Tricia forced herself to stop thinking about the money and think about the game. While she would be happy with the $14,000 for second place, $27,000 for first was within her grasp. She looked across the table at Carmen who, she saw, was calmly studying her. When Carmen saw Tricia look up at her she smiled. This time it did not seem to be a nice friendly smile. Tricia thought it looked more like the smile of a predator who had found easy prey. She vowed to do her best not to be easy prey.
Carmen started out aggressively, and Tricia with weak hands folded. The first time Tricia fought back, re-raising with a good hand after Carmen had raised Carmen folded with a smile and a nod.
They saw their first flop and again Tricia was pushed off the hand when Carmen made a large re-raise. Feeling herself beginning to get frustrated she glanced around and saw that the crowd around the final table was large but she was able to pick out Gary and Sandy and then Jaime, Kevin and Rick all standing together. Jaime smiled at her and Kevin mouthed something that Tricia didn’t get. He must have seen her quizzical look because he repeated it. She thought he had mouthed the word ‘patience’, which made sense.
Trying to balance patience and aggression, Tricia played on. She held her own but was not able to make a dent in Carmen’s lead. The blinds increased again and now Tricia had even less to work with in a relative sense. She remembered something Kevin said about how an amateur could sometimes frustrate a pro by refusing to play small pots and instead continually raising all in. He’d mentioned how he hated it because it took his higher degree of skill out of play. Once the players were all-in then it was up to the cards and luck, the trick was to try to get all-in with the best hand. There was way to tell of course.
Tricia looked down at her hand after Carmen had once again raised her big blind. It was relatively strong so Tricia capped her cards and trying to not let her voice shake announced, “I’m all-in.”
The spectators surged toward the table, restrained by the ropes around it. Carmen studied Tricia who looked back at her trying to remain calm, hoping she wasn’t giving anything away. She didn’t see how she could be since she honestly wasn’t sure if she wanted Carmen to call or not.
If Carmen called and won then Tricia was done, out in second place. On the other hand if Carmen called and lost then Tricia would be the chip leader.
Finally Carmen used a fingernail to flick her cards into the much while never taking her eyes off Tricia. She nodded and smiled faintly.
Over the next half hour they continued the game of cat and mouse. Tricia used the all-in move three more times but was still just holding her own.
After another raise by Carmen Tricia looked down at her hand and saw the ace and king of hearts. Tricia thought about going all in but then thought that maybe she did want to try to play this one. She re-raised the minimum. Carmen looked at her questioningly. Tricia could feel Carmen’s eyes boring into her. Finally Carmen was the one who announced “I’m all-in.”
That surprised Tricia but she knew that she was unlikely to be worse than 50/50 to win the hand and it might be the best chance she got. She called and stood up, nervously biting her lip. She reached down and turned over her suited Big Slick.
“I hoped that was what you had.” Carmen said as she turned over two black jacks. She moved over beside Tricia. “Good luck.”
Tricia’s hopes were quickly dashed as the flop brought the Jack of hearts. It was still possible for her to win but not very likely. The turn and river didn’t help and Tricia realized it was over.
Carmen hugged her. “You played very well. It could have gone either way.”
Tricia thanked her, feeling a little numb. She had not won but she felt like she had. She hated to admit it but it was a relief it was over and she was not at all unhappy to have gotten second place.
Jaime was the first to get to her. He hugged her, picking her up off her feet. Then he kissed her soundly on the lips. “I’m proud of you! You did great!”
Tricia felt tears leaking down her face and smiled broadly at him. “Thank you. That means so much to me.”
He kissed her again and she kissed him back. Then she smiled and said, “Does this mean we can talk about the just friends thing?”
He stared at her and then laughed. “No this means there is a side benefit to having a friend who is a female do so well in a tournament.”
By then she was surrounded by Gary, Sandy, Kevin and Rick as well a people she didn’t even know. The next few minutes were a blur as she went through the little ceremony after the tournament. Kevin had his camera out taking pictures and made her and Carmen pose together. He also got a picture of her with Rick and Jaime and with Gary and Sandy and then had somebody take a picture with him and Tricia and then with he entire group.
“How about a little celebration?” he asked her.
She smiled and shrugged. “I’d like that I think. I won’t be going to sleep any time soon anyway. I’ve got enough adrenaline in me to keep me going for a week. I want to call home first and tell Matt.’
