The check-in lines were long that late afternoon as I walked through the lobby on the way to the casino floor. “Good,” I thought, “A full house weekend should help the poker room keep its tables busy.”
I entered the casino floor. Jackpot bells were going off on the slot machines, an aspiring female singer had the afternoon shift and was singing ‘Just An Old Fashioned Love Song,’ on the stage of the Lagoon Bar, and the biggest sucker game in the house—the spinning wheel—had all six seats taken.
I walked by two crap tables that had a good crowd playing at each one. Plenty of one hundred dollar black chips were in play. The people playing craps seemed happy to be losing their money. There were two age groups—the late twenty’s crowd of macho males, and the older fifty and sixty year old men; some with their twenty something year old wives. I corrected my thought, “Wives for the day.”
It was all clutter to me; background noise as I made my way to the poker room. I had gone to the casino a few hours earlier than normal and hoped that the 20-40 Hold’em game would be started. I had broken up with my girlfriend a few months ago and my apartment seemed smaller and more boring these days, so I had come in early.
I thought, “Three years and three girlfriends; do I see a pattern here? I’m five feet eleven inches tall, brown hair, brown eyes, in shape, and I can tell a joke without blowing the punch line. No female ever complained about my bedroom skills, although no female had made it past twelve months in my bed either. Life can be a pain in the ass sometimes.”
I reached the poker room and walked up to John who was the brush for this shift. I thought, “Brush is a funny name for the person who takes down the names of the players who want to play poker, and then seats them when a place opens. The term probably came from brushing off the table before each game started back in the old days.”
“How’s 20-40 or 40-80 look John?” I asked.
John checked the sheet and answered, “Not good Roy. Three of the 20-40 locals are out of town and I only have six names on that list. Three of the six went out to dinner. It’s going to be a few hours before I can start a game unless we get surprised by the hotel guests. And I only have one name down for 40-80.”
I nodded. It was the answer I expected. I told John to put me on the list for either 20-40 or 40-80 and stood there scanning the room to see if there were any locals around who weren’t playing, and who might be interesting to bullshit with for a while.
My scan was interrupted. There at a lowly 6-12 table my eyes locked on to a female card player who was absolutely beautiful—not pretty or good looking, but beautiful. I guessed she was five feet six inches or so with blond hair cut short. My goddess had deep blue eyes with a happy, laughing face. Her breasts pushed against the light sweater she was wearing. She was obviously not a local—I had never seen her before, locals don’t dress that pretty, and she was laughing—all signs of a tourist.
I went back to John and said, “I’m bored. Put me down for the 6-12 game at table 18.”
John nodded and entered my name for a third time. Ten minutes later I sat down at table 18. I gave John four hundred and five dollars. He would bring back four hundred dollars in chips—the five was for him. John told the dealer, “Four hundred coming at seat six.”
The dealer nodded that he heard and, if I started playing before John came back, he would still let me in the game.
The dealer looked at me and I said, “I’ll post behind the button.” I was telling the dealer that as the dealer button rotated around the table, I would start playing right after the button had passed me. I could have started playing the next hand if I was willing to anti right away, but that was a sucker play; and I wasn’t in that much of a hurry anyway. I was playing 6-12 for only one reason—to get closer to the blond girl.
As I waited to play my eyes constantly shifted from her face to her breasts—it was a tough choice. Her breasts against the thin material of her sweater came to two very nice points; her face, always grinning or laughing, was also something my eyes didn’t want to miss.
The button passed me and I started to play. Hold’em is a very simple game to play. The problem, however, is that it is a very difficult game to play well. The ‘simple’ means a lot of people play it, the ‘difficult’ means that good players take the money from the bad players—most players are bad. There are only four bets: You get two personal cards down so that only you can see them, and then there is bet one. The dealer puts three cards face up in the middle of the table, and then there is bet two. The dealer puts a fourth card face up in the middle of the table, and there is bet three. The dealer puts the fifth and final card face up in the middle of the table, and there is bet four. Each player uses their two personal cards and the five up cards in the center of the table to make a poker hand. The best hand wins.
