Full Tilt

Contributor: G.A. Rozen

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Never show your cards. Standard maxim, and everyone who knows better keeps it holy. Unless, of course, there's the tilt factor.
Before I even look at my cards, I know this is the hand to take him. I've had this guy on the hook for hours, and outside the casino, I have the feeling the sun might just be poking up from behind the mountains. Some people have work weeks, work hours, work seasons. I work when the right fish comes along and starts taking nibbles.
Jack seven, off-suit. Garbage. Excellent.
He's a math geek, a scientist from one of those countries that might as well be Russia. “Didn't even start playing til' I'm forty,” he'd said, back when he was still talking. He's short, fat, and has one of those god awful haircuts you'd swear was a bad piece. I've played his type before. Lovers of the order hidden in the chaos.
He checks, never moving, his eyes darting from me, to his cards, to his chips. Pocket queens or tens, maybe. Something dangerous. He wants to see how strong I am. I throw out a small raise. He holds perfectly still, so still I know he's straining not to move. Excited. Perfect.
Mr Ed, I call him that because he's big, snorts, and is constantly stamping his feet like a hoof, stands over my shoulder. He's a proxy for my bank roll, an older gentleman I met in Atlantic City. There's a small yellow note-pad in his hand, and he scribbles every bet as it's made. Pointless, really. Never had to cheat anyone. I can win the old fashioned way. I notice he's wearing the same shirt and tie as the day before and smile brightly.
The flop comes up king, queen, nine, and the geek checks again. He wants me committed, so I check him right back, waving down the drink girl. I could feel his stillness, his intense focus. I ordered a whiskey-coke, watching his reflection in a mirrored wall over the girl's shoulder.
Once, when I was a kid, I played a cash game in Chicago. It was a real wise-guy scene, all cigar smoke and suspicion, and when I took one of the gentlemen for fifteen, I felt like I had conquered the world. It all seemed so easy; I'd made in a night what my pops had used to make in a year. It didn't feel so easy when I left the place and the same gentleman jumped me in the alley. He broke three of my ribs, kicking me while I curled into a ball on the dirty, wet asphalt.
“Worth it,” was all he said before walking away. He didn't even take his money back. That wasn't the point. It's never the point. Tilt is blind.
The turn's a jack, giving me a shit pair, but also putting a gut-shot on the table. A ten takes the board. A ten I know he doesn't have. I forget my cards. Reality is created anew. Now I have a straight. I know this like I know the alphabet. It's not a bluff. It's not a lie. It is a message scrawled across my brain in neon spray-paint. You are in control.
He pushes stacks forward. Thousands. There's plenty more behind them, I know, and he wants to throw his weight around. I never show off. I want'm thinking I'm short-stacked from the beginning. Assholes like to pick on the weak. They also tend to have money.
He's got paint. Now I'm sure. Kings or queens, doesn't really matter which.
He furrows his brow. To me it's a scream. A tortured bellow.
“All of it,” I say, sliding my technicolor stacks towards the center of the table. All balls, no hesitation. No weakness.
I lean back, and I can feel him staring. The waitress arrives with my drink, and I tip her with one of the twenty-fives in my pocket. I sip my drink through the tiny straw with a grin, returning his stare. The look he gives me is the same as the suit who broke my ribs, and I know I have him.
Never show your cards. That's what they say. Unless there's the tilt factor. If you know it'll send your mark into full-on, raging tilt.
Fold. The pot is mine.
When he tosses his cards to the center with an agitated grumble, I chuckle so he can hear. I flip my jack seven in triumph, not saying a word.
When he finally calmed down, when he finally returned to his seat at the table, he bought another twenty thousand chips.
Yeah. That was a good night.

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G.A. Rozen is an MFA candidate in Fiction at Columbia College in Chicago. His work has appeared at Hogglepot.com, HalfwayDowntheStairs.net, and the Rain Taxi Review of Books. He is slovenly, unpleasant, and bitingly sarcastic, all of which are made painfully clear by his experimental satire blog, thePastisStupid.wordpress.com
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