My career as a private detective was on hold while the authorities were clearing my name of some problems I’d had in the past. I was spending the idle time playing a lot of poker. It was late Thursday evening and I was driving by the Rusty Nail Inn on my way home from the Indian casino near the Mexican border. I decided to stop in.

“V.O. and water,” I plumped down on a padded bar stool. “No ice.

” “That’s terribly un-American of you, no ice,” he said. I detected a British accent. His name was Malcolm. It said so on his name tag.

“Smooth and warm, just like my women,” I said, and instantly regretted having invited Malcolm into my life. I looked toward one of the many empty tables and considered moving to one of them as soon as Malcolm returned with my drink, but he didn’t give me a chance. “I take it you had a bad night at the casino.”

“Why is that?”

“When you’ve been in this business as long as I have, you learn to categorize people.”

“And I look as though I had a bad night?”

“It’s what you said, Mate. ‘Smooth and warm’ What was that psychiatrist’s name? Rorschach?

Rorschach was famous for his ink-blot tests that led him to identify personality types and tendencies by patient’s responses to ink-blot arrangements. Malcolm was talking about word association. I didn’t correct him.He’d gotten my interest, and I decided to play along with him.

“Word association,” I said. “You say something, I respond, and you know that I had a bad night at the casino?”

Malcolm laughed and took a towel from behind the bar and tossed it over his shoulder. “It’s very reliable,” he said.

“And you are correct. I did have a bad night at the casino. But I don’t know how you got all that from what little I’ve said to you.”

Malcolm shrugged his shoulders and turned his attention toward two young ladies who had just come in. They surveyed the near empty tavern, said hello to Malcolm and then left. Other than Malcolm and I, there was a young man methodically knocking balls into the pockets on a pool table away from the bar, and one other customer nodding off on the far side of the bar. I did a quick evaluation of the pool player and decided that I could take whatever money he had from him if I wanted to, but my mind wasn’t on pool on this night.

“It’s a lot to do with the body movement, too.” Malcolm moved his body from one side to the other for emphasis as he watched the two ladies leave.

“You know I had a bad night because of what I said and by my body motions?” “That’s it, Mate.”

“And the people I play poker against. Maybe they know whether I have a good or bad hand by what I say and how I move. Is that what you’re saying?”

Malcolm furrowed his brow. “I think you know that, Mate. It’s called tells, I believe.”

Indeed. But not me. Texas Hold’em was a new game for me, but I’d been playing stud for over thirty years. Surely I wouldn’t be giving off tells.

“Right now…you’re thinking that you would never give off tells. But your shoulders slumped just as soon as you started thinking about it.”

I straightened up in my chair.

“And your eyes dropped. Not a very positive image. Do you think you might be doing that when you get bad cards?”

I didn’t respond.

“And when the cards are favoring you…isn’t it interesting that hardly anyone is calling your bets?”

I’d kept thorough records. He was right. My Togel Singapore winning hands were paying well below the average for the games I was playing in. But I still think he was only guessing.

“How did you even know I was at the casino tonight?” I finished my drink and pushed my glass forward for a refill.

“You’re wearing a Four Star Casino hat, Mate. And your comp card is sticking out of your shirt pocket. Wasn’t hard to figure that one out.”

I was tiring of being called Mate. “My name is Buck Garrison. I’m a walking tell is what you mean.”

“It’s not something you can’t overcome, Buck.” Malcolm reached behind the bar and took out a deck of cards. “Fifty cents and one dollar on the blinds, bets are one and two.”

We played forty or fifty hands and I was down $64. I ordered another V.O. and water.

I peeked at my hole cards and stared at them for a few seconds.

“Something like 7-8 suited?” Malcolm was reading me again.

“10-8 of spades,” I said. “You were close enough to know what to do if I’d bet.”

“K-J off here,” Malcolm replied. I would have called if you’d bet and then watched your eyes when the flop hit. Did you know your eyes dart back and forth between the cards and your chips when the hand is favorable to you?

“It’s as simple as that? That’s why I’ve been losing lately?”

“No and yes. No, it’s not that simple, and yes, it’s part of the reason you’ve been losing.”

“I’ll start wearing sunglasses,” I said.

 

“The good players will still see your head movement. There’s a better way.” I waited for Malcolm to continue.

 

“You have to learn to look at your cards and not look at them at the same time.”

 

I waited for more.

 

“You pretend to look at your cards. Instead you look at the second hand on your watch.”

 

I was totally confused. It must have shown on my face. Malcolm smiled and leaned forward.

 

“Look-poker is a game of deception. You assign hand values to the second hand on your watch. If the second hand is between 12 and one, it’s a group 1 hand. Between 1 and 2, it’s a group 2 hand, and so you go around the clock.”

 

“And I bet my hand according to what my watch tells me?” I was beginning to think that Malcolm was straying a little bit from the path of winning poker. Or maybe he was pulling my leg.

