Dimitar was patient and managed to climb into second of the three players left. Sam was still leading, but that was OK. Dimitar knew that his friend had his back. So when he looked down at pocket jacks and lead out, he saw Sam’s raise as a red cape to a bull. Finding Jacks when three-handed is huge. Dimitar reached for one of his chip stacks, slid his fingers up from the felt, and picked it up in one fluid movement. “All-in,” he declared, expecting a fold from Sam. Sam’s face crinkled into something between a smile and a grimace, “Call.” 

‘Pocket Jacks,’ said Dimitar, thinking maybe Sam had read his hand, knew what he had, and made the call with a middle pair in an attempt to give him a full double-up. 

‘Queens,’ was the response. 

The community cards hit the table in a blur, not one of them higher than an eight. Dimitar shook hands with Jeremy Rundle and wished Sam good luck. The words coming out on autopilot. He didn’t recognize them even as they came from his mouth. All he wanted to do was to get out of there, run for the hills, find a phone and call Sofia. 

There was a break before heads-up began. Sam left his chips to be stacked up by one of the organisers. He politely chatted with Rundle before heading over to Dimitar, who was at the cash desk, taking hold of his winnings. 

‘What did you think I had?’ Sam asked, tapping his friend on the shoulder. 

‘Less than jacks, obviously. You peg me for kings?’

‘No. I’m sorry, but I pegged for exactly what you had.’

‘So why’d you call? I came here for the £150,000. I thought you were on my side.’ 

‘I am. You know that. But you might need to come back here. I will certainly need to. I can’t ever collude at the felt, and the money you win has to be legitimate, we both know that.’

‘How did you know what I had?’ 

‘The way you pulled your chips. When you’re most confident, you pull from the top of your stack. When you bluff, you generally take from the bottom. You went to pick up chips from the top of your stack but then I saw your face. Doubt. Only for a second but it was there. Then you pulled from the bottom. So you were mostly confident, so I ruled out kings and aces. I figured it was unlikely to be ace-king or ace-queen because you played ace-queen differently earlier in the evening. So you had jacks or worse.’

Dimitar looked crestfallen. 

‘I didn’t realise that I was so easy to read.’

‘Don’t beat yourself up. No one else found it easy, and, to tell you the truth, I didn’t either. It took me all day and most of the night. You just need a little work on your endgame.’

Dimitar didn’t reply. He wished Sam the best of luck in the heads-up. Sam promised that the money he won, whether it was first or second prize, would go towards any travel or accommodation Dimitar needed. Now it was about rest, Sam had said. Optimization started with food and rest. Dimitar listened to him and headed off to the bar. He ordered a steak sandwich and an orange juice. It took Sam just twenty minutes to win the heads-up battle. He came just as the food arrived at the bar and gave Dimitar £20,000 in cash.

‘If you need more, let me know. Now it’s time for the next game.’ Sam said, beckoning over to the barman to order some drinks.  ‘I need to rest, Sam. I’m not a high roller like you. I’m not used to the swings. I need time.’ Sam held up two hands to the barman, silently cancelling the drinks.  ‘OK. I get it. Sleep on it. Let’s talk in the morning and put a plan together. You’re up to £63,400. You should celebrate that.’  They both went back to Sam’s house. Although they’d won over £200,000 between them, the atmosphere was tense. Dimitar made his excuses and went to his room. Once the adrenaline wore off, exhaustion kicked in. London buses squealed around corners outside. Dimitar was relaxed and close to sleep when his cell phone went off. 
Congratulations on your win… well third place. Not bad. Fancy a game of heads-up?
P.S.
He didn’t recognize the number but the message had to be from Peter Serf. There was a link beneath the message. Dimitar wanted to ignore it. He only wanted to think about the next game, the next win, the next way he could double his money. But if he took it from Serf, wouldn’t that make it sweeter?  He clicked on the link, and a videoconferencing link opened up on a screen. It was a dimly lit view of two people barely visible in the shadows. The camera moved and rebalanced. Dimitar sat up in bed, switched on the bedside light, and saw his own image bathed in light on his phone screen, within a small square at the top left.

The main image cleared, and Dimitar saw Peter Serf smile. Behind him over his shoulder, Elena smiled at Dimitar. She was eating a Mars bar. Both she and Serf drank light brown liquid from glasses that clinked with ice.

‘Good evening, Dimitar. Lovely of you to join me. I have an online poker room ready to host us for a game. Shall we say, $100/$200 blinds?’

‘Make it $200/$400,’ said Dimitar. ‘Elena, are you OK? Talk to me.’ 

‘I’m fine,’ Elena replied, the smile on her face not reaching her eyes, the words robotic, as if read from a text.

‘See, your friend is fine. We’re having an Amaretto – Elena’s choice. I find it a little… sickly. But it’s what the lady wants. We’ve been getting on very well, haven’t we, my dear?’ 

Elena nodded. She wanted to say something, anything. But as she glanced down at the dead body that lay at her feet on the hotel floor, she knew that one out of place word might be her last. Hans had been Peter Serf’s trusted accomplice… had been.

All she could hope was that Dimitar would win.

Chapter 4.2                                  Chapter 5.1

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.