Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Aussie Millions Winners.

Congrats to the Full Tilt Blogger winners. Wish I had heard of this opportunity earlier as many of these guys completely outclassed my pedestrian entry below. Next year, if they host it again, I'll put some time into it and try and have a better showing. Here's the results. Winner got a 6 day trip to the Aussie Millions all expenses paid and a 10k (Aussie) buy-in to the main event. Pretty sweet.

Blogger Entries

Blog Name
Player ID
The_Goat_Speaks 2 3 4
Creativity Breeds Madness
My Poker Blog
Runner Up
Stochastic Confessions
Honorable Mention, Humor
The Obituarium
Honorable Mention, Literary
Low Limit Grinder
ramblings of a mad man
Aussie Millions Win
High On Poker
Poker Girl In Vegas
Exploits of a PokerTart
Instant Tragedy: Just Add Water
Loving & Loathing Poker
Bam-Bam In Bedrock
Beer City Poker
Big Poker Dreams, Small Bankroll
Up a Lazy River
Making Sense of Reality
Mission WSOP
Mr Subliminal's Blog
sell the kids
Medusa's Castle 2
Bayne's Poker Suffering
Dear Poker Diary
What're The Odds?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Aussie Millions: Short Story

(Full Tilt is doing a promotion for bloggers involving fictional blog posts from the: Aussie Millions as I just signed up there I thought I'd enter, go to poker and you too can post some absurdity).

Day 1 at the Aussie Millions:
+Lost my luggage, all I have in my carry on bag is a Stuff Magazine, a USA Today's living section and an English/Austrian dictionary. My mom meant well. She also gave me some Ricola which was even stranger if she really thought I was going to the Alps wouldn't there be plenty there?
+Went to the hotel and tried to get some sleep but my body was confused by the hemispheres and whole other side of the world stuff so I ended up just watching infomercials. Did you know that in Australia instead of Australians trying to sell you stuff the foreign pitchman is always Canadians.
+Played some hold 'em in the cash games. I asked somebody about the conversion rates and how it affected the chips. Apparently it has something to do with a wanker whatever that is.
+Cash game was tough as I was completely, utterly card-dead, I didn't have a single hand to play.

Day 2 at the Aussie Millions
+I saw my favorite Full Tilt pros, who are really my favorite Poker pros period (and that has nothing to do with me winning my trip from them) milling about the lobby. I overheard them say they hate asskissers, I told them I completely agreed and that I admired their integrity for being above flattery. Speaking of Poker's best looking spokesmen and women, Phil Ivy, Howard Lederer, and Eric Seidel are the three most likely to win according to the odds makers, and I'd have to go with the Tilters myself if I were a betting man. Wait, I'm a poker player, I am a betting man. Time to find a bookie, I've got some catching up to do.
+After catching my breath I was nearly run over by a scooter/wheel-chair thing. To my surprise, Mike Matusow was doing wheelies, I don't think it was his, as the plate on the back said "Dolly," and an older gentleman in a cowboy hat was chasing him down the hallway. In a panic, Matusow crashed into Andy Black in a monumental blow-up. There was some fear the Mouth might be injured as he wasn't talking. Strangely at just that moment Mr. Peanut was walking by and saw the prone Matusow and starting taking some cheap shots on him and something about jumping him at last year's world series and payback being an angry peanut.
+ Later, as I milled through the hallways I'd go barely go two feet without hearing the most riveting bad turn of card stories I had ever heard. I was enthralled, and couldn't help but eavesdrop as each story got more and more unbelievable. If only I had the time I'd document those sets that lost to runner-runner straights, those full houses that lost to runner-runner quads on the board and higher kicker in the opponent's hand. I could listen all day to those unfortunate players. Finally, I made it out, but upon doing so I realized that I had spent so much time listening to bad beats, that I had to turn around and come back in again. The big event was about to start and I was playing on Full Tilt's dime so I had to represent.
+Walking back toward the tournament area, I must say, as fascinating as those stories were they were staring to get just a little bit annoying.
+Inside I found my seat and went card dead. I couldn't get pocket aces, kings or queens if my life depended on it. I got Jacks a couple of times, Ace-Queen, and a lot of suited connectors but nothing playable.
+Mid-way through the tournament Allen Cunningham sat down at the table. I kept hearing a red-haired little man in the background point and say, "HE'S ALLEN CUNNINGHAM."
+John Juanda and Jennifer Harmon also sat down at the table after a couple of hours. Finally, I got pocket rockets and could play a hand. Some idiot called my all in with Kings and I was able to double up. I told him he was a donkey.
+After a couple more hours of being card dead with no high pairs, Juanda told me I was the loosest player he had ever seen. I couldn't believe it. I decided to just play kings and aces and ruled out the pocket queens from my starting requirements. I must admit I did steal once from the button by raising 3x with pocket 10s so maybe that was what Juanda was talking about.
+Right before the dinner break I ran into another fish who called my all in with kings when I had aces so I doubled up.
+I learned some new words of flattery, Nit, Rock, and Tight. For the heck of it, I looked them up in the Austrian dictionary just to see what they might have meant.

