The Salami Game (1st revision)
It was 7:05 and our hero was running late. He was speeding through the streets of the busiest city in the world without the slightest clue of his destination. It was somewhat cold and dark, but busy and alive with people and light.
Jeremy just had to get out of the car. He was sure he was lost and just wanted to walk now. Maybe if he could walk it would get his mind moving in the right direction. The air would have a calming effect to it. "Breathe," he said at a whisper. Finally he received the message. The news was good, he was only a few minutes from the game.
He jumped out of the cab with a few minutes to spare and peeled two twenty dollar bills out of his large roll. "Keep it," Jeremy said. Knowing this was a paltry sum considering what he was about to do.
Jeremy met the contact just outside the room. This was it, the biggest game he'd ever heard of. He flipped the man another wad of bills... a finders fee. Now was the moment. He knew once he hit the doorbell, it was going to be one of two things. He would get fleeced or he'd walk away a very rich man.
Losing wasn't really an option for Jeremy, you see. He had markers all over the place. The last vestige.....desperation. He was playing with borrowed time and borrowed money. He felt unattached from everything. Like the only real part of him had already become disconnected from the real world.
He felt his eyeballs float to the camera, and his left index finger, warm from his pocket, push against the bell. First came the buzz, and he walked into the dark corridor. As the harsh fluorescents lit up the room, he felt a two hands on his outer thighs, but he did not dare move.
"Weapon?" the harsh voice said, Jeremy looked directly at the wall inches from his nose and shook his head. He knew this treatment was procedure, and he dealt with it. The doorman finished his job quickly, there were more guests arriving.
Jeremy walked into the smallish room, there were several men sitting at a felted table, talking and watching television. Each man had a clear plastic case in front of him. Each case lined with three rows of clay poker chips....red, white and black. In the back of the room three men cooked what smelled like pasta in the kitchen. The air heavy with the smell of garlic.
Jeremy looked to the left and saw a face he recognized, but neither man registered it with each other. Jeremy began to feel a burning in the pit of his stomach. "What the fuck is HE doing here?" He thought to himself. There was no turning around now. Maybe, he thought, "I can find away around him."
Jeremy looked to the right and saw a large tattooed man looking straight through him.
"Buy in," the man said through a thick Italian accent. Jeremy moved closer to the man and began unloading his ankle length coat. He slowly pulled 50 stacks of bills from the inside pockets, then he produced the chip.
The chip was nothing like anyone has seen inside a casino. The chip had a weight to it, and it made a distinct sound when Jeremy tossed it gently onto the table. Everyone in the room knew what that sound meant. There was a ringer in their midst, one who could topple the biggest game in the world. For a full minute there was an uncomfortable silence as all the men, save one, looked in Jeremy's direction. He could smell the fear, but did not turn his head or change expression.
Finally, the one man who was not looking in Jeremy's direction stood. Tall, tanned, and grey-haired, the gentleman filled out a waist length silk shirt. The man walked to a spot within inches of Jeremy's face. Jeremy felt the cold gaze of everyone in the room, then the man's stare slowly began to warm into a smile. The other players began to turn away, and the man said to Jeremy, "You are welcome here, I am Pauly. You take care." The last three words spoken as if Pauly was whispering to himself.
Jeremy's mind raced, but he was numb with fear, elation and anticipation. One thing he had to do was get his head straight. He began an inner dialog. "Ok, breathe. These people are worse than dogs. They can smell fear straight through the garlic and expensive cologne. I'm so fucking hungry I can't see straight. Just push it out of your mind....clear it all. Start getting your targets, this is the best time to get a read. The guard is down, and I now have the biggest target on my back. They ALL want to bust me, I have to make that work"
After a few more minutes, the game was set to begin. There were twenty entrants, twenty of the richest and the best. Twenty million reasons to be as focused as one could possibly be. The format was easy, winner take all, freezeout. Once you were out, you were out...period.
