Excerpt from Quantum Entity |
is a scene aboard the Princesa Agnes, a large passenger and cargo airship
flying out of SFA, San Francisco Aerodrome, on its way to New Zealand’s North
Island carrying (SPOILER ALERT) the
President of the Commonwealth of the United States, Ellen Brooks, and
General of the Army Farrar Staubach. Farrar is about to engage in a Texas
Hold’em match against a group of nine other men, one of whom–an Aussie from Queensland–is his
primary competition for a winner-take-all-purse.
Krenosky (a former MBA student of mine and a hell of a card player) worked with
me and my youngest son, Matthew Firestone, on this scene. We tried to outdo
Casino Royale’s Texas Hold’em game (from the 2006 film). Anyway, you be the judge*–
(* Please note there is mature
content and language suitable for persons 18 and older.)
are more than 4,000 cabins on the Princesa Agnes, most of them four meters
wide, double occupancy ones coating the skin of the ship on either side. They all
have portals and some like Ellen’s and Farrar’s (they are sharing her cabin now
that the pretend stage of their relationship is over) have balconies. They are
stacked six stories high on either side of the main cylinder along its long
axis with a few choice suites at the bow (where they are). The underside of the
Princesa is all cargo; its inner gut is complete vacuum. The topside of the
ship would be worthless for cabins unless you like looking out a skylight so
it’s used for something quite different.
a giant dance hall, bar, amusement park and casino. What’s really cool is that
its outer shell is completely transparent so tonight, after their day spent
hovering close to the ocean, the Captain has taken them to the top end of their
range to gaze at the stars and lose their money in a company-run casino.
fresh from his quite pathetic attempt to keep up with Caleb (who amazingly can
get enough speed on his kiteboard to slingshot himself into 100 foot surf
without assistance from a jet ski) doesn’t like to lose money so he’s playing
Texas Hold’em with a bunch of guys in a men’s only game in a private room near
one end of the casino. Apart from a few bumps and bruises including a nasty
gash on his right cheek that Ellen needlessly fusses over, the General is fit
for his next challenge.
buy-in is $350,000 QED and each player is allowed one more for $150,000. They
squeeze in 10 players and it’s winner take all which suits Farrar just fine.
5.5% will go to the house and 1 point to the dealer which leaves $4.675 million
for the winner to take home.
tells Ellen not to expect him back tonight—the game will probably last til dawn
possibly noon. She’s quite OK with that since she’s a bit sore from all the
recent activity her various orifices have been put to and she can use a night
off. She kisses him and fusses over his face a bit more.
these early stages, better players calibrate their opponents and begin to cull
the herd. When they are down to six, blinds double after each player is eliminated—they’ll
reach $160,000 when just two players remain.
General is first introduced to poker in basic training. It comes naturally to
him. Perhaps it’s his understanding of probabilities or his unwavering
discipline but he rarely loses even to other would-be officers. It starts out
as beer money but soon it’s paychecks. He thinks for a few months about making
a go of it fulltime but civilian life, especially the dissolute one that lies
in front of all top Hold’em players—booze, hookers, mobsters, financial backers
and drugs—doesn’t interest him.
is particularly sharp when it comes to body language. He knows that amateurs
show a tendency to act strong when their hand is weak and weak when their hand
is strong. It is uncanny how consistent this behavior is for players who
haven’t studied successful poker strategies. They pretend to look uninterested
in their hand by, for example, showing sudden interest in a football game
that’s on a media wall in the corner of a casino. The most common tell with amateurs
though is glancing at their chips to do a quick assessment of how much money
they have. This let’s trained opponents like Farrar know they are up against a
good hand since their opponent is establishing how much s/he can bet and how
much they stand to win.
General also develops a habit of looking for any change in posture, good or
bad, as well as any movements that are outside a player’s normal routine.
Players using extra protection for their cards such as keeping their fingers on
them during an entire round or placing chips on top of them are typical
giveaways. Next, he’ll look for any type of chip fumble or voice cracking (it’s
amazing what happens to your body when a person is nervous) or increased
breathing rate. He can actually see some of his weaker opponents’ chests going
in and out rapidly like they’ve just run up a flight of stairs.
people think that pupil dilation is a sure tell. It may be true that pupils
dilate slightly when a player sees something s/he likes but this is virtually
impossible to detect in most poker rooms. They are usually poorly lit to begin
with and you’re too far away from your opponent to detect subtle dilation in
pupils. Farrar knows better than to waste effort looking for this tonight.
there are any windows in a casino, Farrar always sits with his back to them.