Day 3 at the Aussie Millions
+Day 2 was a long day which was capped off by me getting checked to in the big blind and making a 10 high straight with my 9 and 10 of hears. Some idiot called me with a 5 and a 9 for a smaller straight. Plenty of fish in the sea for us sharks and I was eager to do a little more poaching on as the cards went up in the air.
+So, again the card-dead thing continued. If only I had something playable. I get such bad luck.
+For lunch I tried some of the local cuisine and had a vegemite sandwich. It wasn't quite peanut butter as I expected but it wasn't too bad.
+My luggage finally came in so I could change clothes. I found my iPod which helps me focus at the table. Unfortunately, I didn't pack the headphones. Jennifer Harmon told me to just buy some new ones. I reminded her we were in Australia and that they couldn't possibly be compatible. She laughed and asked if I was joking.
+I flopped a set of kings and laid them down when I got reraised on a board with Ks2h8d, but finally I was getting my share of the cards as I got AA five times. Three times nobody played with me but I doubled up the other two times.
+This little Canadian whose name escapes me sat down at the table and started telling everybody what cards they held. He claimed he always knew. As he talked I realized he should move to Australia because they love Canadian pitch men, and he's terrible at the cards playing weird hands all the time.
+The rest of the day was somewhat uneventful.
+IF YOU CALL MAKING THE MONEY UNEVENTFUL. I also survived something called the bubble. Apparently people start playing real poker at this critical stage and only showed down big hands. Well, except for the idiot big stacks that seemed to fire away at every pot.
+When I left that night, I heard more of those bad beat stories and regretted not having remembered a pen to write them down. Each one is so fresh and so new.
+I'm mad I still haven't seen a boxing Kangaroo.
+I tried a Fosters beer, I said, "It's Australian for beer mate!" I must have given them some U.S. Money because they wouldn't stop yelling for a wanker.

Day 4 Aussie Millions
+I made the final table and though I'm sitting with my idols I'm not scared of them at all. There is also a local guy with a soul patch. The fans seem to like him. Strangely though, I kept missing a real celebrity because at any given moment they'd start chanting "Ozzie" but Mr. Osbourne was never to be seen. Nor was his friend Mr. Oy.
+Somebody called me a nitfish. Again, I'm not so sure what that means, but I'm fairly confident it's a compliment. I had a fairly decent run of cards but finally I got knocked out in 2nd place when my pocket Aces got cracked. I heard this brat of a man, some idiot named Phil something giving an interview to the local media even though he had gone busted the day before talking about the guy who made a set of kings. He talked about that guy dodging bullets like he was superman or something. I mean really the real story was I lost with pocket Aces. You never see that.
+I'm eager to go back to the states. Even though my luggage arrived, I realized my clothes were packed dirty. I had forgotten that my clothes probalby wouldn't be compatible with an Australian washing machine so I smelled a little bit.
+I didn't get to meet Crocidile Dundee so I'm starting to think that movie wasn't a true story. Russell Crowe was nowhere to be seen either.
+Before I caught my plane home, I saw some football on the TV. I must say I'm surprised they got rid of the pads and the line of scrimmage.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Part III: Zeppelins and A Melted Snowman

You grimly studied the cash in front of Mr. Barrymore and watched Maurice take his second place winnings and hold them your way. It wasn't just your friends waiting on your decision, these two smiling sharps, knew who was going to make the call. An excuse eluded you.

Mr. Barrymore eyed you comically with an exaggerated adjustment to his monocle, "What's it going to be then? Hey? Am I looking at a yellow streak running down the backs of New Orleans elite? Are these stakes too high for this poor little rich group? You know one time I played cards on a zeppelin trip in New Jersey. The game got so intense that when the balloon landed we continued on at the airfield after everybody else had disembarked. I lost every red cent to my name that day from a couple of officers in the Navy. But you know who was the luckiest fella in the tri-state area, Me. I missed my connecting flight on a little known dirigible called the Hindenburg..."

