The start of the weekly poker tournament at Ivan Angelov’s mansion was always a busy one. Players often went on the attack in the first couple of hours, knowing that they could rebuy and enjoy the atmosphere and free drinks that their host always provided. He loved it too. Angelov may not have been liked in the business world, or even that much by his own daughter, but free drinks and a big house kept a lot of his staff happy enough for another week of working to make him money. He enjoyed having the power to show them that once a week. 

Angelov was a clever man, and his intelligence had not been dimmed by the passing years. It burned brightest whenever he was at the poker felt. He stood up, his brandy glass attached to his palm, his fingers curled upwards. 

‘For the next hour, anyone winning with pocket queens will win an extra thousand chips!’ Ivan bellowed to the room. A muted cheer went up, mostly from those who had drunk as much as he had. 

Sofia and Peter Serf spoke little during the first two hours, preferring to take turns to bully the table and accrue the chips which meant both were in it for the long run. Others fell by the wayside, mostly those who spent their nights working at Angelov’s nightclub, Glitter. Without Georgi there, a hole existed in the room, but those from the club tended to dance around it, while family members instigated discussions of his past. Peter Serf had not said a word about Georgi, and as the period of re-entry drew to an end, Sofia engaged him on the subject.

‘Had you met Georgi many times?’ asked Sofia, as the two of them went heads-up to a flop. Two spades. Serf bet. Sofia called holding a queen and ten in spades.

‘Never. I knew of him, of course. So many customers who arrive here ask for the local hotspots. We used to say that Glitter was the only place to go.’ 

Serf watched Sofia closely as the four of hearts dropped on the turn. No spade and a paired board. Sofia disliked the spread of cards and was doing everything she could to not let it show. Serf was now a big favorite to win the hand. She let her heartbeat drop and opted for a relaxed body position. Then she represented a made hand, taking over the betting.

Ivan Angelov stood again.  This time he was even less steady on his feet. 

‘The re-entry period is over after this hand. The pocket queens bet still stands. So far, I’ve awarded a thousand chips to Miss Elena…’

Ivan groped around in his short-term memory for the dancer’s last name but came up short. Elena did quite the opposite, standing up and with a twirl, indicating that she was still in the game, and with a thousand more chips to play with. 

Serf pondered his move. Lose the hand, and Sofia’s stack was such that he would be done for the night. Win and he would be the chip leader at the table, affording him the control to go towards the final table with ideas of winning the tournament.

‘It’s a big decision,’ Sofia said. Then a thought struck her.

‘Only used to?’

‘I’m sorry?’ Serf said, still considering his move in the face of the big bet. 

‘You said you used to say Glitter was the place to be.’

‘Well, what I meant to say is that we always used to recommend it. That’s all. I meant nothing by it, though. I’ve not been there myself.’

‘Then how did you recommend it to your customers?’ asked Sofia. Serf still hadn’t called but absently tossed in the requisite chips purely out of embarrassment at making the table wait.

‘My wife visited it, if you must know. We decided to recommend it. It was one of a number of venues that we suggested to our patrons in leaflets before things went digital.’ 

Serf stopped talking abruptly and Sofia didn’t push him. It was clear that he was riled. When a third spade landed on the board and Sofia moved all in, he angrily called without considering that her flush had come in. A set did him no good and he stormed off to rebuy. 

When he returned, holding his new chips in one hand, Serf walked to another table instead of hers. 

Silvana, who was in charge of rebuys, looked over at Sofia and smiled. 

Before too long, there were only a couple of tables left. The wake, such as it was, had broken up. A waitress from Glitter had won the pocket queens’ chips, and promptly lost them. Another player, a friend of Dimitar, had won a spot prize, a jacket belonging to Georgi, by playing a hand blind. He also became chip leader in the process. Ivan took the chips off him in regular installments until only eight players remained. The friend left the jacket with Dimitar, who wore it in Georgi’s honor at the redrawn final table.

Elena’s earlier win had sustained her through some ‘ABC’ poker to make the final table. Dimitar looked morose as if he was deep in thought. What about, Sofia had no idea. It could have been the collective grief they all felt for her brother, but she found Dimitar hard to read. He had an inscrutable face and a thick neck, always wearing a black hoodie and black biker jeans. To Sofia, it was like he wore a permanent forcefield. 