Kevin nodded. “How about you take care of getting paid and then we’ll stake out a place in one of the bars and then you make your call?”
“What do I do to get paid? Same as the first tournament?” Tricia asked him, feeling suddenly unsure. “I owe Gary part of it. He paid the buy in.”
“Well I doubt you want it all in cash. That’s a lot of cash and even more paperwork since it’s over $10,000. Come on with me and we’ll get you squared away.”
“What about Gary?” Tricia asked.
Kevin shrugged. “Bring him along or pay him off at your party. I figured you’d want them there too.”
“Oh I do!” Tricia assured him. Then she saw Gary and waved him over. “Come on. I’ve got to get you your share of this.”
He smiled at her. “It can wait. I know you’re good for it.”
“I want to get it all taken care of.”
Kevin lead Tricia though signing the paperwork and then looked at her. “Are you going to use part of this to buy into the main tomorrow?”
“I don’t know,” Tricia said, suddenly very unsure.
“Ok here’s what I’d suggest,” Kevin said. “Why don’t you get enough of it in cash to pay Gary what you owe him and to add to what cash you have leaving you the $5,000 for the main and enough for some side action if you want to play, call it $6,000.”
“I’ve got almost that much now,” Tricia said. “I brought part of it and part is winnings. Can I just get Gary’s part in cash and take a check for the rest?”
“Just tell them how much cash you want. Remember to get enough for the dealer tips.”
“Oh God I almost forgot that,” Tricia said, her mind whirling. “I owe Gary 25%. Does anybody have a calculator? I can’t think now.”
“$3563.50” Kevin said quickly.
“You did that in your head?” Tricia asked. “Or had I already told you?”
Kevin chuckled. “In school I was known as the human calculator. It’s a gift I guess.”
“That’s too much!” Gary said.
Kevin looked at him and said. “It’s right but you can check if you want.”
“Oh I know the math is probably right but I only gave her $200. I never figured to get that much for it.”
“A deal is a deal,” Tricia said, mentally gasping a bit at the amount she had to give up.
“But you’ll have to pay taxes on the full amount and then there is the toke for the dealers. At least lets do 25% of what’s left after that.” Gary said.
Tricia looked at Kevin. “Is that ok?”
Kevin smiled at her. “It’s entirely between you and Gary. He is right. This kind of deal leaves you responsible for the taxes on the whole thing.”
“What will that be? And the dealer thing? What is left after that?” Tricia asked.
“If you’re not going to spend this all right away I’d withhold 15% for taxes knowing you might owe more and 5% for the dealer toke. That leaves you a bit over $11,600, 25% of that is a bit over $2900. The cashier will get you the exact amounts for you and cut you a check for everything you don’t need in cash.”
That settled they went to the cashier’scage and took care of business. Tricia paid Gary and took care of the dealer toke. She looked at the check in her hand for what was left. She knew part of it would be going to the IRS and in the end she would barely have 50% of the total she’d won but the amount was still amazing to her. It was even more so when she realized that second place in the main event would be several hundred thousand dollars.
Carmen was heading for the cashier when they were leaving. She smiled and swept Tricia into another hug. “I hope you’re not disappointed. You really did very well. Your day will come Tricia.”
Tricia was beaming. “I’m not disappointed at all. I suppose it was too much to hope that I could beat you.”
Carmen shook her head. “You gave me a real challenge. I did not run over you like I thought I would. Give yourself credit.”
“Well thank you,” Tricia said. “Kevin is throwing a sort of impromptu party I’d love it if you could come.”
Carmen laughed, looking at Kevin. “If you think Kevin James is doing anything impromptu then you don’t know him well enough yet. Thank you so much for asking me but I have a friend waiting for me. I have plans. Another time?”
“Sure,” Tricia said.
They made their way back to the rest of the group and found Sandy laughing with Jaime and Rick. Collecting them Kevin led them all to one of the casino bars and Tricia found out that apparently Carmen was right. There was a whole area in the back set aside and the hostess led them back to it.
There was champagne in a bucket and Kevin held it up. “Can we have a quick toast to kick this off before you go make your call?”
Tricia smiled, blushing at the attention and nodded. Kevin made a show of popping the cork and pouring some champagne into each glass. “To Tricia, and a dream realized. May there be many bigger dreams come true in the future.”