The crowd got drawn into his story, Maurice walked over and got some chips, as Mr. Barrymore continued, "so it was not two seconds after I lost my last hand, chasing some sort of empty straight when that thing blew, I spent some time in the Great War and I never felt an explosion that big. An older gentleman's teeth were blown clear out of his mouth, across the cards and into the forehead of one of those Army boys... Navy... Navy boys, and they bit in and stuck. So the airfield is still shaking from the blast, and I looking at a first lieutenant with wood teeth hanging from his eyebrows..."

Even you fell into the stories, as Maurice casually cashiered the chips and people dug into the wallets to play. The question was no longer on the table, there would be a cash game and everybody was playing, and Mr. Barrymore held court even longer... "But it was then, on that very infamous day, and god bless those poor victims, and that leftenant with the teeth in his head, that I told myself, gentlemen, I told myself, I would never miss the opportunity to play cards if the game was good and the company like yourselves is even better. Now, let's us play lest a Zeppelin fall on our heads too. Seize the day gentleman"

The game started feebly as people felt each other out, and kept a watchful eye on Mr. Barrymore and Maurice. Finally, Judges Broussard, a burly, cantankerous old goat, got dealt a big hand and bet into Mr. Barrymore. Mr. Barrymore made a couple of crying calls and then lost the big pot. Mr. Barrymore showed his hand a busted inside straight draw. The judge sniffed in disdain and Mr. Barrymore's play.

Maurice started to win a succession of small pots, and you thought to yourself how you noticed in the tournaments he seemed to pick up all the free money, and he was even better at this in the cash game. Mr. Barrymore chided him for never being able to take down a large pot. Maurice responded, "I'm not losing them either. The way you are going it's going to take a Zeppelin crash for you to get out of here with anything but the lint in your pockets. Streetcar is going to turn you down."

As play continued their banter, turned to bickering, and they seemed genuinely at odds with one another. Maurice half-stood after one bad beat put the bulk of his chips in front of Mr. Barrymore and Maurice sneered at his friend with a derisive "You like a dog chasing it's own tail. One day you are going to catch it and not have a tail, that's what." As play settled down, and Maurice sulked over his lost chips and snidely criticized Mr. Barrymore, Mr. Barrymore barely noticed as he too busy manning a bottle of scotch and filling every one's glasses with generous helpings.

The chips were definitely going his way, and if not for another, long tall story, of him being on a Transcontinental Railroad Car in the Rockies somewhere playing an impromptu game with an Indian Chief, your game might have lost some players. As it was, the story had ample twists and turns, with Mr. Barrymore losing a deed to an oil-well to the Indian Chief, that he had only won the day before off a Texan in Kansas City. But as the Chief couldn't read English, he gave him a page from a Sears-Roebuck catalog, which ironically was the shipping instructions for glass beads. He laughed, and so did the others, and though you tippled a scotch or two, you were alert enough to watch the money empty onto Mr. Barrymore's stack.

As another hour passed, more of the same continued, but more of the players were realizing this raconteur was in fact fleecing them and the mood turned a little somber. Now instead of an infectious laugh, Mr. Barrymore's bellows were politely chuckled at but never joined. Finally, it was Maurice, who had managed to get back to even that broke up the guffaws from Mr. Barrymore's story telling, "Well, well, now, now, it seems the hour is late and this watch," Maurice tapped his grimy timepiece twice, "is telling me," he put an ear to it like a silent movie star, "yes, it's telling me the journey is long and it's best I best skedaddle now, Mr. Barrymore should we be on our way?"

Mr. Barrymore jerked quickly around, sloshing the glass of scotch in one hand and his bowler comically falling over his eyes again. This time there was no saving grace. His other hand with his cards still wedge between two stubby fingers fixed the bowler and flashed just for a moment his hole cards to half the table: it looked clearly like 8 of hearts, 8 of diamonds.

"Listen here Maurice, you trouble me to play in this game, a fine game it is, populated by this Crescent City's finest, and in the middle of this my best hand in hours tell me your watch is talking to you. Poppycock! We finish this hand," Mr. Barrymore admonished him.

"After the hand we leave, and leave I shall, whether we are a we or not," said Maurice.

Affecting a whisper, Mr. Barrymore leaned toward his friend, "And leave a winner shall I because I got that dumb judge over there on the hook. Watch and learn."

The "dumb" Judge Broussard heard every word and turned beet red. Before giving Barrymore a piece of his mind he stole a glance at his hole cards and reigned in his composure.