The only other player who had made the final table that Sofia knew was her best friend, Saskia. Sofia hadn’t imagined that her friend would have survived so long, but the hairdresser, who fought off Ivan’s advances as they arrived to sit together, explained that she had been dealt aces no less than four times. That helped, Sofia thought. 

At the final table, Sofia sat next to her father, who by this point was much worse for wear. The grief of losing his son had struck him at the same time as the alcohol he’d been sinking all night, and he was rambling almost incessantly about Georgi. 

‘I loved my son like no-one else on Earth,’ he slurred, brandy slipping up and out of his glass and splashing onto the front of his shirt. He was raising virtually every hand, and the action was getting crazy. Ivan had half the chips in play. 

‘Anyone who beats me heads-up will win double the top prize!’ he said to the table, and that focused matters for the seven players between him and victory. Even Sofia, whose determination to beat the other players around her was already huge, was bolstered by the thought that defeating her father for the win would make her a lot of money. She knew that would make Georgi happy.  Saskia sat opposite her, and throughout the action, seemed determined to catch the eye of Dimitar, but to no avail. He seemed focused on Sofia, his eyes burning into her from across the felt. 

‘I’m playing for the win – how much is on the line here?’ asked Dimitar directly to Ivan. 

‘Eight thousand euros. Enough compensation for becoming manager of the club?’

‘Who, me?’ Dimitar asked, pointing at his own chest. 

‘Who else? You got rid of my son, now. Now you’re the big man.’ 

‘I did nothing to your son. I loved him like an older brother. He was my best friend.’

‘So how did he die?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You don’t know? Some friend you were.’ 

‘I heard he drowned.’

‘Georgi? Drowned? He was swimming since he was a baby. We threw him into the water when he was born, like they do in Russia, right?’ Ivan was looking around for his wife. He caught her eye as she came running to the table. ‘Anna?’ 

Sofia breathed in sharply. The name of her mother, of Ivan’s first wife, had come tumbling out of her father’s mouth, lubricated by alcohol. 

Ivan turned back to the table and pretended he was interested in the game. The next hand, he raised, big enough to make sure that he’d see the flop, regardless of the calls or raises to come. But Silvana didn’t look past the slip of her husband’s tongue.

‘You got the name wrong, Ivan.’ She said, arriving at the table, an undercurrent of bitterness attached to every word. 

‘I messed up. So what, I am grieving. I mean nothing by it.’

‘So often this is the way of it, Ivan. You say her name in your sleep? It means nothing. You mention her when talking of me It is affection misplaced. Now you call her out across the room.’

‘I call you. You! Was she from Russia? I was going to ask you about babies and swimming.’ 

‘I am a reference point for you. That is nice.’

‘It was only about Georgi.’ Ivan said, hoping the mention of his son’s name would throw cold water on her mood. 

‘Georgi would swim as a baby?’

‘Every damn day. He wore us out. Wore me out. I didn’t mean any disrespect. You are my wife.’

‘Don’t you forget it.’ Silvana said. She wasn’t softening now, but her eyes hinted that she might later. She stalked off a little bounce in her step. Sofia thought it looked affected. 

An orbit later, after Ivan had reduced the Glitter nightclub’s chances of winning and Saskia fell in sixth place, leaving only Dimitar, Ivan, Sofia, Elena and a business friend of the host. 

‘You have so many chips, father.’ Said Sofia. ‘You enjoy taking people’s money, don’t you?’ 

‘It’s not the money, Sofia.’ He chided. 

‘So play a hand blind.’ She replied. The table collectively inched forward in their seats.

‘Georgi’s jacket won’t fit me.’ He laughed. Then he looked at Dimitar, who sat in Georgi’s coat. The Glitter bouncer looked impassively ahead. 

‘Don’t do it for me. Do it for my brother. Do it for your son.’ 

‘Sofia. I will do it for you.’ Ivan replied, and smiling, he set down his brandy glass and waited for the dealer to slide his two hole cards toward raised palms. Easily, he trapped the cards and held his cards. 

‘Raise,’ he said, closing his eyes slowly and deliberately. ‘I’m all-in.’ 

Which was when the unmistakable sound of a bullet leaving a gun erupted around the cavernous room.

Chapter 3                                  Chapter 5

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.