The first two bets in this game had to be six dollars, and the last two bets had to be twelve dollars, which is why the game was called 6-12. Obviously, my 20-40 and 40-80 games were much higher stakes, but the rules were the same.
I didn’t care if I won or lost; my objective was to watch the tourist. She had personality and looks; a rare event in most poker rooms in Las Vegas. I watched her play and listened to her talk. She had been playing poker for five years now she told the table. She had gone to Memphis State and, with the Tunica casinos just down the road, had spent much of her last two years at college in the poker rooms. For a while she needed the fake ID’s, but now she was a few years to the legal side. She was moving to Las Vegas to see if she could play good enough to beat the locals. She was staying at an inexpensive motel now, but would be looking for an apartment in the next day or so.
I played automatically; won a few pots legit; bought a few pots by bluffing a couple of the tight locals that played 6-12. Mostly, I watched her play; she was good, not great. Her starting game was very good. She knew which two cards to play and which two cards to throw away. She knew the importance of position so that if she was the dealer she would raise with a hand, but if she had to bet first, she would throw the same two cards away and not play.
In this town, if you played the first two cards correctly and you played in relatively low stakes games such as 6-12 or 8-16 you should probably break even over the long term. “The girl, at worst, will break even here,” I thought.
The first hand that we played against each other came up about twenty minutes after I sat down. I had a pair of aces which is usually good enough to win, but the girl kept calling my bets; the rest of the table had folded. It was my turn to bet on the fourth betting round. I said, “Check.”
She bet twelve dollars putting two red chips and two blue chips in front of her.
I reviewed the betting as I looked at her. She was looking away from me; staring at the center of the table. I said, “Well I have a pretty good hand and aces generally win, but in this case I don’t think so.”
She looked at me. I showed her the two aces and then threw the hand to the dealer. I had folded. The dealer shoved the chips in the pot to her.
A little while later I had three fives, which is normally an excellent hand. The girl bet into me again, but this time it was an even easier read. I said to the dealer although I was really talking to her, “Here I am with a set of fives, and I have to throw them away because the little lady has me beat again.” I showed the table the three fives and tossed them to the dealer. He shoved the chips to the girl.
Another twenty minutes went by and it was the girl and me once again fighting for the pot. It was her turn to make the fourth bet. Without hesitation she pushed in her twelve dollars and stared at me to see what I would do.
I thought about it for a moment and then said to her, “I just have a lousy little pair of twos and I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. But you can’t have a great hand every single time, so I’m going to give you my twelve dollars as a gift; I call.” I threw in the twelve dollars and turned over my cards to show that all I had was a pair of twos.
She stared at my hand for a few seconds and then picked up her cards and threw them to the dealer. She had folded; she couldn’t beat my twos. I could feel her looking at me as the dealer shoved the chips in my direction. She said, “Good call. A little bird must have told you that I busted my flush draw.”
I grinned and shrugged my shoulders.
A couple of hours later she quit. She had won about one hundred dollars. I was up about two hundred. When she left to cash in her chips, I was right behind her. I thought, “What line should I use? I don’t want to scare her off.”
We were standing side by side at the cashier’s counter when John came up to me and said, “Roy the 40-80 game is going to start in a few minutes—we have twelve names on the list.”
I could feel her turn and look at John and then at me. She said, “40-80? Something tells me I was playing against a professional. Could that be true?”
“Oops,” I thought. “I better handle this one right.” I turned to John and said, “Put me at the bottom of the list if the game starts; I’ll sit out for a while.”
I turned to her and said with a grin, “Guilty as charged that I usually play 20-40 through 40-80, but I have a good excuse for playing in your 6-12 game.”
“Which is?” she asked.
I answered, “Well my game hadn’t started yet, and I saw this beautiful woman playing at the 6-12 table. I couldn’t help myself. Plus I didn’t know any other way to offer my services as a poker instructor for a new player that just came into town.”
