The Forest Pines Golf Club was the height of opulence for those who loved the game, but for Dimitar, it was all about the poker. The late morning had been spent talking through strategy with Sam in his plush London apartment. It was a life that Dimitar found slightly enviable. It wasn’t about the money, it was the control Sam had over his life as a high roller, as it was laid out before Dimitar, that made him envious. 

For now, envy would have to wait as it was time for business. Ten tables, each with eight players, each of them having paid the £5,000 buy-in. It was the biggest buy-in event he had ever played and for the entirety of the first orbit, he thought he could hear his heart as it thumped against his ribcage. Sam had told him that was exactly how it would be. To wait and wait until he felt able to play his regular game.

The game was good. There were tons of players who looked like they’d rather be gripping a nine-iron ready to drive for the green than playing with chips and cards. Dimitar worked on his breathing, paced it a little better, and took mental notes about the players at his table. Sam was over on the other side of the room.

It is Dimitar against seven players he didn’t know. 

If it was a cash game back in Bulgaria, he’d have known Georgi. Tragically, Georgi was no longer alive. So Dimitar imagined that he was, that Georgi was right behind him at the table cheering him on, having busted the tournament early. Plausible in the early days he thought, and he allowed a smile to creep over his face. 

As the tournament progressed over the first hour, Dimitar started to feel a bit more comfortable. He started raising more in late position, understanding when three-bets would get through against these types of players and when they would respond with four-bets. They treated the buy-in as casually as Dimitar might a single Euro coin. The value of money was the same, but in this room, it felt different. 

At the end of the first hour, Dimitar had almost doubled his chips. He was still in the tournament, and late registration only had another 30 minutes to run. It was a one-day event and the pace was fast. Sam had told Dimitar about this prior to arriving. Treat it seriously but understand the chips would move quickly. 

The player count was slowly reduced as the money bubble crept closer. Suddenly there were just 25 players left in the room, spread between four tables. One more to bust and it would be down to three tables of eight. Dimitar had avoided Sam and continued to do so. But there was a troublesome player at his table, to his direct left. Old, active, talkative, and liked to bluff. He was running over the table and, as far as Dimitar could tell, he had done so mostly by catching cards late on the board. Flushes, straights, two pairs, trips, they had all hit for the man and he was the tournament chip leader. Only 18 players would make money, and Dimitar needed more than the £8,420 min-cash. He was chasing the £150,000 top prize. 

“I’ll raise it up!” the man exclaimed on Dimitar’s big blind. Dimitar had clocked him; he had bet blind. Two callers from middle position. The button folded. The small blind folded. Dimitar looked down at two tens. 

‘Raise. 20,000.’ he said. The blinds were 2,000/4,000 and the old Englishman had made it 8,000 to play without looking at his cards. 

‘Oh, we got a live one!’ he exclaimed, announcing a raise and tossing in a single 50,000 chip. 

Both the middle position players folded their cards. Dimitar was out of position, with around 200,000 chips. He made the call. The flop was spread. A king, a nine, and an eight. None of the suits matched his two black tens, with the king of hearts being joined by two diamonds on the flop. Dimitar checked. 

‘You didn’t hit that flop, my friend. I gotta make you pay for a draw.’

‘What draw?’ Dimitar asked with a smile. The Englishman flicked in another 50,000 chip. 

Dimitar was sure that he hadn’t hit the king. Something in the old man’s eyes gave it away. He didn’t bet differently; it was the same amount, but there was a lack of confidence in his face. Either feigned strength or genuine weakness. But which was it? 

The seven of diamonds on the turn. That was a good card and a bad one. It brought in the potential of a flush, but if the old guy didn’t have it, then Dimitar was likely ahead with the pair of tens and an open-ended straight draw. He called. 

A black three fell on the river. 

The old man reached for his chips, and pulled out around 250,000, more than enough to commit Dimitar if he called. 

‘That didn’t help you, I’m all-in.’ 

He’s right, thinks Dimitar. That card didn’t help me. But did it help you? The flush came in on the turn. The king appeared on the flop. He could have an overpair and kept betting hoping I would miss a draw. Something about the old man told Dimitar he had a genuine hand, but what was it? 

Dimitar slowed his breathing, ignoring the constant talking from the old man. He funnelled his thoughts down to each street. The man had done something different on one of those streets, but what was it? Then he figured it out. It wasn’t his words; it was a physical tell. One he might not be conscious of. 

Pre-flop, he pretty much flicked in the chips. On the flop, he took a 50,000 chip from the top of his stack and flicked it in. Both motions displayed confidence. But on the turn, when the flush came in, he pulled his fingers up the stack a little before betting the same amount. On the river, that motion went even further. He dragged his fingers up the whole pile of chips before putting in the stack of chips that would commit Dimitar.

‘Clock.’ The old man called out, but Dimitar held up his hand to prevent the dealer from starting the 60-second timer. 

‘It’s OK. I just had to think about it for a moment. It’s either an eight or a nine. I call.’

The old man turned over his hand sharing the ace-nine of hearts. Dimitar, smiling, flipped his tens and dragged the pot into his stack. 

“Nicely done,” said the old man, narrowing his eyes as if to question how Dimitar figured out what he was doing. 

Now Dimitar could relax, if only for a moment. He was looking good to reach the money, and the crucial profit, having just doubled his stack through the chip leader. He still had a nagging doubt about who Peter Serf might have in his pocket from this golf resort. But for now, he was happy. 

That was until a player busted and the remaining four players carried their chips in racks as they travelled to their new seats. Sam Houston walked with a confident step as he approached Dimitar’s table and sat to the Bulgarian’s immediate right. 

Did the game just get easier, or harder? 

If he only knew how hard the game was about to get, he might have wished the old man had made his flush.

Chapter 3.2                                  Chapter 4.1

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.