Short Story. Today, enjoy a second post of Ten Masks of Evil by Martin Cid. Remember, every Sunday and Thursday you have a date with Martin Cid. Enjoy your day, Yareah Magazine friends.
That night, Albert was in luck but, as a beginner, he only betted when he knew he could win.
‘This will be my method,’ he thought. ‘I’m a gentleman, I’ve studied mathematics and these rednecks, disregarding their threatening appearances, have nothing against me.’
However, nearing at the end, the “farmers” ran away pleading different reasons: Mr. Spinoza had an affair in few hours and needed to sleep a little; Mr. Locke had gone bankrupt; Wills was completely drunk…
‘Very well,’ Alvin said. ‘… only you and me… face to face.’
Benjamin Alvin never looked at the cards more than three seconds. When they dealt, he put them together in a tiny stack and left it on the table. He always remained stuck to it, looking inexpressively at other players’ faces. Even if a pretty waitress came near him and provocatively filled his glass, he only said “thanks” ignoring her presence, words or smell… a drink… a puff… a cold smile.
Hand after hand, Alvin was losing money but his expression never changed while watching Albert’s brilliant plays: trios, straights, full houses… On the contrary, Alvin only had miserable pairs but he kept on betting and congratulating his partner… a drink… a puff… a cold smile.
‘Very well, Mr. Luchin,’ Alvin repeated once and again. ‘You are a quick learner! I think you are going to pay for the drinks tonight. Can I call you Albert?’
Suddenly, the “hand” arrived, that perfect hand which makes the difference between good and bad players, between men and boys: Albert had four kings, a “poker” thanks to his good luck, the same as he had had during the whole game, and decided to bet a big amount.
‘Oh! I think this is my final defeat,’ Alvin said to him. ‘Doesn’t matter since I’m tired and I would like to finish now.’
Albert felt proud and could not disguise his happiness. Then, Alvin called for a waitress:
‘Can I help you?’ she asked, surprised.
‘Yes, please. Can you tell a shaved man who is near the desk that I would like to talk to him?’
‘What is he wearing?’
‘It’s irrelevant,’ Alvin answered. ‘Look for the only clean and shaved one.’
A few minutes later, that man was there, holding some dirty bills in his hand. Alvin took them and matched Albert’s big amount.
How could it happen? He had been winning for hours and, now, he had started to lose: his luck had vanished at the very moment Alvin had undermined his confidence by matching a bet he thought he could not.
When dawn arrived, Alvin had all of the money:
‘Well, Albert, I think I must pay for the drinks. Don’t worry, next time you will have your chance. You are a quick learner!’
Benjamin Alvin stood up, took his coat and went out of the room. Albert remained there complaining about his bad luck, trying to understand how things had turned into such a disaster.
‘I will have other nights, I’m a gentleman, I learnt mathematics…’
Finally, he went out too.
… a drink… a puff… a cold smile.
The sum he had easily obtained when he was 16 was disappearing day after day, month after month, year after year.
Women had already abandoned him and he never paid for drinks because his bad hands, his pretentious bluffs and his high bets had driven him to a life of vice in dirty taverns. He did not even return home at night since he preferred to rent a room and wait for the next game.
Furthermore, on some wonderful occasions –although to be honest, they were not very habitual- the game lasted two or three days and, therefore, it was not necessary to look for a bed:
‘We are not interested in bleeding “the small fish” dry quickly as he could be frightened and run away before losing enough money.’
“The small fish” was usually a foreign man who trusted in those illiterates; above all when they let out an initial string of nonsense:
‘Oh! My God!’ a “redneck” said. ‘I see you are in luck tonight.’
However, after a few bad hands a good one appeared:
‘I’m successful at last! Don’t worry. In the next hand you will have your chance.’
Night followed day; day followed night and the same ritual was repeated. It was not a matter of having an ace up one’s sleeve or cheating while dealing cards. Poker is based on probabilities, on looking steadily at the others and on knowing when they are bluffing: these are the moments a good player is trying to find every time!
Albert had learnt a lot from Alvin but the best lessons were still a secret for him. People say that a player does not need any special talent but this is false because, although they lack school training, they had the skill of guessing the weaknesses of the opponent and Albert was still learning this point.
Poker was a long-distance race in which you should “pass” even if you had the best hand because if the rival found out you would never win.
‘You should allow people to play and be never the main character.’
Sometimes, an extremely good player appeared. Albert would always remember the day that he met a foreign blond man. He had German accent and very polite manners.
‘What a beautiful game!’ he would say for years. ‘We could see two giants fighting each other to raise the final victory. The German man knew the same rules, tricks and probabilities as Alvin: it was a war of attrition! Two days after, the foreigner started to tire and my old friend attacked and confused him… He did well.’
Little by little, Albert had started to be obsessed with these little idiosyncrasies that only players have: the way of dealing, the body position, the light…
Cards had to be dealt with both hands. He never trusted these people that only used one of them because: to be manually adept is not a requirement for those who earn their living looking at the others steadily; a stupid performance can hide the ability of a great rogue and the main rule at a game table is “to go unnoticed”.
Body position was also important: you must not touch the others so that they cannot notice your muscular tension or your nervous breathing and you must sit comfortably in order to remain still for hours.
Besides, if you were to sit in the shadow, you would have better possibilities of winning since your expression would be less evident.
Nevertheless, the rules, as well as the tie color which brings luck, were useless since every player knew them: the true bluff was the one made on these basic rudiments.
The successful player was the one who betted based on human behavior instead of childish instructions. Alvin was this man and, therefore, he was the best.
‘You shouldn’t follow a rational thought,.’ Alvin said to Albert one day. ‘Cards are not important because, even if they were good you’d have to lose while observing your opponents. The worst thing is to believe you’ve got a stroke of luck… At the beginning, let others know your reactions! Be angry if your hands are bad and ask for a drink if they are good. Behave like an idiot flirting with the waitresses and losing easily. Let people play! When they are tired and confident: beat them!’
‘Anything else?’ Albert asked trying to become a good student for the first time in his life.
‘It’s important to have an ally. He must be better than the other three but worse than you because, first, both of you would need to defeat them and, finally, you can strike him down… or not (it depends on your kind of friendship). Anyway, the best lessons will come after losing many games.
Albert looked up to Alvin. He went to the tavern frequently to see him playing. However, Alvin was a shy man, reluctant to talk and when they went for a walk, after gambling and only to relax, he remained silent, watching people and shops along the streets or flowers and trees if they arrived in the countryside.
‘How old are you?’ Albert asked to him one day.
‘I’m younger than you think. My eyes are tired from so much smoke and my back is curved because of my posture when playing cards. I am 25 years old but I’m not sure.’
The rest of the way, he was quiet but when they were about to return, he spoke again:
‘24! I calculated.’
Continuation: Next Thursday