The cards were drawn and players took their seats. Jeremy sat on the first table in seat 10, to the right of the dealer. He felt like he had an advantage already. He didn't need to play a hand for awhile, since he was last on the table to post a blind. He would get a good sense of how these players were going to play.
In seat 1 was a young man, the Kid, barely 21. Jeremy could tell immediately this guy was good. It's just a sense a player gets from another player. The way they count their chips, The way they hold their head, what they do with their hands. This was important.
Good players can spot these tells. Forget what you hear about the eyes, and the jugular vein and all that shit. A real player can put you on a hand without even looking at you. Jeremy was such a player. No one was going to pick up anything on Jeremy unless HE wanted them to.
Seat 2 was an old 70ish man, a little sloppy. He hung in his chair like a dirty shirt. In the first hand he had almost half his chips in the pot on an obvious steal. He was loose, aggressive, and cocksure. Jeremy labeled him Einstein because of his disheveled appearance.
Seat 3 was a 30-something would be librarian. There was nothing in his appearance that was remarkable. His voice shook when he spoke, he had no business here. Dead Money
Seat 4 was Andrew Silver, a well known Poker professional. Jeremy thought he might possibly be the best player at the game. Calm, confident and bold.
In the 5 seat was Pauly, an obvious mob boss. He had silver-white hair and tight tanned skin on his face. He oosed confidence and leaked money, a good mark.
Seat 6 had been sitting next to Pauly when Jeremy walked in. They were together, Jeremy noticed. They could be team playing, but Jeremy couldn't worry about that...just watch it. Jeremy labeled him as stooge.
Seat 7 belonged to Ellard 'Jimmy' Carter, the Millionaire Playboy. Jeremy wasn't sure why Jimmy was here, he must know someone else at the game. Jimmy was tall, black, good looking, and loaded. His family ran 2 casinos, a hotel empire, and several media outlets. This game was too low profile for him.
In Seat 8 sat "Goggles" he wore coke bottle glasses and had a wandering eye. He spoke with an obvious lisp and was completely wild. Almost impossible to track. Jimmy suspected he was connected somehow and was there out of pity or in repayment of a debt.
Seat 9 held Hank "the shiner" Granderson. A high stakes poker specialist, and star of the hit cable series "Professional Poker." Jeremy was definitely glad to have the shiner in front of him. Jimmy would have to expect some tough play and for the shiner to use his image as a grinder to make different plays.
Jeremy was a virtual unknown. There was one person who knew Jeremy at the Salami game, it was Hop, the man he made eye contact with on the way in. Hop was seated at the other table. He wasn't supposed to be here, and his presence shook Jeremy to the core. He prayed someone would take out Hop before he had to.
Jeremy knew that the first hour or so of this tournament would have the most action. This game featured some of the largest egos on the planet. They would be tough to bluff and easy to trap, for the most part. Jeremy played his first hand out of the big blind. The action was folded to him on a raise by Einstein. Einstein had played nearly every hand so far, raising pre-flop and pounding post. Everyone had backed down to him so far. Jeremy looked down to two black tens. The raise was about 3 times the blinds, a standard raise. Jeremy knew a re-raise would be met with stiff opposition, So he thought for a minute and called.
The flop came Jack of clubs, Ten of hearts, Six of diamonds. Einstein stared at Jeremy, then wrapped his hand against the felt. Jeremy expected a bet from Einstein. This meant to Jeremy that Einstein has either a great drawing hand, a trap hand, or nothing. A check felt like a Draw to Jeremy. He checked behind giving the old man a chance to hang himself.. The turn came 8 of clubs and Einstein lead out this time. He put out a pot sized bet. Jeremy knew that Einstein was on a draw but had not filled it. Jeremy thought for another minute, he had not even looked in Einsteins direction, but he knew Einstein was staring him down. Jeremy looked up and deliberately pushed his chips into the middle. Einstein folded immediately, maybe he wasn't that loose.
Jeremy was still out of his body. His mind felt like it was floating a few feet over his head, totally aware...calm and open. He let his mind drift a bit as he folded his cards again. He had sent a message to the table. Stay out of my pots or be punished. He had yet to show a hand, but he controlled the table.
