hard way to make an easy living 4 poker novel by dominic wellsCardspiel

A hard way to make an easy living (4)

> read part one here:

On the night I was robbed, I won £360 in two hours playing cash at the Fox poker club on Shaftesbury Avenue, against a hedge fund manager and a banker to whom that kind of money was just the tip after a good lunch.

The Fox is itself a sign of the times. Where once we played at the Gutshot club, a two-storey den of happy iniquity that was eventually closed down after a landmark court ruling, the Fox has played it straight, spending years in the pursuit of a full licence. It is now London’s first fully legal, dedicated poker club that’s not part of a casino, with 20 brand-new tables and windows (windows!) overlooking Soho.

The game gets more respectable by the year.I then invested £75 of my profits in the big evening tournament, and came a creditable third after seven hours’ play, for another £315. By now it was 2am, and the Fox was about to shut. But the cards still danced across my inner eyelids, and wouldn’t let me go home.

So instead, I moved on to the Empire.

The Empire Casino is where I play the most often. Twice a week, sometimes more, I hurry along here at night, heart beating faster with every step down, down into the clogged bowels of Leicester Square right under the throbbing heart of London, the casino’s windowless, clockless basement rooms stopping time, to sit down with nine other urban warriors prepared to test their mettle against all-comers.

Here, I’ve played against Arab millionaires and hopeless hookers, Thai restaurateurs and concert pianists and poker world champions. The dealers and pit bosses know me by name. It’s maybe a sign that I come here too often.

Tonight, the night I was robbed, I happened to be shown to the same table as a bloke I’d just been playing with at the Fox. He was fond of boasting that he’d been in prison seven times. He used to own a chain of kebab shops, he said more than once, but lost everything to gambling, and turned to crime to fund his habit.He was a big guy, head like an anvil. Older, 60 maybe, but still you wouldn’t want to cross him. In the Fox, a regular player had commented on a hand that didn’t concern him, a hand this ex-con was in. He was rebuked, in the tone of voice Al Pacino might use when being quietly menacing rather than vein-poppingly shouty. The poor bloke couldn’t stop apologising. Half an hour later, he was still saying sorry. Evidently he knew the man.

In spite of this – because of it? – I couldn’t help myself. After a couple of hours’ play at the Empire, on a particularly big hand, I looked the ex-con squarely in the eye, and raised him with nothing. He was so upset when he discovered he’d folded to a bluff that he stood up and left the table.

And perhaps that’s why, when I subsequently found find myself with a hand around my throat on the 152 night bus home, I behaved like I did.

A poker tale in 15 parts by Dominic Wells

Part 5 coming soon

> Image ‘from my london nights” by Babycakes Romero

Photographer Website