Dimitar wanted to get on his motorbike and ride to Austria. He could have used the journey to clear some of the fog from his mind. But instead, he did what Sofia said. He took the charity from Sofia’s father, Ivan Angelov, for a flight and hotel room in Vienna. That was why he found himself on a plane four hours later, having packed a few clothes and essentials into a carry-on bag. 

A couple of hours later, he was in a taxi to his hotel, a modest grey-brick tower close to the centre of Austria’s capital. He could see it from his journey, stuck in traffic on the outskirts of the city. Dimitar’s cell rang as the driver killed the engine at a red light.

‘Is that Dimitar?’ asked the voice on the other end of the line, calling from London. 

‘Yes… Sam?’ replied Dimitar.

‘That’s right, buddy.’ Sam Houston, his good humour ill-placed but welcome nonetheless. Dimitar had lived in a world of escalating problems for weeks. Hearing such a carefree voice coming from an old friend was nourishing. 

‘I really appreciate you calling.’ 

‘It’s a pleasure. I’m only sorry you need my help. Sofia told me what happened. You must be beside yourself.’

‘All I want is to get Elena back.’

‘I’m going to help you do that. Running it up isn’t easy, but it’s possible. There are a few things I can tell you that will help.’ 

‘I’m all ears.’

‘Are you somewhere private?’ 

‘If a taxi is private. The driver has got AirPods in. I can hear the emo-rap from here.’ 

‘That’ll do. Let’s start with stakes. If you’ve got to run this money up yourself, you can’t put it all on the line. Which means you’re going to have to put in some volume at first. Low blinds, try to double your stake as steadily as you can. Then there’s a good game to get into in Vienna.’

Dimitar in a taxi, riding through vienna

‘I’ve got €1,100 and Ivan paid for my room.’

‘I heard. Sounds like the first time he’s helped Sofia out. I thought she was rich, I guess looks can be deceiving, huh?’ Sam laughed, thinking back to Barcelona. She’d looked a million dollars to him that night. A few weeks on, everything had changed. That was life. It was also poker. 

‘She does a lot herself. I’m proud to call her my friend.’

‘Hey me too. OK, first things first. Step one is to get that grand up to two. Play it tight, play it right, no big swings and stick to No Limit Hold’em. When your roll gets up there, give me a call. I’ll tell you all about the high-stakes game and get you in. Got it?’

Dimitar thanked Sam as the taxi pulled up outside his hotel. He got out and paid the driver the exact money. The guy pulled an AirPod out and grunted a cursory thanks. If he was expecting a tip, he didn’t get one, and he tossed Dimitar a card. 

‘If you need picking up, for way back. I mean, if you can afford it.’

Without acknowledging the snide remark from the driver, Dimitar politely said thanks. He pocketed the card, resolving to tip the driver if he ever used him again. He felt pretty bad, but every penny counted right now and until he could put himself in a position to feel confident that he’d have a million dollars in 30 days’ time, that was how it had to be.

The hotel was modest, but it came with breakfast. Dimitar showered and changed, before locking €800 of his money into the safe in his room. He took the other €300 and left for the casino that Sam recommended which was around the corner. 

Registering for a casino loyalty card took five minutes and turning €200 cash into chips took another five due to the queue at the cash desk. Players were mainly doing the same as him – getting ready to play for the evening. Dimitar was ready to play all night if he had to. There were three full tables of hold’em being played, and he was added to the one with only one open seat of the nine. 

 The night started off slow. Playing €1/€3 cash was easy enough and Dimitar had more experience than almost all of his tablemates. He stayed out of the way of the only other player at the table who took the same aggressive raising strategies as him, in order to protect his stack. An hour into play, he got lucky, waking up with aces to scoop the stack of a tourist holding pocket queens. That put Dimitar up over a hundred, and he took a break from the table to get some food. He ate a big meal: steak, potatoes, and a side of pasta. Food to keep him fuelled for as long as he needed.


When he returned to play, he was sat in the corner of the room, eight players at this table. It looked even better than the first table. The professional was still on the table in the centre of the cardroom and Dimitar’s first impression was of a peaceful place to grind up his money and think about what might come next. On the other side of the cardroom, escalators backed onto the area to ferry players up and down the levels between gaming floors. Pop music was piped through the speakers close to the one-armed bandits and triple card poker machines. Where Dimitar now sat, his chair backed onto flock wallpaper while Mozart serenaded the area from a speaker nearby.

Chapter 1.1                                  Chapter 1.3

About the Author: Paul Seaton has written about poker for over 10 years, interviewing some of the best players ever to play the game such as Daniel Negreanu, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth. Over the years, Paul has reported live from tournaments such as the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and the European Poker Tour. He has also written for other poker brands where he was Head of Media, as well as BLUFF magazine, where he was Editor.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.