Mr. Barrymore whipped back to face the table and spilt his entire scotch on his neighbor. Flustered, and fixing his bowler again, he put down his scotch dabbed at his neighbors groin with the table cloth. Dr. Fenman jumped up in anger. Mr. Barrymore begged forgiveness but his welcome had been worn out. No longer were your tablemates imploring you to make a decision with their eyes, now they were demanding it.

Realizing the scotch had worked it's course you responsibly announced, "Gentleman this is the final hand. We'll have tomorrow for more."

The table nodded in agreement. Dr. Fenman agreed, "I should think so."

Mr. Barrymore now suddenly very drunk, "Because of me! I never! If this be the last hand then I raise in the dark! One thousand... dollar bills."

Dr. Fenman still irritated from the spill tsk-ed, "You can't raise in the dark if you've already looked at your hand and unfortunately for you so have w..."

"No, I say allow it," the red-faced Judge Broussard interjected.

"But... we... Ah.... O.k." Dr. Fenman got it. In fact the entire table had gotten it, now drunk and seeing their money stacked neatly in front of Mr. Barrymore, his act was tiresome, they wanted him to lose and for the judge to get his dignity back. Broussard must have had a pair of 8s beat badly.

Your moral compass asunder, now you watched as the men you worried were going to get cheated were about to cheat the stranger. Despite your loyalties you could not let it happen, "Mr. Barrymore, I must say..."

He spun on you with an evil glint in his eye, "Are you in the hand?"

"No, I folded..."

"Then you must say nothing! The only one who must say anything is the judge... You call my thousand judge?"

"I don't, I raise you one more," the judge said.

"I'm sorry, I must tell you when you spilt your drink you exposed your cards," you spit out to Mr. Barrymore despite the venom your first attempt received.

"I don't care what you think you saw! I call that raise. Flop 'em dealer," Barrymore stared intently at the board. Out came an Ace of hearts, a Jack of diamonds, and a 10 of diamonds.

"I guess, I bet a thousand more," said Barrymore.

"I see that!" the judge retorted.

A seven of diamonds fell on the turn. Another 1000 was bet and called. A jack of hearts hit the river.

"My last 1000 dear judge," Mr. Barrymore pushed into the pot, "if not for this being a table stakes game I'd bet the other 5 in my pocket."

"I'll honor said bet if you want to make it!" The judge said defiantly.

"I do!" Barrymore whipped out a wad of cash. "Where's yours?"

"Do you know who I am?"

"Yes, I do, but if my money's on the table for you to honor it, I need $5000 to match it. You only got a few hundred in front of you. Borrow it from your friends," Mr. Barrymore eyed them.

A couple of players pushed a few hundred to the judge and then he looked to Dr. Fenman who had the most chips but was a tight borderline cheap player. He hesitated, "Let me see your cards judge and I'll think about it."

The judge showed him his pocket cards, and Fenman's eyes nearly shot out of his head, "Yes, yes, take the chips and here's a 1000 more to raise him."

Barrymore looked quickly at Maurice, who out of nowhere pulled out a neat roll of bills, to match the bet.

"It's a call?" The judge flipped over pocket aces for a full house.

Then Barrymore turned over a 89 of diamonds for a straight flush.

The table was aghast.

Monday, November 12, 2007

PART II: Maurice's Friend

You watched him open the door for Maurice, and watched Maurice playfully doff his cap and insist his friend enter first, and with a quick step Maurice followed suit, not even touching the handle. Maybe Maurice had OCD and that was why he never touched the handle, you pondered for a moment, until you realized just how dirty he always was.

For every bit of folksy tramp Maurice was, his friend was genteel and tweedy aristocrat. Gold jewelry lined his fingers and wrists, a poppy sat in his lapel and a bold wide tie hung to his waist accenting the pinstripes to his tailored suit. He wore a bowler, probably concealing his depleted hairline, and he had a sparkle to his eye. That being said, the gold was somewhat dull, a stray string belied the moneyed and pressed look of his suit, and his shoes were scuffed, polished, but scuffed.

From the start, he did not appear to be what he presented himself to be. To you, he radiated flim-flam man and his crisp chatter, though disarming, only reinforced it. The table filled with intelligent lawyers, judges, councilmen and doctors also immediately was suspicious. Eyes darted to one another as Maurice's friend approached with a wide smile.

"Good Evening kind sirs, my friend Maurice has told me of your game and that there might be an open seat tonight?" He nodded his head to the two open chairs. Despite his too large bowler slightly riding down his forehead in the process he still look noble and dignified as he took to his seat. "Yes, yes?"