My words hung in the air for a second or two until she grinned and said, “Are you always so full of bullshit?”
I answered, “Only when around a beautiful woman ... and maybe I can buy that same woman a Coke or a drink while I point out a few parts of her game that need work?”
I stared at her beautiful blue eyes that stared right back at me. She grinned again and said, “Poker playing is over for the day; maybe a whiskey sour would be good as I listen to the coach tell me what I’m doing wrong.”
We cashed in and I took her to my favorite quiet little bar in a corner of the casino. We sat at a table and the waitress took our drink orders. The waitress walked away and my poker friend said, “Maybe we better start at the beginning. My name is Traci Evans from Memphis.”
I responded, “Well I’m Roy Winslow from Las Vegas. I have no steady job, I drink but don’t smoke, and my average girl friend lasts eleven months three days and four hours because they can’t stand my poker playing addiction. I tell them it’s my job, but they say it’s only a game.”
I guess the words came out the right way. Traci laughed and said, “Playing all night and sleeping all day might be part of your romantic problem too.”
I responded, “Well, I have also heard that message told to me a few times from my departed female companions. They just didn’t understand the baggage that poker professionals carry with them as part of the job.
“However, you didn’t tell me if I got the job of being your poker coach?”
Traci answered, “Why don’t you give me a free first lesson and then I’ll tell you. First, what is the worst part of my game, and how did you always know what I had.”
The drinks arrived and we toasted each other. I sipped my first beer of the day and said, “A big problem you have is that I spotted a couple of tells that are going to cost you a lot of money if you don’t correct them.”
I saw the confusion on her face and continued, “A ‘tell’ is some type of physical signal that a player makes inadvertently that reveals something about their hand. As an extreme example let’s say that every time you had a very strong hand and it was time to make the fourth bet, you stood up and put your chips in the middle, but when you didn’t think that you had the best hand or you were bluffing, you didn’t stand up. What would happen?”
Traci answered, “They would take me to the cleaners. I could never win. When I stood up, they would fold, and when I remained seated they would call or even raise me. It would be terrible.”
“It sure would,” I answered. “A classic tell that a famous poker writer described some years ago had a saying that ‘strength is weakness and weakness is strength.’ By that he meant if you portray strength with your hand, it really is a weak hand; and if you portray weakness, it is a strong hand.
“So when you bet and looked away from me, you were acting weak. When you pushed your chips in front of you quickly and stared at me, you were acting strong. When I had my two aces, you bet and wouldn’t look at me. You did the same thing when I had three fives, but then you stared at me when I had the two twos.
“I had already figured out that you could have me beat by your betting and position, but your classic tell was the deciding factor.
“What did you have for those hands?”
Traci stared at me and said, “I’ve been playing for five years and I never realized I was doing that. It’s amazing. When you had two aces, I had three tens; when you had three fives, I had a straight; and when you had your two twos, I was trying to draw to a flush and missed.
“You got the job coach if I can afford you. What is this going to cost me?”
I bit my tongue since the obvious answer was “Your body.” But I ignored the obvious and said, “For the first few lessons, let’s say they are free—a kind of welcome to Las Vegas gift. Later we can try to decide how serious and how good you can be playing against the big guys.
“Let’s meet tomorrow at this bar and I will answer your second question. What time is good for you?”
Traci answered, “Maybe four o’clock, and then I can play some more poker after we are through.”
We talked some more and then Traci said she had to get going and check out a few apartments and buy some stuff for herself. I tried for a dinner date, but she pointed out that the 40-80 game had a seat waiting for me, and she already knew that previous females did not understand what that meant.
“Smart ass,” I thought to myself. “I would have given up that game in a second to take her to dinner.”
The next day I walked into the little bar looking for Traci. I almost missed her for a second because she was sitting at a table with another person—a man.
“Shit,” I thought. “I might have lost this one eleven months and three days quicker than my average.”