Tricia felt her eyes filling with tears. She’d expected something silly and funny from Kevin. She caught his eye and he smiled at her. She wondered what exactly he was thinking of with his toast.
She saw Jaime looking at her fondly and smiled at him. When she looked over Rick was looking at Jaime not her. She sighed wondering if somehow they could all be friends and wondering what, exactly, she wanted or could have, from those two friends.
Breaking away finally she left the bar in search of a quiet spot to make her call.
To her surprise Matt answered.
“Guess what honey?” Tricia said excitedly. “I was SECOND!”
“Great job dear!” Matt said actually sounding a little enthusiastic. “You’ve done that before in those online things right?”
“Yes but this was a $200 buy-in tournament and there were over 400 players.”
“Well cool! You beat 398 other players? That sounds good.” Matt said. “how much does that pay? A couple thousand? That’s great.”
“Officially I beat 463 players and it paid $14,524,” Tricia said.
There was silence on the other end and just when Tricia thought they had gotten disconnected Matt said, “I think I heard that wrong.”
Tricia giggled. “No I don’t think so. $14,524. I’ll only net a bit over half of that with taxes, tips and other things but I’m still tickled.”
“Well shit! I guess so!” Matt said sounding very surprised. “When you wanted to go to that thing I really thought you’d end up losing what you had. I thought you’d have a good time but that would be the end of it. I can see I was wrong.”
Tricia nodded to herself. She’d suspected that was what everybody thought. “I’m very pleased that It’s gone this way.”
“I would hate to see you get all disappointed though if it turns out to be a fluke or beginners luck or something,” Matt told her.
She had to smile. Good old Matt. He just didn’t want to believe in her ability to do much of anything. At least he was sounding somewhat normal again.
“It’s not a fluke. I’ve met a couple of very good players and at least two of the pros seem to think I’m pretty good.” Tricia said, trying not to sound defensive. “Do you remember Carmen Cruz from watching some of the poker shows with me?”
“She’s that hot little Hispanic number who always shows all that cleavage?”
Tricia chuckled. “Yes that’s her. She’s the one who beat me. You should have been here you could have met her.”
“Maybe I’ll have to reconsider going with you,” Matt said. She could hear the smile in his voice but also knew he was really kidding. She doubted he would ever come with him, which might be for the best. She wasn’t sure how he would handle all the male friends she had made.
“I miss you and Matty,” Tricia said, saying what had been growing on her mind for the past couple of days.
“I miss you too and I’m sure Matty does too.” Matt said. “You’ll be home Thursday, right?”
“Maybe sooner,” Tricia said. “I honestly don’t know if I want to push my luck and spend $5000 for the main event.”
“That is a lot but I thought that was what you went for? You’ve obviously got that much now.”
“Don’t you want me to come home?” Tricia said, hoping he would say yes.
“Of course but why leave early dear?” Matt said sounding depressingly practical when she had hoped for romantic.
“I guess,” she responded. “I’ll think about it and let you know.”
“Ok well give me some warning. I’ve not exactly kept up with the housekeeping and I don’t want you to see it this way.”
Tricia rolled her eyes. She could imagine what the house looked like. She wasn’t even sure he knew how to do housekeeping. It would be a mess even after he took his best shot at cleaning she was sure.
“I’ll let you know the night before I leave then how is that?” Tricia said. “I will stay through tomorrow and at least watch the first part of the main event.”
“That sounds good,” Matt said yawning. “some of us have to go to work early tomorrow. What are you doing the rest of the night? Playing more?”
“No I’m going to a party,” Tricia said, realizing it might get him mad but almost wanting to taunt him now.
“Well try to behave yourself,” Matt responded. “I can trust you right?”
Tricia sighed. “Yes Matt. I’ll behave.” She suspected she would anyway with Jaime and Rick seeming to get friendly with each other. She realized she had been feeling a flash of jealously towards Jaime because he was being so friendly toward Rick. Then she almost chuckled out loud because Jaime had probably saved her from something she might regret with Rick. On the other hand she thought, hope is not dead and the night is young.
“I’ll let you get to bed Matt, I love you honey and I miss you!”
“I miss you too and I love you. I’m proud of you Tricia. I really think you did great.” Matt said sounding sincere which made Tricia smile as she hung up and went back to the party.