Jeremy began to daydream, his mind was starting to wander. The action bug, started to nip at his ego...'cmon man, do it....you can push these duds off of anything.' but the voice of reason was still awake. 'No reason to show anything yet. Pace yourself, bluffing is weakness until you show them you're not bluffing. Make them pay for their ignorance, not gain from yours.'
He snapped back, and the action was on him. Jeremy peaks at his cards, AK of different suits. "Raise, eight hundred", 4x the blinds. He just wanted to steal the blinds which sat in front of Pauly and his stooge. He did not want to tangle with Einstein again, and he definitely didn't want Silver to wake up with a hand.
Everyone folded to Pauly and he called after thinking for some time. The stooge got out of the way. The dealer flopped three small cards. Four of hearts, six of hearts and the nine of clubs. Jeremy threw out a continuation bet, and Pauly quickly called. The next card out was a Jack, and Jeremy thought for a very long time. He knew he was done with this hand and needed to exit well, so he waits a bit longer and checks. Pauly pushes out 1200 chips, and Jeremy thinks again. He needed Pauly to know he faced a tough decision. Jeremy lays down his hand and Pauly tossed his nines face up on the table.
An hour later the table had lost Mr Dead money, and Pauly had the chiplead. Interestingly, he took a large pot off of stooge, who was left with scraps. Jeremy played patiently, taking one hand from Goggles on a turned flush and one from Silver on a stone cold bluff. Jeremy took great joy taking a pot from the champion. He wanted Silver mean...angry people make hasty decisions on the poker table. If he couldn't induce fear, then hatred was the next best thing. Table 2 had been a little louder than table 1 with a lot more action at the table. Two people were already out there, and Hop was nursing a short stack.
Jeremy was in the big blind with 89 off-suit. All the players fold to Goggles, who nursed a semi-short stack. He had been nervously shifting in his chair an hour. Either he had to pee or he was having an epileptic fit. No one seemed to notice though. He looked over to Jeremy's stack and calls the blind. The Shiner calls and Jeremy checks behind.
The flop came out with two spades Jack Ten and a red 7. Jeremy flopped the straight. Both Goggles and Shiner check and Jeremy checked behind. The King of hearts came out next and both Goggles and Shiner check again. Jeremy bet about half the pot. He wanted it to look like a steal, but he also wanted any drawing hand to pay. The half pot bet represented most of Goggles stack. Goggles thought long and started talking to Jeremy. "You getta pietsh of that?" as a white piece of spittle gathered on the left corner of his mouth. He was rocking back and forth, muttering, looking like he was going to launch himself from the seat at any moment.
The table was quiet besides Goggles, Silver looked intently at Jeremy....Jeremy peered over to Goggles, and said "Yes, I do." this was exactly what Goggles needed to hear, he pushed his chips in...'I'm drawing' he said and showed the Queen and seven of spades. Jeremy looked to the felt and showed his straight. He did not want to see the river until everyone else had.
The five of clubs scares him for about half a second, then Goggles stood up, insisting (asking if) it was a good call. Jeremy nods, "yes, you had to call that" he lied.
Finally, the players got a break. Jeremy was much more comfortable now. He stretched his legs and wandered over to the bar. Hop, was waiting on a drink, and the men exchanged looks. Hop spoke first, "You're playing well." He was sincere, but the statement was tinged with contempt. Jeremy glanced to Hop's spot at table 2. "Hang in there, your fine." Hop replied quietly, "I am as long as your in." Jeremy didn't acknowledge the statement, but he knew Hop was right.
The players were seated again, there were 16 left.
Jeremy began to work again. He decided to open up a bit and try to bust Silver. Silver was no push over. He had a keen mind and incredible intuition. The problem this night was two-fold. Silver was not getting cards, and Jeremy was determined to bust him soon.