He was down before anyone could reply. The table took in a silent breath and you realized they were looking to you to decline the spot. You wondered how to frame the excuse and then, Maurice was upon you. His thin smile in your face, "Mr. Henry Tyson Esquire won't be here tonight, and as I," he fished out his pocket watch which probably didn't work,"am on time, and you have a practice allowing those not on time, to have their seat taken by those that only show part of the time, it seems well within the rules that Mr. Barrymore be allowed to sit with us, for not only is seat open it'll be open all of the night and it's his to take as no part-timers are here to stake a claim, so it's taken. You are so kind."

He smiled again.

That was that. Maurice' double-talk had cut off all possible avenues of nos and his friend Mr. Barrymore was already cutting a deck. He smelled of Lavender, actually he wreaked of Lavender, and if not for that being a pleasing scent to you, it probably would have been quite a distraction. You watched two of the older judges light their first cigar an hour earlier than they normally would and you were quite confident it was to counter the cologne.

Mr. Barrymore talked with a roll, his vocabulary an extensive one, and like Maurice he often made little sense, he just made little sense with grander adjectives. However, Maurice was an accepted oddity and novelty that was more laughed at than with, but Barrymore had grand tales that meandered through a litany of famous names and often ended with a belly laugh that was contagious. You quickly realized it wasn't so much the stories that were funny but Barrymore's laughing.

Barrymore played through the tournament, and made a decent mess of many of the hands, but he had a lucky streak that enabled him to go deep enough to just miss the money. Barrymore missed a flush draw and boldly proclaimed, "I played those two because they were suited, and one night I once won every hand with a flush or a straight, on a cruise on the Atlantic, you'd think with the titanic Titanic crash I'd avoid such venues, but I do like the chase and though I bludgeoned my opponents with suck-outs, I can't refrain from playing same-said hands anon. Because I when I hit, I take all the chips. Alas... though it is you that have all my chips." He bellowed laughter and the table followed suit, "You'd think I'd learn. Forsooth, the only thing chasing has ever got me is a couple of ex-wives, a treatment of penicillin, and busted at cards." He laughed harder, "I jest, gentlemen, about the penicillin... it wasn't one treatment it was two." Suddenly, you realized he had fished out a monocle, and with each guffaw it fell anew.

When the tournament ended, with Maurice grousing about finishing second again, Mr. Barrymore pulled out a stack of greenbacks, "I know Maurice says you gentleman sometimes finish the night with a cash game or two and I just want you to know I'll play." He spread the hundreds provocatively, "But beforewarned I'll not chase the straights, just the flushes so expect a better effort." His eyes twinkled.

The table's unease was palpable. All eyes turned to you again...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

PART I: Maurice

Maurice slithered into rooms and slinked out of them. Sometimes you'd be playing and he'd be there over your shoulder stealing a peak at your hole-cards and then smiling that thin grin when you'd be startled by his hot breath on your neck. You never saw him open a door, and rarely saw him enter, but when you did it would be on the heels of another at the last second as the door was almost closing.

His belly looked as though it had a belly of it's own, as he'd wear a fanny pack forward under his nondescript grey sweatshirt, and digging into it would often come with a show of the larger white hairy stomach. Fortunately, he'd often just undo the buckle and set the entire pouch on the table. It was swollen with dollar coins and dirty, wrinkled five and ten dollar bills. They were always sticky and despite his promises to "wash 'em next time" his currency never cleaned up. It was hard not to imagine him trolling a circuit of small denomination treasure troves like under motel vending machines, amongst the dirty cushions of dilapidated sofas in flophouse lobbies, or beneath the floor mats of unlocked parked cars just to get his buy-in every week.

He'd always arrive late, and sometimes his seat would be filled by a part-timer, and he'd rankle his nose at you, glare at his century old pocket watch, and spittle, "Always early are we?" he'd sigh, "Early it is aren't it." Then he fade into the background watching some hands and minutes later he be gone with no one seeing him leave.

As eccentric as Maurice was, sometimes wearing fingerless leather gloves which only highlighted the mechanic's stump rather than concealed it, he was sharp as a whip. Once in a heated discussion about him and much debated realization that nobody knew how he got an invite to the game in the first place, it was hypothesized that Maurice was one of those career panhandlers. Maybe he lived in Old Metairie in a quiet cottage, but commuted to downton New Orleans to prey on the tourists. Yes, you had all agreed it'd be an easy life as long as he had no drug problem, a good patter, and a sympathy inducing aura. He certainly he had the second two and despite the smell of stale cigarettes he never seemed drug addled only odd.