I walked towards the table. As I approached Traci jumped up with a look of embarrassment on her face. Before I could say anything she said, “Roy, I haven’t been completely honest with you. I am from Memphis and I did play poker for five years, but I didn’t come to Las Vegas to be a professional poker player, even if I could. I work for this casino in their security department, and this is my boss Bill Ryan.”
“Security?” I thought.
Ryan stood up and shook my hand as he said, “Roy, sit down and I’ll explain everything.
“We did a lot of checking about you in the last twenty-four hours and I’m impressed with your reputation. Not only are you an excellent poker player, but everyone I asked said you are a stand up guy; no hint that you would ever cut a corner playing poker.
“We think we have a problem in the poker room. Several weeks ago one of our bathroom attendants overheard an argument in the men’s bathroom. He heard someone say that they could have made much more money at the 6-12 table, if the person had seen the signal before he threw his hand away. The attendant never saw either of the two men.
“We had already hired Traci for a security internship. She has a college degree and after six months as an intern, we will start moving her up to more demanding jobs. When I heard about the poker problem, I thought putting Traci into the game might help us identify the players.
“After yesterday, Traci came to me and said that our original idea wasn’t going to work as well as we thought. She tells me that she is only a good poker player. For her to be playing good poker and also try to spot collusion in the poker room would be a long shot.”
Bill paused and I thought, “They have a major problem. If word gets out that there is cheating going on in the poker room that they can’t discover, their customers will leave them in a second. And it’s worse than a mechanical device or marked cards; those are easy to catch. But intelligent poker collusion is very difficult to spot. If the people are careful and not too greedy, it could go on for a long time.”
My thoughts were interrupted by Bill as he continued, “So Traci suggested Plan B—that you would become not only her poker coach, but her boyfriend. That way you could sit behind her while she is playing and try to spot our crooks.
“The bitch of it is that I can’t offer you any money. If it came out that our casino was hiring a professional poker player to clean up our mess, it would be embarrassing. So I’m asking you to help for nothing.”
“Bill,” I replied, “This casino has provided me a living for a long time. You run a good poker room and it promotes poker, so guys like me can make money. I have no problem working with Traci and try to spot if any cheating is going on in the card room.”
“And,” I thought, “I would pay you money for making Traci my girlfriend. I just won the lotto!”
I continued, “But Bill, remember the rule is that only one player can play a hand. I can sit behind Traci and she can show me her cards, but I can’t give her any advice during the hand. In fact, it is probably better that I give her no advice in between hands. It would irritate the players to have a professional coaching a rookie between hands. Traci will have to learn how to go from a good to a really good poker player to make this thing look right—she can’t always be losing.”
Bill said, “I didn’t think of the ‘one player to a hand rule.’ You are right—you have to get Traci up to speed in Hold’em to make this work.
Bill shook my hand and left the table. I looked at Traci who hadn’t said a word through this whole conversation. She looked at me in anguish and said, “I’m sorry that I lied to you Roy. I really feel like a shit. The first day on the job and I felt terrible—I hardly slept last night. Will you forgive me?”
She looked beautiful. She was wearing a white blouse with three buttons open and a skirt. I could see skin down to where the mounds of her breasts started. Every male has their perfect physical female—their ten—and this female was my ten. She could do anything to me, and she would still be my ten. I said, “Traci, you were doing your job. And even better, you made the decision that the first idea wasn’t going to work as well as you thought ... so you improvised. How could I ever get mad at you for doing the right thing? And beside, you’re my girlfriend.”
She grinned at me and said, “Is that the worst thing in the world Roy—to be my boyfriend?”
I smiled back and answered, “Some jobs are tougher than others, but just remember no loud noises in the morning; I like my eggs poached; and I get the right side of the bed.”
She stared at me—she was blushing—as she tried to determine whether I was serious or not. Roy, the professional poker player, couldn’t keep a poker face. I started to grin.
Traci said, “You really are a nut; aren’t you?”
I ignored her comment and asked, “Are you ready for lesson two?”
Traci answered, “My second question yesterday was what was my biggest mistake other than my tells?”
