Daniel gently lifted the edge and took a peek at the markings on the face of the cards. Pocket Aces, he thought to himself. He knew this was the best possible starting hand in a game of Texas Hold ’em poker, but kept his face from giving any indication of his excitement. He repeated his usual routine, placing a stack of five $10 chips on top of his hole cards, before looking around at the rest of the table.
Annie was sitting immediately to his left, short hair pulled back behind her ears. She never wore sunglasses, but her eyes were always cold and fixed on an invisible point beyond the dealer, unless she was placing a bet. When she was serious about placing her bet, she would look intently down at her chips, her eyes shifting between the stacks to get a rough count. Daniel had noticed that if she was bluffing, this procedure would take slightly less time: her tell.
Daniel looked to his right and saw Gus sitting calmly, his dark sunglasses and baseball cap pulled tight on his head. If he showed any emotion, it was only after the hand was over. He didn’t celebrate wins, but he clearly disliked getting beat. Gus would wince when he lost a hand, slamming a clenched fist down on the edge of the table. He played tight with his chips, but it had worked for him. This was the second tournament in 48 hours where he was at the final table.
The last player was a newcomer, so Daniel didn’t know his name or much about him. He was least concerned with him, but knew he would have to worry about him eventually. For now, he had to try and maximize the hand he had been dealt. He resisted the urge to check the cards again, knowing this would tell his opponents that he had a good hand, so he focused on shuffling some chips together, mixing the blue and white chips in alternating stacks. Gus bet first, moving aggressively. Daniel didn’t hesitate, but only matched the bet. Annie folded, as did the new guy, leaving just Daniel and Gus to see the next three cards.
The flop came King, King, Eight, a rainbow of suits. He now had two pair, with the highest possible value cards, but he was worried. If Gus had a King, a likely scenario, then Gus had him beat with three of a kind, and knowing Gus, Daniel would have to pay for the privilege of seeing the Turn and River cards.
Gus moved in one third of his chips, raising Daniel quickly. Daniel looked down at his stack, knowing that it would cost him about the same amount of chips to stay in. He hesitated, a mistake, but decided to match the bet. He was playing scared.
The Turn card came: 3 of diamonds; no help to anyone. He knew it was now or never for risking all of his chips on the strong starting Aces, hoping he either gets an Ace on the River for a full house, or that Gus didn’t have a King. Gus put the decision to him immediately, going all-in with his chip stack. Daniel had time to think, and sat on the decision through 3 shuffles of the chips in his hand before he matched the bet and pushed in his stacks.
Both players turned over their cards, and the worst was true: Ace King for Gus. Daniel was convinced he made the wrong decision, hanging on to a hand for too long. He swallowed hard, awaiting the last card.
The dealer tapped the table twice, discarded the top card of the deck, and slowly flipped over the River card. Daniel stood up from the table and stared in disbelief at the final card.
This is part of a 30 day series of 2-3 minute short stories written for the 30 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 2011. You can view all the stories in the Short Story A Day category.