It didn't take long for Jeremy to get his chance. He stole the first two pots after the break with no resistance. On the third hand Silver had the big blind, and Jeremy looked down at two Queens. Everyone folded to Jeremy, and once again he put out a pot stealing raise. The same amount he had used on the previous hands, about 3 times Silver's blind. Silver looked down at his cards and thought for a very long time as he looked intently at Jeremy.
Jeremy decided to look at Silver, and return his gaze. He hoped Silver read his strength as a tell. Silver still sat, thoughtful. He was going to put a move on Jeremy. "All in" he said. It sounded like a bull-horn in Jeremy's head. Silver took the bait, and he couldn't believe it. Jeremy called and Silver's Aces hit the felt before Jeremy could push his chips in.
Jeremy was stunned. This would cripple him mightily and make him the short stack. Jeremy closed his eyes and sat back, exhaling into the chair. The dealer sat forward and dealt the flop. Jeremy could not see the felt, the large tattooed dealer blocked Jeremy's line of sight. It didn't really matter, until Jeremy saw the reaction. The whole table deflated in a gasp, and Jeremy sat up and saw the queen. He just sucked out on the best poker player in the world.
Silver looked into his chest and sort of melted into the chair for a minute until he was able to gather his dignity and stand up from the table. He took his loss well, stepping up and looking over to Jeremy. "Nice catch" he said genuinely. All Jeremy could to is nod, looking at Silver with a hint of sadness. "Horrible way to go out" said Jeremy, and that was it.
There were only 13 players left now. The action would ramp up now as the short stacks had to make a stand with what they could get. Jeremy didn't play a hand for a long time. Jimmy took out the stooge, then the kid took out Jimmy on consecutive hands. The tables were going to combine soon, there were 3 players standing up looking at table 2, and a huge mound of chips in the middle.
The board showed the Three of hearts, Six of spades, Queen of hearts, and three of diamonds. Hop was all-in, and the other two players had just gone all-in, creating a side pot. The woman in the 9 seat showed her cards first, she turned a Queen high full house, the second player tabled his Aces, and Hop, looked back at his cards again and produced two black threes scooping the biggest pot of the night. The woman in the 9-seat, Dalia, was glaring in Hop's direction as she scooped the remaining chip stack. It was break time again.
The final table had to be redrawn. Jeremy sat in the 4 seat, between the shiner on his right again, and Hop directly on his left. Certainly not the best place for Jeremy to be.
In the first seat was Dawn Sumners, an internet professional. She was widely known as being connected with the board at Full Hit poker, the most popular gaming site in the world. Fortunately for the table, she was nursing the short stack.
Seat 2 was Anna Kotsfeild, preeminent math professor and author of "Assessing your Odds: A Poker Tutorial," She had been playing sparingly, with only a few more chips than she started with. The blinds were going to start catching up to her soon.
Pauly was in the 6 seat. Followed by the kid and Einstein.
In seat 9 was Dalia, still steaming at Hop for busting her full house.
In seat 10 was a man unknown to Jeremy, but he seemed to also know Pauly. He was well dressed and quiet. Jeremy labeled him as the Ghost.
Action began on the first hand as Dawn pushed all her chips in blind. Hop called with Jack Ten of clubs then the kid called with two sixes. action folded back to Anna, and she pushed. Both Hop and the kid were forced to fold. Anna came up with Kings and took out the first player at the final table on the very first hand.
The very next hand Pauly and the ghost went all-in pre-flop. Pauly's Tens held up versus the ghost's King and Queen of clubs on a raggy flop. Just like that, they were left with 8 players.
The table settled into a more predictable cadence of pre-flop folding to raises or all-ins until Jeremy got his chance. Sitting in the big blind, he was dealt two Kings, a very favorable position that was rewarded when 3 players, including Hop, limped in. Jeremy wasted no time, the pot was big enough and he did not want an inferior had with an ace to be willing to call.
Jeremy pushed his chips towards the pot, Hop thought, but not too long and folded his hand. The kid decided to call off his remaining chips with Jacks. The kid got no help from the flop and was out in 8th place.
