Louie let out an exasperated sigh and took his hand off of his forehead, fixing Stanley with a determined look. “Now look, Stanley, i’m gonna explain this again, slowly, and I want you to listen carefully, ok?” He looked deep into Stanley’s eyes. “It goes like this: a pair beats high card. Two pair beats a pair. Three of a kind beats two pair. A straight beats three of a kind. A flush beats a straight. A full house beats a flush. Four of a kind beats a full house. A straight flush beats a four of a kind, and a royal flush beats a straight flush. You got that now?”
Stanley’s lips were still moving, as they had been through the whole recitation. He looked earnestly at Louie, nodding his head. “Hey Louie, what’s a flush again?”
Louie developed a sudden tic in his right eye, but forced a smile onto his face. “A flush…” His voice cracked a bit and he swallowed and continued, “A flush is five cards all of the same suit, you know, spades, diamonds, clubs, hearts. That’s the order of importance, too. A club flush is beaten by a diamond flush. Ok?”
Stanley frowned, but nodded. “Ok, Louie.” He chewed his lip for a minute. “Um, Louie, why we gotta play poker?”
“I told you Stanley, my bookie is giving me grief. I need some cash quick. We go to this game I got lined up, you give me the signals i’m gonna teach you and that way I can signal you to drop out or play. That way we double our chances, see? I got a couple of other tricks up my sleeve, but I need you there. Ok?”
“But Louie, isn’t that like, cheating?”
Louie shifted in his seat. “Oh, no, Stanley, not at all. It’s just, um, having an edge, you know?”
Stanley nodded. “Ok, Louie. So you gonna teach me the signals now?”
They worked on signals, including scratches and taps until Stanley’s attention span couldn’t handle any more, then they played a practice game. A few minor hitches, but Stanley seemed to get it for the most part and there wasn’t enough time anyway, the game was on that night, the only one everyone Louie had lined up could make it.
He sent Stanley out for drinks and chips a couple of fresh decks while he went over his strategies in his mind. He couldn’t help but worry, but there was no one else he could trust to keep their mouth shut, and he could buy Stanley off with a few bucks and get himself out of the hole if it all went to plan.
When Stanley got back they went over the order of importance again, and Stanley still struggled but seemed to get there in the end. Louie said a few Hail Marys under his breath just in case.
The boys began showing up at eight and Louie introduced Stanley around. Louie mixed drinks and got things loosened up, but he could see his poker buddies were sceptical of the new guy. One of the guys, Al, asked Louie on the side if this Stanley guy was really up for the game and Louie assured them he had heard Stanley was a good player, but that he didn’t really know him all that well.
They sat down at the card table and cut for draw. Stanley won it and dealt well. Louie breathed a sigh of relief. The first hand was a wash, everyone folded and they all anteed up again. The deal passed around the table and it was going well. Stanley was having beginner’s luck, he signalled a flush on the third hand with Louie holding a straight and everybody else holding back, so he scratched his ear to let Stanley know to bow out. Stanley’s eyebrows furrowed for a moment, but then he remembered what the ear scratch meant and folded and Louie’s straight took a nice pot.
Louie excused himself to take a leak. He needed to unclench a bit, he was too wound up, worried that Stanley would screw up. He went to the bathroom and threw some water on his face and took some deep breaths and went back to the game. He got there just in time to hear one of the guys giving Stanley the third degree and changed the subject.
Two hours into the game Louie was sitting on a mountain of chips, and the tension was getting thick. Al was the only other player doing at all well. Louie knew he had to take Al down to walk away with everything, and counting the chips on the table, he was going to need it. He began signalling Stanley to stay in when he had a high hand and that transferred some of the wealth to Stanley’s pile, making the others less suspicious.
At last the big hand arrived. Louie was sitting on a spade flush, but he couldn’t be sure what Al had. He had been playing it tight up to now, but he was seeing every raise, and while Louie figured he might be bluffing to try to win big and stay in the game, he just might have something big. He signalled to Stanley and Stanley looked at his hand once more and signalled that he had two pair. Louie decided to go for broke and let Stanley know to drop out.
Louie went all in, daring Al to match him. Al hesitated, then shoved all of his chips into the center and called. Louie grinned from ear to ear and laid down his flush and reached for the pile.
“Not so fast, Louie.” Al was grinning too. “Full house, Jacks over sevens.”
Louie’s face crumpled and Al raked in his winnings, hooting his delight. With the game over everyone said their goodnights and were gone. Louie sat at the table with his head in his hands. Stanley looked like he’s lost his only friend.
“Gee, i’m sorry Louie. I tried, I really did.”
“Oh, I know, Stanley, don’t worry. I’ll find a way to make good. Besides, if you only had two pair, you couldn’t help anyway. So what else did you have with the two pair?”
Stanley thought for a minute. “Um, a six.”
Louie thought about the cards that had been played and then frowned. “Stanley, what was the two pair you had?”
“Aces, Louie. I had two pair of aces and a six!”