The consequence was that entire towns were sometimes left without any delivery. There wasn’t a famine, not exactly, but you couldn’t take it for granted that you’d have food on the table, unless you could pay a lot and import it from the cities and ensure your daily needs were met. The balance of power around the world changed.

 

In the USA, they introduced big reforms that probably at least saved more lives than were lost. One of the main ones that affected large parts of the world was that irrigation to the great corn fields in the USA was cut off. Instead, efforts to grow crops were concentrated to smaller areas with the genetically modified SCOM-bean. South America and Asia also adopted these methods so as not to experience the same effects that Europe, and in particular Portugal, had seen.

 

Other reforms were introduced on a global scale. Amongst these was the one-child reform that had in the end struck hard against Peter and his family in a manner they’d never been able to foresee.

 

 

If he really thought back, he’d probably knew he’d be at King’s Hope long before he really got there. A large part of his life had been small steps to the poker table he was currently sitting at. He’d even sat up during late nights and calculated probabilities and different outcomes. Now he was here for real, with a meagre stack that stood in the shadow of mountains of chips.

 

He was stuck somewhere in between. He could probably discard all his hands without any problem until the next round, as long as it didn’t drag on too long of course. Or he could go all-in if he was dealt a good hand. And the bitter truth was that, even if he were to have two aces, winning was no certainty. There was always someone like Ardo with a seven-two, who would manage to make one unlikely straight or full house after the other. He couldn’t bluff his way to chips. He couldn’t intimidate the others by betting high. All he could do, just as all contestants did sooner or later, was to place his hope on the king.

 

The clock ticked mercilessly onwards, and it wasn’t long before the speakers sounded again.

 

“It is now 2 am, and the blinds are now at level eleven, 800-1,600, with an ante of 200. Good luck!”

 

The stacks of chips clicked their way counter-clockwise around the table. Before too long, Ardo was down at about 9,000 in chips and he was beginning to sweat and blame the others. It was fascinating how quickly things could swing. The guns echoed from the stage. After a few more hands, Peter sat and stared into space. He’d won two small pots, both when he’d sat with the big blind and the others had folded. The blinds were slowly but surely eating away at the only life-giving source he had. And there was nothing he could do about it. It was just not possible to go all-in with 8♦2♣.

 

Two hands later, Ardo was heads up, one on one, against Simona. Simona had made Ardo bet about half his total pile and the flop lay on the table: 5♠A♥5♦.

 

Simona was first out and, not surprisingly, she went all-in. Her chip pile was enormous. Ardo muttered and complained.

 

“Call, then,” he said in a shrill voice.

 

The players around table eighty-two either stretched or held their breath.

 

Simona showed her cards – 5♥K♣.

 

“It’s your fault if I’m knocked out,” Ardo snarled before he turned up his cards: A♠K♦.

 

Tess flipped over the turn: 9♠.

 

For once, Ardo stayed silent. The fact was, it looked as if he was about to explode, he’d held his breath so long. He needed to get an ace to survive. Two outs.

 

Tess turned up the river: J♠.

 

“Yeees!” Ardo shouted, waving his fist in the air. “You can’t take me. Nobody beats The Li…” Then he stiffened.

 

“No,” he said. “No. I saw wrong. It was an ace. I’m sure it was an ace. It’s your fault!” He pointed accusingly at Tess. “You switched cards.”

 

 

Tess collected the cards without even looking at him while the guards arrived behind him and pushed him towards the stage.

 

“It’s your fault!” he shouted, before he was shot.

 

The chips clattered onwards, as if nothing had happened.

 

Tess dealt the next hand and Peter took a peek at his 10♠J♣. It woudn’t get any better than that. This was the half-decent hand that would bring him down. Because the blinds would come faster now and devour him. Ardo wouldn’t hold up the game at the table. It was now his own destiny was to be determined.

 

“I …” And the speakers beeped.

 

“It is now 2.17 am and the fifth round is now over. Ongoing hands will be played to completion, and the sixth round will commence in one hour, 3.17 am. Congratulations to all you survivors and best of luck!”

 

Peter swallowed. It’d been so close. Now he’d live one more hour. One puny hour. It was like suddenly coming up to the surface after having been chained to the bottom of a well filled with black, ice-cold water.

 

“I’m folding,” he said and threw his cards. He stood up and picked up his few chips. After his bad performance, he turned his back on table eighty-two.

 

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