The first day of the month that would change his life saw him grieving the death of his best friend. The second had seen him travel 800 miles north from Bulgaria to Prague in pursuit of his kidnapped girlfriend and her abductor, Peter Serf. However, the third day was the one he would never forget. 

It didn’t take long for Dimitar to reach his target of €2,000. Starting the day with €1,700 to his name, Dimitar was alarmingly short of his million-dollar ransom target, the amount that he had to win in order to get Elena back. With only 28 days remaining to reach the goal, he knew it was going to be difficult and her captor, Serf, had already demonstrated to Dimitar that he had several influential people in his pocket.

If Dimitar stepped out of line, Elena was dead. It was as simple and terrifying as that. 

‘Sam?’ said Dimitar, back in his hotel room. He’d reached the money he required, having doubled his stake. Now he called his friend Sofia’s former boyfriend and fellow high stakes player. Now was the time for Dimitar to listen to an expert on how he could quickly step up the levels. 

The American, who lived in London, adopted a congratulatory tone as he settled himself in front of the camera. In the background, Dimitar noticed rain behind Sam’s head outside the window. 

‘Doubled your stake, then.’ Sam smiled. ‘Good work.’ 

Dimitar waved the wad of cash in front of the camera. 

‘I’ve still no idea where Elena is. Her mobile hasn’t come online since I saw she was in Austria a day or so ago. She’s untraceable now.’

‘I don’t want to sound callous, but you’ve got to forget about her, mate. This Serf guy clearly wants to get one over you. So he’s hardly going to do her any harm when he stands to play you for a million in four weeks’ time.’ 

‘I know you’re right, but it’s hard to forget that she’s somewhere with him. I just want to know that she’s OK.’

‘I know you do. And you will. He’ll be in touch with you. He’s almost certainly watching how you’re getting on. I think he might even know some of the players you’re up against.’

‘How does that help me?’ Dimitar said with a lopsided smile. 

‘It might not, but it could. You’re not going to find out until you sit down with them. But the higher the stakes, the more you’re going to have to pay attention. Don’t be scared to make the sessions you’re playing a bit shorter. There’s a game at the weekend at a golf club near me. A tournament. It’s a £5,000 buy-in. And you can’t risk it all. It’s a re-entry, so you’ll need £10,000, maybe £15,000, as I see it. I think you need to get what you’ve got well into five figures.’ 

‘So what stakes should I be playing? I’ve been playing €1/€3, but they’ve got €2/€5 and €5/€10… or is that too low?’ 

‘It’s definitely not too low. There are going to be players straddling, people will buy-in for way more than €1,000…’

‘€1,000? I’ve got €2,000.’ 

‘You’ll need to step back down if you don’t run it up. Buy-ins are crucial here. You can’t blow the bank.’ 

‘I need to run it up. I know you’ve played higher than this, but you must have played this level.’ 

‘Of course, I played them all, from $1/$2 all the way up to where I am now, which is $200/$400. The thing to remember is how people change up the levels. You’re not going to see many players missing paired boards or not charging people with drawing hands on the turn.’ 

‘They’ve still got to have leaks.’ 

‘Of course they have, everyone does. They’ll just fix them quicker. That’s what I notice whenever I play high stakes. Mistakes get made, but they get punished immediately, and whoever makes them closes the leak right away, they don’t carry on making that mistake. At €5/€10, you’re going to see different mistakes than at ¢1/€2. Learn what they are from each player and try to make them pay in that orbit. Either that, or if they’ve missed it, keep it for a lot longer and keep it to yourself. Give nothing away.’ 

‘Especially not chips.’ 

‘Especially not money. Let’s talk again when you’ve had a session at €2/€5. And don’t worry about Elena. You have to assume the best. Anything else isn’t healthy.’

Sam signed off and Dimitar was alone in his hotel room. It already felt stale, so he showered and prepared to go out. He felt guilty thinking of breakfast, exercise and other stimulants to kick-start his day. Elena might not have such luxuries, but he needed the money and he needed to win quickly. A golf club in London was a million miles from his comfort zone and if he had any chance of playing in that game, then he had to win here. 

Dimitar stepped into the sun in Vienna, a city of spires set to the music of legendary composers who were born in these streets steeped in history and legend. Two centuries earlier, the world was different. There was no poker, there were no smartphones, airplane travel, or air conditioning. He had to be ready for the here and now. 

Chapter 1.3                                  Chapter 2.2

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.