That story quickly became the accepted truth. When Maurice was questioned about profession or education, he'd lapse into his double talk and answer with a wink or a reply like, "Goat milker, tropadore, and sandwich board wearer--this week." He could avoid a question like a silky tongued politican and if cornered would often overbet the pot and put the focus back on to the game.

With few records kept, despite many players being accountants and number lovers, it was specualted that Maurice was definitely one of the winningnest players. He often came in second, occasionally first, and several times he'd be out early. He'd leave with a similar speech each time, along the lines of "I thank you for the trouble of allowing my unskilled, dimwittted play, play amongst you pillars of society, country-club members, and aris-tocracy. I trust you'll allow me to make another donation, same time next week."

His play consisted of amazing calls, bold bluffs, and people reading skills. At times it felt like he could read the cards that everyone held, but if he was cheating he was smart enough to never win too much. You had done some research on sharps and discovered his stumped finger was an advantage in dirty dealing if he was one. When discussion of Maurice came up and this was submitted to some of the players, everybody avoided his deal.

It didn't take long for him to notice he took many uncontested pots when the cards in his hand, and some of the worst players, who's ego demanded they could only be beaten by being cheated, didn't even look at their cards and just returned them to him. He'd smile and finger the button. "Position is a powerful weapon in this game. But what's your favorite position is the real question? Ah, judges?" Then he'd rake a pot.

Yet, despite all those concerns that Maurice was a sharp, nobody ever asked for him to leave or accused him to his face. He was too much a novelty and a breath of fresh air, despite his presence demanding an air freshener for any room, for anyone to really object. Besides wasn't if fun to beat a real life card cheat.

But then one night Maurice brought a friend...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Toe to Talon

Long, spiny fingers lay like ribbons over the two cards. The knuckles stretched opaque as if the thin bones themselves were apt to split their fleshy casement at any second. Triangulated fingernails slightly pressed into the green of the table and though my gaze was transfixed by the wraith like hands and their slow elegant movements I could feel the oppressive eyes scorching my face with study. I stole a glance at him and for a moment all was still between us.

I looked quickly back at his skeletal digits and struggled to gather my thoughts. The forefingers traced tiny circles almost breaking the felt, and after a moment at most, hypnotically they tempted me to look elsewhere. I felt transfixed, a puppet at the end of a taunt string, tugged smoothly by those fingers. I resisted, but as I slowly lost the battle, my eyes tracked upward with his rising hands, seeing his ebony shirt, loosely folded over his thin frame. A fabric so dark, it appeared a pool of limitless empty black. His right hand with it's clawed fingernail moved upward slowly guiding my gaze to the bony point that was his chin.

My eyes now on his face, I was only more compelled to look steadily upward. Where I dared not look before, I was now helpless to the pull of his scorching eyes. Up past the thin and wasted nose, up past the points of the twin inverted spade tattoos that spilled into his hollow cheeks like dark tears, until at last I saw his encircled eyes. Those vacant, sunken eyeballs steadily focused on mine. I felt stripped naked and exposed before him.

For a moment all was still between us.

Then with a rush, noise dulled and muted, all filtered away. I lost concept of mood or temperature or even time, there were only his eyes. They enveloped me. It was as if their stare swallowed me whole, deeper into their dark depths. Within a fleeting heartbeat all else was lost. I struggled to swim through the force of their cyclonic tug.

Thought ceased, unsustained and forgotten. Even my involuntary systems like breathing and blood flow seemed to stop with an icy chill. I was overcome in the miasma. Only emptiness.

Then a lone thought, called to me from my strangled consciousness, a survival instinct not yet quelled and it urged me to break the gaze. Panic suddenly reset my body, and though I strained to look away, though I knew I must, I could not. I felt a paraplegic in a burning building suddenly ironically regaining the feeling in my legs only to feel the lapping suffocating white hot flame overcome me.

The panic quickly replaced by a slow dull rhythm and even my basest survival instinct was overcome when a guttural, echoing atonal voice rang out, "The only choice is to fold. All others bring darkness. The only choice is to fold. All others bring hellfire." My right hand started to move my cards to the muck, I wanted only to end it.

Just as I was about to release them...

...suddenly, inexplicably I found resistance anew.

My hand hovered there...

...and then a new voice rang out.

It was my own, but as if spoken by another and it said, "I call."

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