The following is an excerpt from Final Table, a captivating new political thriller by Dan Schorr that will be published on Oct. 5. More information about the novel can be found at danschorrbooks.com.
“Twenty,” he heard himself say, and the crowd rumbled, shocked by the quick acceleration of action on the first hand of the final table. He had now committed almost half his chips on this hand.
Right away he could tell that Priya was not thrilled by his re-raise. Again, it was something almost unnoticeable that he picked up in her demeanor, posture, and gaze.
She stared straight ahead for three minutes, seemingly thinking hard about what to do next. Then she began moving her chips around with her slender fingers, putting out two small stacks and with one hand merging them into one. After five minutes she slowly separated enough chips to match Kyler’s bet, and then counted what she would have left after a potential call.
Meanwhile, Kyler knew that as weak as her hand might be, he was in a bad position with just ace high. Against a top pro like Priya, he needed to be still as a statue as she contemplated her next move and intensely observed him.
His heart was beating heavily. Was she able to notice this? He felt some sweat develop on his forehead, but of course he dared not move to wipe it off. But wouldn’t she see that it was there? It was agony, with millions of dollars and his financial future at stake. Why had he gotten himself into this mess so soon? As her contemplation reached almost ten minutes, he yearned for this torture to end. Where was that kid from earlier in the tournament to call the clock?
He desperately wanted her to fold—a desire stronger than just about any he had experienced in his life. It was such an overwhelming, all-powerful wish that he wondered how long he could keep the intense emotion from being obvious.
His heart sank in profound disappointment as the crowd erupted in a loud, supportive cheer, thrilled by their star’s boldness. Some chanted her name, while others screamed words of encouragement. Many times in his life, Kyler had irrationally felt as if virtually the whole world was against him, but now it really seemed true. Except for a few supporters in the audience, he was forced to play the villain here, and no one wanted him to prevail.
He told himself that he needed to ignore all that and just make the best, most correct poker decision. He had to forget all his personal debt and the millions of dollars the wrong decision here might cost him and his children.
So many chips were already in the middle. If he called and won, she’d be eliminated in ninth place and he would be the chip leader with eight players remaining—an incredible position that would make the $8.8 million more attainable than ever. But if he called and lost, she would be the chip leader, and he’d be virtually gone—barely enough chips to continue playing. And if he folded? He’d already given up about half his chips on this hand. He would still be alive, but greatly damaged, and in a much weaker position going forward.
Now she was the statue—staring straight ahead, motionless— while he tried to figure out what to do. She clearly didn’t have a great hand. He had sensed unmistakable weakness as she deliberated. He still thought she probably had a draw or a small pair—in either case, he’d either be ahead or would still have outs with an ace or king on the turn or river giving him the win, or maybe even runner-runner hearts bringing him a flush.
She had no doubt detected that he was uncomfortable before the all-in bet. So maybe she was bluffing simply based on her read that he wanted her to fold. And as cool and professional as she usually was, maybe now she was on tilt after that fiery altercation with the crown prince.
He had gotten this far—inconceivably far—by trusting his instincts. And he had some great recent history of successfully calling with ace high in a big hand. He thought back to that one hand at the home game final table where he won his WSOP entry. He had shown the winning cards and then heard one of the watchers cry out: “Ace high. Oh my God . . .”
He looked right at Priya, their eyes met, and he knew exactly what he needed to do.
He was, and had always been, for better or worse, a gambler. And right now he wanted to gamble on the fact that he was right.
With his eyes still locked with hers, he announced the biggest decision of his life.
Be sure to check out Final Table, out Oct. 5. Learn more at danschorrbooks.com.