This is so his face is in shadow while his opponents’ are lit up like Christmas
trees from any ambient light coming into the room that way. He learns this from
a financial engineer he tangles with early in his career who is fleecing DOD’s
supply chain. The guy confides his negotiating tactic to Farrar. Subsequently,
the finance guy finds himself trapped in an indiscretion which has nothing to
do with supply contracts and everything to do with sexual harassment charges
brought against him by an attractive young woman soldier who is trying on
female-specific body armor at this defense contractor’s plant. It’s a bad idea
to get on the wrong side of the General of the Army even before he is General
of the Army. The young woman in question is Farrar’s younger sister.
players tonight almost get into a fight over slow-rolling. One of the guys
delays showing his cards even when he knows he’s won. Consequently, his
opponent thinks he’s won and starts pulling the pot towards himself. The other
guy, with a not-so-fast smirk on his face, finally flips over his cards and
gloats. He thinks he’s being funny. They almost come to blows. Security
separates them immediately. The slow-roller is given one warning. Next time,
he’ll forfeit. Slow-rolling is very bad poker etiquette and you don’t see it
very often in casinos because these things are often dealt with in the parking
lot after the game—also guys who routinely do it routinely end up dead.
recipe for a good poker player is quite simple but also quite rare. The
percentage of players who are profitable in the long-term is just 8%. These 8%
all share Farrar’s attributes—emotional control, discipline and a good
understanding of probability. That’s it. The tough part is that these three
have to be in-check at all times, not just most of the time. Discipline is key.
The General has discipline.
guy’s a poofter. How can you elect a chocolate driller as Prime Minister, mate?
He barracks for the other team fer chrissake. And they got a bloody woman for
President. Apparently, makes sex tapes on the side too. Probably bangs like a
dunny door. Scona beer a gloria sty when ya get to put your donga in that, I
tell ya. Probably a carpet muncher too like their PM. No wonder their country
is so mucked up,” says one of the four other guys left at the table. He’s an
Aussie from Queensland and is seemingly unaware of who is on the far side of
the table. Some of the other men look at Farrar. They know who he is and who
the cutie he is boning is too. But Farrar doesn’t react. He’s just focused on
cleaning out these guys, especially this guy. They are down to five players
what feels like an eternity of cold cards, Farrar picks up 78s on his big
blind. It’s a weak hand heads-up, but it’s also a type of hand that can
surprise the hell out of a guy sitting across from you. His sole remaining
opponent is the Aussie who’s a complete boor but can really play. Farrar is
plenty sure the guy’s earlier statements are absolutely intentional. He knows
full well who Farrar is and who Ellen is. He’s just talking shit to throw the
General off his game. No chance of that.
all the buy-ins and re-buys are counted, there is now $3,920,000 QED in the
kitty. No one is moving, coughing, drinking, burping, slurping, sneezing,
scratching or making rude remarks about homos or babes.
Aussie and the General are fairly even-stacked and have a strong read on each
other. They have both seen and done it all—calibrating, bluffing, feinting,
cutting their losses and double bluffing (intentionally losing by folding even
when they actually have a good hand). It’s risky at this stage of the night
(now day) to do anything but play the hand.
awaits the Aussie’s move which he hopes will be a flat call allowing Farrar to
see a cheap flop. But the Aussie is too smart for that. He moves in with a
strong bet of $300,000, knowing that Farrar will figure him for trying to buy
the blinds. As the Aussie reaches for his chips, Farrar has already decided to
fold. He picks his cards up for one last peek before he begins the motion of
mucking them but suddenly stops himself.
is something off about the Aussie’s last bet and it hits Farrar like a wafting
stench. The General stares at his cards as though he’s contemplating a fold but
he’s really just playing back the last 30 seconds in his mind, over and over,
before it finally clicks. The cards never left the felt. All night his Aussie
opponent is reckless with his cards, twirling, shuffling and even fanning
himself with them. Earlier, the dealer warns him about protecting his cards
from other players. But not this time. This time, hey, they just lie there,
motionless, stacked neatly in front of his chips. This is no attempt to buy the
blinds. The Aussie has a big hand and Farrar knows it has to be either Aces or
Texas Hold’em figuring out your opponent’s hand is nearly as valuable as the
rank of your own cards. Farrar runs the numbers in his head and knows that he
could call the flop and still have enough left to hurt the Aussie if he misses.
