Game of Cards // Chapter Excerpt

“It’s basic logic.” Cedric explained. “The key to blackjack is being able to remember.” He was sitting with Adrian at one of the small circular tables in the casino. She was distracted by his white silicone and gold watch, flashing as he shuffled the cards.

Pop music hummed through large speakers in the ceiling and Adrian heard the occasional eruption of excited voices all around her. Cedric wore a ghost white tee. She noticed it fell loosely, yet fitted enough to reveal the clean outline of large rounded shoulders and a defined upper chest.

“After the deal, if the remaining deck has more ten and ace cards, you have a higher statistical advantage of winning,” said Cedric. She half-consciously replayed in her mind the way he said statistical, kind of like—focus, Adrian.

“You gotta count the cards as they’re played.” He continued. Adrian said nothing, only nodding occasionally, careful not to betray her projected confidence. He sat close, she could have easily reached out and touch his extended knee under the table.

“Don’t forget the count value of previous hands, it tells you about the cards that are left in the pile for the next rounds.” Cedric paused to let the information process. He dealt two cards face up to her, a four of diamonds and a six of spades, and then dealt himself a king of spades and another card face down.

“Double down?” Adrian asked after the deal. “If I double my bet I’d have a good chance of getting ten or eleven, right?”

“Well, d’you remember the cards played in our last hand?”

Adrian looked at him coolly, wordlessly shifting the expectation on him to answer his question.

“Remember, all cards below six are worth one positive point and all cards ten and above are worth one negative—”

“Yeah, I know, I know, you said that.”

“Okay, so,” He lifted up his arm to scratch the back of his neck. She could smell his deodorant. “Keep doing the math in your head. It gets easier, I promise. You jus’ need to keep adding, subtracting, or,” he paused, adopting an increasingly instructive tone, “if the card is a seven, eight, or nine—”

“Don’t add or subtract anything.”

“Right. So, when do you have the advantage?”

“When the point count is positive.”

He smiled, “Because…?”

“‘Cause there’s a higher amount of ten or ace cards that could be dealt,” she blinked thoughtfully a few times, “and I’m more likely to win.”

“Oh, you’re good.”

Adrian felt a warm sensation run through her.

“Alright,” Cedric said quickly, filling the silence when she didn’t say anything, “so is your count positive or negative?”

“Definitely positive.”

“Double down.” He said, and handed her another card.

Adrian nodded slowly. “I think I’m getting it.” She rested her elbow on the table and delicately reached over to take the card from Cedric.

She never anticipated enjoying blackjack, or, she had to admit, the time spent with Cedric Davis. He was charming and well kept, always in thick denim jeans and spotless white tees. His coarse hairline was shaved along the edges, accentuating perfectly straight lines against the dark skin. 

They practiced in the casino to simulate the feel of an actual game of blackjack. Cedric began by dealing one card at a time face up on the table, starting the count after each card was dealt for the entire deck. He paused occasionally in the processes to ask Adrain the count. They practiced at different speeds. If she was able to count the entire deck correctly, Cedric dealt the cards a little faster. Eventually, Cedric stopped counting. He’d pause and ask for the count, she’d write it down, note where he stopped, then they’d go through the deck at the end to check her accuracy. Soon she was able to score one hundred percent after every deal, regardless of dealing speed.

A few weeks later, Adrian was increasingly astonished that she was consistently winning hands in the casino. She was meticulous in her strategy: only taking carefully calculated risks and killing the excitement of every win. Where pathological gamblers lost themselves in the hazy whims of luck, she remained unshakable, grounded in the laws of card counting and self-control.

This wasn’t a gambling game, this was a game of logic, this was knowing when to close and how to maintain an extremely high threshold against pressure. She learned the timing of a perfect night: when to bid low or take even money, and when to go home. Onlookers booed her decisions to cash out on a winning streak, but she wasn’t there for fun and taking chances. Luck had never been on her side.

Cedric was right, the key to blackjack was basic logic, but it was also emotional extraction, she realized, which was another well-developed skill. She drained all feeling out of the experience—the lights, the excited voices, the low, omnipresent music—everything was shut out. She made a point not to make friends with anyone who worked there and didn’t accept any favors or incentives, she played the game.

And if I can’t win, she told herself, I won’t play.

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