I’m not usually inclined to underestimate my opponents, but an hour later, if anyone had asked me, I would have said with absolute certainty that the guys I was playing were not only sophomoric, but hapless. And that would have been kind. Not only did they seem to know zip about Texas Hold ’Em and the probability of winning on certain hands, but they were getting no cards. Half of them folded right after the flop, and I just kept taking pot after undefended pot. In my usual game that would mean moderate winnings, but in this game, with higher minimum bets, I was cleaning up. And it took almost no effort!
This was the best idea I had ever had!
“Kudos, dude,” Topher said as I gathered up my latest pile of chips. “You’re like the poker guru.”
“Thanks, man,” I said with a smile.
Dominic’s friend Lucas was more truculent. “Whatever. You’re just having a lucky night.”
“Kind of like the other night when I kicked your and Dominic’s asses?” I asked, stacking my chips in twenty-five-dollar increments. “Was I lucky then, too?”
Lucas blew out a breath and shook his head. He sunk lower in his seat, staring down at the table.
“Where is Dominic tonight, anyway?” Ian asked. “Still licking his wounds?”
I laughed, and Ian and I exchanged a look. Maybe we were rubbing it in a little, but hell, that was half the fun. Maybe more, this time.
“How about we take a break before the next hand?” Ian suggested, shuffling the cards.
“I gotta take a piss anyway,” Lucas said, shoving back from the table before stalking out of the room.
I cracked up laughing as everyone else made off for the snack table or the bathroom. Ian eyed my chips.
“So, feeling a little more sanguine about tonight?” he asked.
“You bet your ass I am,” I said. “And I have your laudatory comments to thank for it, brotha,” I added, slapping him on the back.
“Please. I knew your empirical knowledge of the game would make you outclass these losers any day,” Ian said, lifting his shoulders. “They probably learned everything they know from Celebrity Poker Showdown.”
“No doubt,” I said, feeling quite pleased with myself.
“So how much you up?” he asked.
I looked over the chips and quickly estimated my winnings. “I think I’ve tripled my money,” I said incredulously.
“No way,” Ian replied, wide-eyed. “See? You were all worried about your bank account, but now it’s going to be replete with cash.”
My heart thumped as I stared at the ornate design on top of the professional chips Ian had sprung for. “Yeah.”
“What’s the matter now?” Ian asked. “Winner’s remorse?”
“No,” I said. “No. It’s just . . . how am I going to explain the sudden influx of money to my parents?”
Ian blinked. Neither one of us had thought of this. “Well, better than explaining a sudden dearth, right?”
“Good point,” I replied.
Still, as the other guys returned to the table, I was feeling a strong inclination to quit while I was ahead. That was my usual M.O. anyway, and now that I realized that my new income was going to render me suspect, I was even more inclined to bail. I had never told my parents about our poker games, not even the little ones. In their eyes, risking money was an egregious crime. But before, I never had trouble hiding it—anything I won was silly pocket money. This kind of cash was going to be a lot harder to stow.
“I think I’m gonna cash out,” I announced, once everyone was seated.
“Cool, dude,” Topher replied, while another guy, Jonah, slapped my hand amicably.
“What? You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Lucas protested.
A couple of the other guys grumbled as well. Talk about a divisive announcement. Everyone looked at Lucas, uncomfortable.
“Come on, man,” Lucas said, sitting up straight and raising his palms on the table. I found myself hoping he had washed them after doing his business. “You gotta at least give us a chance to win some of our money back.”
“Yeah,” one of the other guys chorused. “Don’t be a wank.”
“A greedy wank,” Lucas amended.
I looked around at their pleading, challenging expressions and felt myself start to oscillate. Normally I’m fairly obdurate in these situations, but in that moment, I felt kind of sorry for them. They didn’t know what the hell they were doing, and I had taken advantage of that. Besides, if I lost a little money back, I would still be up, they would be placated, and it would be less cash to explain to my parents.
I settled back down and nodded to Ian. “All right. Deal me in.”