 

“No, no. Of course not. At least not all the time. When it’s your turn to bet, you take a quick second look at your cards, and bet according to what you have.

 

“Deception?”

 

“Subterfuge is what we call it in London.” Malcolm smiled. “And by the way, I knew it wasn’t Rorschach who did word association. I was just testing to see if you knew.”

 

“And?”

 

“Tells, my good man. I knew that you knew that I was wrong.”

 

I glanced his Malcolm’s ring finger and spotted a ring from Cambridge. I didn’t know what to make of Malcolm, but I was willing to try his crazy idea with the watch. What could I lose?

 

I dropped a twenty dollar bill on the bar and left while Malcolm tended to the customer on the far side of the bar, who had slid to the floor.

 

It was a cold Saturday morning. The slashing rain pelted my aging Lincoln Town Car all the way to the Four Star Casino in Eagle Pass. I’d stopped by Eddie’s Taco Hut in Castroville for breakfast and filled the gas tank up at the Texaco station. If my calculations were right, I should be able to make the 300 mile round trip without stopping again.

 

The poker room was empty except for seven players draped around a 10-20 hold’em table. Ricardo greeted me, and had a rack of red ready for me as I approached. I took seat seven directly across from Big Ray Saddlebrook, my chief antagonist over the past few months. I’d bought a new Timex with big numbers and a clearly marked second hand. The first hand was dealt. I motioned as though looking at my cards, but glanced at the second hand instead. It was between 4 and 5. A group 5 hand. This is crazy, I thought, but I played along with Malcolm’s idea. I was in middle position and waited until it was my turn to bet. . Big Ray had raised from under the gun and it was folded around to me. I took a second peek at two red kings. I raised. Big Ray had a funny smile on his face as he called, and then check-called my bets on the turn and river. I raked in a small but pleasurable pot and gave Big Red a smile.

 

By early evening I was up over two racks of red and had run Big Ray and a few others off. I’d had enough for one day.

 

I drove out of Eagle Pass onto Highway 57 feeling a lot better than I had on my previous trip My destination was the Rusty Nail Inn and a visit with my new mentor Malcolm.

 

The front parking lot was full when I arrived. I pulled around to the rear and found a single empty parking space. I tapped my horn lightly to disrupt a young couple standing in the middle of my space in a warm embrace. The young man started to make an obscene gesture, but thought better of it when he caught a glimpse of my 6′ 5″ figure looming behind the windshield.

 

Malcolm was busy arguing with a customer when I walked in, but he gave me a smile. “I see you did well today!”

 

Was he guessing? I thought not. I sat at a table away from the bar and read a poker magazine I’d picked up at the casino while I waited for Malcolm to take a break. It was close to midnight when he approached my table..

 

“Judging from the look on your face, I’d say you were up around two racks of red.” “Two and a half…$1,250.”

 

“And my cut is?”

 

I stifled a smile. “My undying gratitude. And my future business and pleasant conversation.”

 

“And perhaps in return you’ll want some advice on how you can get rid of the crutch.”

 

I wasn’t sure I knew what he meant.

 

“The watch thing.” He looked at my cheap watch. “At least you didn’t invest a lot of money in the project.” Malcolm smiled broadly.

 

I didn’t respond.

 

“Look, Buck. They’ll catch on to it the next time you visit the casino. Don’t you think the players you took the money from are thinking about the change in your play right now?”

 

“So…it was just a joke.”

 

“Joke? Not really. More like an upper…a kick in the pants. You needed to get rid of the negative attitude. Don’t you know it’s your attitude that was beating you?”

 

“Attitude equals tells?”

 

“Of course. And it’s the negative attitude that’s easiest to read. You get so caught up in your bad luck that you don’t notice anything that’s going on around you. And you don’t notice that the other players are noticing you not noticing what’s going on.

 

” I unraveled his tongue-twister and sighed. “I’m to go back to my normal way of playing?”

 

“Your shoulders slumped when you said that, Buck. No. You imprint the attitude on your mind that you had when you came in here tonight. Think happy, Mate. Positive thinking. And don’t forget about the rest of your problem.”

 

He had me stumped again.

 

“You’ve been rattling two quarters in your right hand and throwing them into your left hand since I came over here. Craps?”

 

He was right again. I’d given up gambling except for poker, but the urge was still there. My counselor at Gambler’s Helper didn’t like the idea, but I had convinced him that I could handle the poker playing.

 

Malcolm put his forefinger to his temple as he got up and returned to work. I left a nice tip for the young lady who had kept my glass full.

 

A month had passed since I’d visited The Rusty Nail. I was too busy making a living at the casino. But reality set in when my detective license was approved. I stopped by to tell Malcolm of my good fortune. One day at a time, he said. And he was right. I’d start setting up my new office tomorrow. Just after my visit to Gambler’s Helper in Lytle, Texas.

 

 

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