I replied, “Traci you make too many ‘I can’t win bets.’”
She looked confused and said, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
I said, “OK, I will give you an example and then we will bring it back into poker. Let’s pretend that we have a three card deck and the three cards are a two, a ten, and an ace. We shuffle and you get one card, I get one card and one card is left. We take turns who makes the first bet; the one with the highest card wins.
“Go through the cards that you might receive and tell me how you bet it.
“Let’s say the first card you get is an ace. Would you bet it?”
Traci answered, “Well I probably would bet it since I can’t lose; it is higher than a ten or a two. I might check to you hoping that you would bet and I could raise you, but that isn’t too smart. I would bet.”
I replied, “I agree; betting is the thing to do. Now what do you do if you had a two?”
Traci thought for a minute and then said, “Either I fold or I would bet hoping to bluff you that I had the ace and you had the ten.”
I answered, “I agree. If you had a scared or tight player, you might be able to bluff him out of some winning hands, but folding isn’t that bad either. So now what do you do when you have a ten?”
Traci said quickly, “I could bet hoping that he had a two.”
I said nothing. Traci looked at me confused. I said, “Work out the logic Traci; most average poker players miss this. Explain your reasoning out loud to me.”
Traci was quiet for a few minutes and said, “I have a ten and I bet it. If he has a two, he knows he is a loser and he folds. If he has an ace, he knows he has a winner and he raises me. There is no way I can win; all that happens is that I lose a bet whenever he has an ace. I am making a bet that I can’t win.”
I said, “So let’s go back to poker. You have a good hand but people are calling you because there is a flush draw on the board or a straight draw—if the right card comes up they could beat you. Well the one card comes up. Maybe there were two spades showing and the last card up makes it three spades. If they have the flush, you lose; if they don’t have a flush, you win. But yesterday, you were betting into them...”
Traci interrupted, “And it was a dumb bet, because if they made the flush they would raise me and if they missed the flush, they would fold.”
I felt great and said, “Not only do I have a girlfriend who is absolutely beautiful, I have one who can understand how to play poker.”
Traci’s grin was wonderful to see. She was getting to me big time and we had yet to have our first date.
I said, “I think it is time to hit the 6-12 came. But before we do, I think we should practice.”
“Practice what?” asked Traci.
I answered, “Well, if you are my girlfriend and we are going to go into the poker room holding hands, I think the last thing we would do before you sat down is that I would give you a little good luck kiss. We probably should practice that.”
Traci looked at me and then laughed, “You are terrible ... you do know that?”
We stood up and she gave me my practice kiss.
We walked into the card room together and Traci signed up for 6-12. We sat at an empty table killing time talking to each other until Traci’s name came up. I think I could have talked for hours watching her face, her eyes lighting up when something funny was said, and maybe a peek or two at her breasts. She was a beautiful poker player, and for now, she was my ‘girlfriend.’
She told me that her poker playing had cost her two boyfriends in the last three years. The first didn’t play poker and couldn’t understand her fascination with the game; he only lasted eight months. The second boyfriend made it for a year and a half; he was a poker player also, but his ego finally caused the split—she was a better player than him.
Traci’s name was called and she sat down to play. I sat behind her. At the end of three hours of play, Traci was winning about one hundred dollars. That was the good news. The bad news was that I hadn’t seen anything at the table that was unusual.
A 20-40 game started and I went to claim my seat. Thirty minutes later I sensed some motion behind me. It was Traci. She had pulled up a chair and sat behind me; she grinned at me and leaned over with her hand on my shoulder and gave me a good luck kiss on my cheek and said, “Now I can watch a professional play.”
And so the pattern was set. Traci and I met in the early afternoon where I would go over her poker playing the previous day. Then I would sit behind her as she played three or four hours of 6-12. Finally, she would sit behind me as I played 20-40 or 40-80.
