Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Poker Table: Part Two

            The tavern that Killjoy had selected was a rundown joint that John mistrusted as soon as he saw it. This was the type of place where you would be overcharged for your watered-down drinks and probably catch some awful disease from the nonexistent sanitation. The only reason that it stayed in business was because of pseudo-legal gambling hall. While gambling was not illegal per-se, it was frowned upon, and many things were illegal to wager in games. In this tavern, appropriately named the Free For All, everything was legal to play for as long as the cops didn't catch you. Planets, ship parts, illegal drugs, even people regularly traded hands on the premises. The owner only sold drinks as a cover, making most of his money from his two sons and one daughter-in-law, all of whom were professional poker players. With their skills, they were able to make a significant amount of money for their patriarch, either by winning credits straight up or by selling the goods that they won.
            Killjoy explained all of this to John on the way to the Free For All. He didn't know how many gambling halls his friend had frequented, but this one was a shock upon first arrival. Since the institution was only pseudo-legal to begin with, cheating was rampant. It was still an offense that could get you shot if you were caught or suspected, which meant that only the really good cheaters survived very long. And Jacob "Killjoy" Simmons was very good at cheating indeed.
            Though Killjoy had assured his friend that he could easily win enough money for the core, given enough time, time was a currency that they did not have, so they had settled on using creative sportsmanship. As with all of the best poker players, Killjoy needed an accomplice to successfully carry out his strategies, and despite his earlier objections to the activity, John was more than happy to help. The strategy was simple; John would roam about the bar appearing to be hitting on girls, all of the while keeping an eye on the cards of Killjoy's opponents. He would then convey the appropriate information to Killjoy who would use it to go on a winning streak.
            John had figured that this sort of collusion would be very difficult since there were fifty-two cards in a deck. even breaking them into values and suits, seventeen signals would be required. Killjoy's system didn't require such complexity, though. There was a signal for each of the hand values in poker as well as signals for low, mid, and high. Most of the signals were self explanatory like holding up two fingers for a pair or three for three of a kind. Killjoy called the system so simple that it was stupid proof, but John knew that few things actually were.
            All cheating aside, what made the system unbeatable was the security chief's counter cheating maneuvers. He had never exactly explained to John how they worked, and he had only gathered enough to determine that it was some way to keep strategies similar to the one that they were using from working on him. It involved a lot of sleight of hand and things that John wasn't good at, so he had disregarded it. Besides, it wasn't like he had a part to play in that particular endeavor.
            They arrived at the Free For All just after nine o'clock, and Killjoy immediately hit the poker tables. John set himself up as a good patron of the establishment, buying a drink and playing a bit of pool. This was a game that he was good at so he wagered a little money on it. It was like taking money from babies, especially since he was playing against people who had had a little too much to drink. All this time, he was keeping his eye on the prize, watching the cards of Killjoy's opponents and signaling the results when necessary. Though few knew it and even fewer appreciated it, he had the vision of an eagle, something that had served him well as a sniper in the Marine Corps. Now it allowed him to distinguish cards from half way across the tavern.
            Another skill that he had learned in another life was the ability to concentrate on multiple things at one time. To show too much interest in the game across the room and not enough in the game of pool directly in front of him would have been a mistake. His attention was ostensibly focused entirely on his own wager while only his eyes occasionally flicked toward Killjoy's card game. It took a few rounds to work the kinks out of the strategy, but within an hour and a half, both of them had accumulated a substantial amount of money. Now all that remained was to keep playing until the big boys with the deep pocket books came out to play.
            "Hey, honey, you look like you could use some company."
            John looked at the scantily clad woman near his elbow. She was not a woman of the night if John was any judge of people, but that fact was not evident by her clothing. Despite that fact, she was almost certainly after his money, and that irritated John.
            "I could, actually," John played along. "Want to play a game of pool? Maybe put a small wager on it?"
            "I would love to," the woman said. She retrieved a pool cue from the wall while John recovered the balls, placed them in the triangle and located them properly. He took the cue ball and tossed it to the woman. "The name's Angie, by the way."
            "Well, Angie, why don't you break this time?" John said. He wanted to see how this woman would play. Initially he had dismissed her, but now he wasn't so sure. Was it possible that she was actually good? Fifteen moves later with all of the pool balls in the pockets of the table, he had his answer.
            "New idea," John said. "Let's team up and take on the idiots that want to put money down on this game. Together we would be unbeatable."
            "And why would I do that when I could play by myself and take all of the winnings?" Angie asked.
            "Two reasons," John said reasonably. "The first is very logical, the second is coercion. Together we could play pairs of people, and people are statistically likely to put down more than twice as much on a game of teams than one of singles. It's the idea that idiots can convince each other to do even stupider things when they are in groups."
            "And what's your coercion?" Angie asked.
            "Is it really necessary?" John said. "Was I convincing enough?"
            "Let's say you weren't," Angie answered. "What would you try to use to coerce me into playing with you?"
            "I'd could tell everyone in the place that you're a ringer and can't be beaten," John said. "That would probably have the reverse effect and make a lot of them want to play you to prove me wrong, so that's not a good move."
            "Then what exactly would your move be?" Angie asked. Sometime during the course of the conversation she had moved very close to John, though he was uncertain of exactly when she had done so. Anyone else might have been flushed and not thinking straight right now, but this was nothing new to John. Women behaved like this back in the old days when he wore his Marine uniform into bars.
            "I'd tell them that you're a nark and are trying to trick people into illegal gambling," John answered. "Just the possibility of you being with the cops and nobody would touch you with a ten foot pole."
            Well played," Angie said, straightening and moving around the pool table to reset the balls. "We'll play together and separate some suckers from their money. I do have one question before me begin, though."
            "You can ask, though I won't promise an answer," John said.
            "Why so interested in the poker game over there?" Angie asked, motioning with her head toward the table that Killjoy was playing at. "I've been watching you for an hour now and you can't seem to keep your eyes off of it."
            John laughed as he put chalk on the tip of his pool cue. This woman was certainly full of surprises. First she was a ringer at pool and now she was ridiculously perceptive as well. He had severely underestimated her initially.

            "I'll tell you later," John said. "I like to get to know a girl before I give up all my secrets!"

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