He figures he has a big underdog on the hand but he also knows that if it hits,
the Aussie may not be able to release such a strong starting hand—his emotions
will finally get the better of him. So Farrar calls and both players watch
carefully as the dealer reveals the flop—6♥ 9♦. Farrar can feel his heart rate
spike but is careful not to show any reaction. Then he sees 5♠ fall. The
General’s just flopped the nuts and what’s more, if he is right about the
Aussie’s hand, he knows the bloke will like his overpair too well.
is now first to act and he makes a modest $300,000 bet as though to suggest he
paired on the nine; his trap is set. The Aussie, pleased by the relatively
small bet, quickly moves over the top with a raise of $500,000. The General
stalls. The Aussie thinks the General is deciding to fold or call but Farrar is
simply putting on a show—a quick call may tip the Aussie off as to the strength
of the General’s hand but too long a stall and the Aussie will detect the ploy.
After three long breaths, the General utters, “Call” and slides his chips in.
The turn is flipped and it takes every ounce of control for the General to dull
his reactions, it’s the K♦.
general knows this card has to help the Aussie—if he is on Aces then he’s still
got an overpair and if he is on Kings then he just made trips. Farrar checks
his straight so as to respect the Aussie’s raise on the flop. The Aussie takes
another peek at his cards, looks up at Farrar and says the last word that the
General wants to hear, “Check.”
is stunned for the first time tonight, doubt immediately sets in. How can the
Aussie check his hand? Does he have him wrong, all night? Maybe he
underestimates this guy’s skills?
the General is right and the Aussie is on Ace-Ace or King-King, it takes brass
balls to check that turn and it would mean that he is setting a trap for
Farrar. Then again, maybe he simply has nothing and is revealing his free-card
dealer reveals the river, it’s the 3♥. This cannot have helped the Aussie but
it gives the General the stone-cold nuts along with one hell of a difficult
decision. A big bet here and he’s liable to scare the guy into a call even if
he hit while a check means he risks not getting paid on the best hand he’s hit
all night. Farrar looks the Aussie in the eye and gets no reaction. He glances
at the dealer who is becoming impatient with his delay then takes one more look
at the Aussie, still nothing. Finally he breaks his silence with a firm,
heart is now racing. He can feel sweat starting to bead at his hairline and a
drop roll down his back. He hopes the Aussie hasn’t noticed it yet; he hasn’t
because he’s too busy counting his stack. As he finishes, he looks at the dealer
and says, “I’m all-in with $645,500” then confidently leans back in his chair.
To the General, a giant marlin’s just swallowed bait, hook, line, sinker and
trawler. Farrar calmly slides his whole stack across the betting line and
places his cards face-up on the pile. Just for good measure and with a cruel
smile, he adds (uncharacteristically), “I flopped the nuts”.
Aussie explodes, throwing his cards at Farrar who manages to dodge pocket
Kings, now revealed. “You bloody Yank whore! Ya fucking kiddin’ me? What ya
thinking checking that river?” He hauls his jacket off, throws it on the floor,
stomps on it a few times then rips his shirt off and tosses it on the table,
“Ya can have me bloody clobber too, ya bogan bastard.”
stands up, leans forward with his knuckles on the table and replies. “I guess I
just got lucky, mate.” Then he calmly walks over to shake the tournament
director’s hand and accept his reward. He pays the dealer and the house and
then asks S4y3rs to bank the rest of his winnings with QE Reserve Bank, the
safest bank on the planet, one that can’t be hacked. Meanwhile, security
escorts the Queenslander out of the poker room.
Princesa is cruising again close to the surface of the South Pacific so people
can enjoy the great outdoors. All the shutters are up and habitable spaces are
unpressurized. Farrar prefers it like this.
feels like a cigar and steps out onto the balcony to enjoy a Bolivar Gigantes.
He’s glad that Ellen normalized relations with Cuba so he can finally buy his
favorite cigars legally.
wonderful to be alive, a man, on this ship, at this time in history, dating the
most powerful woman in the world who is also devilishly good in bed.
has one last personal errand to run before he goes to visit his lover.
wallops the guy again. He just doesn’t seem to be getting the message. What’s
wrong with this guy? So he introduces his face to the wall, again. Then the
balcony’s safety barrier for good measure.
You see that water down there. From a mile up you are going to hit it like it’s
concrete. If you ever, ever so much as look at her again, I will throw your
worthless self off this here balcony. The sharks will eat what’s left of you
after you bounce off the ocean. You shut your bazoo, unnerstand?”
he gets upset, he sounds more Texan than usual but he rarely swears. He gets
mad at himself if he does. But the Queenslander must now surely finally get the
fact that he can’t insult the General of the Army’s boss (and girlfriend)
without paying a price.
also going to need some dental work—the balcony railing has somehow chipped the
guy’s upper and lower central incisors.