Two weeks went by and the card room now knew that Traci and I were together. The locals were starting to talk to her, and her game was significantly better. It was assumed that we were living together since we always came into the card room at the same time and always left together. We encouraged that idea whenever possible. One night I turned to Traci and asked, “Do you want to go home now or watch me another thirty minutes?”
After a couple of days I suggested to Traci that I probably should pick her up at her apartment and drop her off when we were through. It would not look right if people saw us driving two cars to and from the card room every day.
The only problem was that I hadn’t seen anything suspicious at the 6-12 table. Either the information that the casino had received was wrong, or I was missing something, or the players had moved to another casino.
Traci and I had gone out to dinner a couple of times during the first two weeks, and one time a dealer I knew and his wife suggested the four of us go to see a new show on the Strip. Steve was the dealer and I had known him for years. His wife was named Sheila and she had been a dancer on the Strip until an injury, and now worked in show production management. We had a fun night together.
I pulled up to Traci’s apartment after we had said good night to Steve and Sheila. We walked to Traci’s front door. Each night I had kissed her good night. The kisses were lasting a little longer by the end of the second week. She looked at me and smiled as she said, “I had a fun time tonight. Thank you for helping me with my job and for being so nice to me.”
I smiled at her without talking and put my arms around her. We kissed. My tongue teased her lips for the first time. After a moment, her mouth opened and her tongue probed my tongue. My hands had been on her back pulling her gently into me, but our kiss had created a new urge in me. My hands left her back and I pulled back from Traci just enough so that my hands could slide up her side and then lightly cover each breast.
I could feel Traci hesitate as she felt me holding her breasts, but then the kiss continued. Three minutes later we came up for air.
She smiled at me and said, “You’re a little quick for me, but just a little.” With a grin and another kiss I expected to hear those magic words ‘Come in.’ Instead Traci said those less than magic words, “Good night.”
The third week started. Traci was playing better poker and had stopped doing the dumb stuff. Now it was a matter of time and experience, and her poker playing ability would turn her into an excellent player.
That Thursday she was playing and I was in my usual spot behind her when for the first time I felt that something wasn’t right at the table. It bugged me. The game seemed normal; no one looked suspicious, but there was something. When Traci finally quit the game the only thing I could come up with was that the pots were a little bigger than normal—or it seemed that way to me.
Steve and Sheila had invited Traci and me to their mountain cabin the following day for some hiking and an early dinner. They were going to stay for the weekend while Traci and I would leave after dinner. Steve had arranged to have Friday and Saturday off and Sheila was going to take a vacation day.
Steve had given me directions and an hour after picking Traci up we pulled into a parking spot in front of a modest cabin built into the side of the mountain. We were at about 2,000 feet and the mountain itself continued up another 4,000 feet. It was a fantastic location for a weekend retreat.
Steve and Sheila had heard my car and came out the front door to greet us. The tour of the cabin followed—good size living room, small kitchen, and two bedrooms each with a queen-size bed. What made the cabin was the back porch. It was a large, wooden deck that extended the full length of the cabin. Built into the deck was a hot tub spa that would hold four people. The spa was level with the deck, so you would step down into it. It was completely private.
With the tour over, Steve suggested we get going so that they could show us the area. Traci and I were dressed for hiking and the four of us headed to a nearby trail. It was spectacular—waterfalls, tall pines surrounded by wild vegetation and finally a small mountain lake created by the winter snow melt. The beauty and the stillness of the surroundings were impressive.
We returned to the cabin in late afternoon. Steve and I had a beer and Traci and Shelia opened a bottle of white wine to sip. We talked. At one point Sheila was talking about her dancing career. She was a very straightforward woman—one of the reasons why I liked her—and her stories were always interesting. She told us about the first time that she was going to dance and the decision she had to make was to be topless or covered. Topless made more money, so she chose topless. Her first day she was putting on her costume and was standing in the dressing room naked other than a small bottom and the janitor came in to change the light bulbs. She described how she dove for cover. Seven days later after showing her breasts to 1,500 people each night, the idea of being shy with her boobs out didn’t seem that serious any more.