I can feel it, the beads of sweat running down my forehead. I look at the other two seated at the table through squinted eyes. They are both staring at me, intensely. Trying to see if they can spot my tell. Do I even have a tell? I’m not sure. Nobody ever tells you that you have one, because once they do they know you will do everything in your power to stop it happening. They give up their one advantage over you.
Because, at the end of the day, all games involving cards have very little to do with cards. Sure there are rules, the format of the game and the win conditions. That’s all fine and dandy, but everyone who is serious about playing cards knows that you don’t play the deck…you play the person.
Vegas wasn’t built on the foundation of people playing card games so that all they needed to do was know the rules. It was built on chance, luck and playing the person in the seat across from you. It is all about playing The House
This House is familiar to me. I’ve sat in this seat before, seen these players before. I know the rules of the game, I’ve hit the win condition a few times. Yet still the sweat is there, making my forehead a slip-and-slide for head-lice. Not that I have head-lice, you understand. But if I did, they’d be sliding right off my head.
What’s worse about this whole situation…I can’t look at my cards. I don’t know how strong they are, what I’m holding. I look at the pile in the middle of the table and frown.
Luck be a lady today, because I haven’t won a hand since this whole thing started. An hour playing the game and I am nearly down and out. If I don’t win this pot, that’s game over for me.
I like my lips and turn my stare from the player on the right to the player on the left.
They are trying to psych me out, it is the only logical explanation. The look on their face, like they haven’t had a complicated thought since waking up that morning. To be honest, I’m not even sure if they understand the game. There have been a few moments during it, this round in particular, when they have made schoolyard mistakes. Playing out of turn, showing their cards, trying to up the ante by playing two cards at the same time.
I’m not a sore loser, or bad winner on the rare occasions it happens. I try to help them. I remind them gently of the rules. I tape their hand when it their turn, indicating they need to play a card. The other player though, God damn. They take no prisoners. This is a serious business, this isn’t just a game of cards for her. Hell no. She is playing both of us…the cards are just a nice bit of decoration on the table.
“It’s your go,” she says, tapping me on the shoulder. “You need to go now.”
She’s right, I’ve been lost in my own thoughts for at least five seconds. An eternity for some people, particularly those playing this game of cards with me. I reach down, take the top card off my small pile, and quickly place it down in the centre with the face showing up.
It’s a dog, with a blue spiral background.
Like lightning it happens, faster even. Two tiny, cherub-like, hands dart forward. One is racing for the cards, the other racing for the hand. Just as the first hand is about to land, the second slaps it away and then slams down on top of the pile of cards in the middle of the table.
“SNAP!” the other player shouts, joyously.
Then he looks over at me, quizzically. He isn’t even sure if he has won the round or not.
“That’s my boy,” I say, smiling at him. “Good man, Thomas. You won.”
He scoops up the pile of cards, grins at his sister, then gets up and walks away to play out in the garden. It’s scorching outside. So much so that the house is like an oven, making me sweat more than I like.
Olivia lifts up one of the cards and frowns.
“Daddy,” she says, her tone full of wonder. “That isn’t snap, he didn’t match two animals.”
“I know, honey,” I say back. “But let him think he won. When he is a bit older he will get the rules.”
She nods her head sagely, all the wisdom of her four and a bit years bouncing around. Then pulls out her last card and slaps it down on the pile, screaming:
I look down and see she is dead on the money, it is snap. She collects the cards, gives me a wink (that involves using both eyes) then hops down from the table and runs after her brother.
I’ve been hustled.