Not long afterwards, Einstein went all in in front of the shiner and Jeremy. The shiner was uncomfortable and frustrated. He had not been able to play many cards at the final table, and slapped his cards down in front of the dealer. Jeremy peeked below his thumb, two red Jacks. He had Einstein covered, and called. He knew Einstein was capable of making his move on a wide range of cards, so it was an easy call. Once again, Jeremy held the higher pair to Einstein's Eights and was rewarded.
Despite the results, Jeremy was still behind Hop's huge stack. Hop had continued his aggression and stole several blinds, even one from Jeremy.
Pauly had only won one pot so far, almost an hour on the final table. The blinds were getting very big and an ante had been introduced.
Under the gun, Pauly went all in and the action folded to Anna, she called, Jeremy and Hop mucked their cards. Pauly proudly produced black aces and Anna tabled her Ace and Queen of hearts. As Pauly quietly chucked the dealer flopped three hearts.
Pauly stood over the board and sucked in his breath. "WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SHIT!!!" he bellowed to the dealer. "WHAT KIND OF FUCKING SHUFFLE IS THIS??? YOU"VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME YOU MISERABLE FUCK" Pauly is now hunched over the table, getting his face as close to the dealer as he could.
The two large tattooed men at the bar came over to pull Pauly back. Pauly screamed at the top of his lungs "YOU FUCKING PUNK, YOU STACKED THAT DECK!!!" The two men pulled Pauly back toward the bar and a man came from the kitchen wearing an apron. The man walked purposely over to Pauly and punched him deep in the belly. The air sucked audibly from Pauly's lungs and the man in the apron placed his arm around Pauly and pulled close to his ear. He whispered quickly to Pauly and Pauly regained his composure. Then the man in the apron strolled back to the kitchen and Pauly rested on a barstool.
After a few more hands, Dalia doubled her short stack off of Hop, and was outwardly pleased with herself. Hop glared in her direction as says "Don't get to excited there girl" and play resumes.
The shiner opened up the next hand with a conservative bet and was called by Hop. The flop was King and four of hearts and a Queen of spades. Both the shiner and Hop checked and the turn was a Jack of diamonds. Once again the shiner checked to Hop, and Jeremy could smell a trap. Hop took the bait and lead out about half the pot. The shiner called and the river was another 4. The shiner immediately went all in and Hop had a lot to think about. Finally he quietly said "call", and the shiner said "good call." The shiner had been making a move the whole time, and flipped over an ace high. Hop showed an amazed table the hand he picked to go to war with... pocket threes. Truly an amazing call.
Down to four, Hop was in control with a large stack of chips, Jeremy was a not so distant second with Anna in third and Dalia still with a small stack. Several hands in Dalia made her stand with Ace Nine and Jeremy was happy to call with pocket Kings. Again Kings held up for Jeremy, a dejected Dalia slinked away from the table.
Anna still had a decent stack of chips but needed to make a move to have any chance of winning. The blinds were so high she could only cover about 6 big blinds. She put all of her chips out against another steal attempt by Hop. He took her out with King Jack versus her Jack Ten.
Finally, they were at the breaking point. Jeremy knew what had to happen now. Take a dive or die. Hop would never let him leave here with the money. Hop was the only man in the world Jeremy was afraid of. Blood was a dangerous thing. It was all clear, the setup was too perfect and Jeremy never even saw it coming. This game, the money, the connections coming out of the wood work, the competition. Every thing stacked together for him, just to fall on top of him.
He had played perfectly. Patient, deliberate, open. He had to find a way to to leave this place alive. Money didn't matter now. He could go away, disappear if he needed to. Jeremy only wanted to leave here on his feet, instead of in someones trunk.
Hop looked at Jeremy and said "Chop?" with a smile on his face. Jeremy couldn't believe what he had just heard. He gingerly cleared his throat, "what?"
Hop said it again "You want to chop?" He was serious, and looked directly at Jeremy. "If I can't forgive my own brother, what kind of person does that make me? You think I was gonna kill you did you?" Then the two men shared a laugh for the first time in years.