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I’m not much of a gambling man, so even writing about this kinda feels like I’m out of my comfort zone. When a person plays Black Jack, essentially one is competing not against others at the table or even against the dealer who gets paid the same whether you win or lose so he doesn’t care. You are competing with the cards. Even if you can count cards, you’re working on probabilities and strategies and past experience and downright luck to decide from one bet to the next, from one card to the next. How close can you get to Twenty-one without going over. Blackjack has more in common with the game show “The Price Is Right” than it does any other card game. Comparatively speaking, poker’s a completely different animal. There’s way more variables at play. The most important variable in poker is not the cards. It’s the other people at the table.

You have your cards in front of you. You know what they are (usually, I mean there’s some kinds of poker where even that’s not obvious at the start of a round). However, you don’t know what other cards are in play. You don’t know what is in the hands of other players at the table. If you put one to three cards down and slide them to the dealer, you aren’t sure what you’re gonna get back. There comes a point where you have your hand and you’ve made the best choices you can considering the limits of the game, and you look around the room at the other faces and try to gauge where they stand. Do they have anything? Does someone at the table have that elusive Royal Flush? Is someone smiling a little bit? Is someone shaking just a little bit? Maybe you have two pair ace high. Maybe you’re the only person at the table who has anything that remotely looks like an actual winning hand. Maybe someone is bluffing and they ain’t got crap. Maybe someone at the table is trying to get others to add spices to the pot, so they don’t want to give away that they have a full house and think they’re about to win it all. Some people are cool as cucumbers and their body language doesn’t give anything away, but most people have a “tell”: a mannerism that happens (oftentimes even without their knowledge that they’re doing it) which an alert mind can read and determine whether or not that person’s a winner or loser.

You don’t know. You never know for certain, but some tells are more obvious than others. Some tells are worth a gamble. You have no way of knowing before someone “calls” and everybody either folds or presents their cards face up for all to see. Up until this moment, people have many different strategies for predicting the outcome. Some try to count cards. Some try to read body language for those tells. Some just go with their gut. Some juggle all these variables and far more. However, there always comes that point of revelation, where the cards are on the table and a victor is declared. Someone gets the pot, and then the cycle starts over, until the people at the table call it a night.

Now, there are Believers who preach about a point of revelation too. They describe a day of judgement where the final arbiter of all creation calls, and you either fold or you present your cards before him, and hope your small straight or three of a kind is enough to get you victory. These believers place this final day of revelation at the end of days, long after anything that happens in the material world has ceased to matter, and their god has called you to answer for that greatest of all crimes: a lack of faith in THEIR god. They have no proof that this day of arbitration is at hand, but they believe in it. This is like gambling on a face down hand never lifted from the table, without even peeking at the cards.

It’s (I guess) somehow comforting to put off that day of revelation for long after it matters in the material world. It means that all these other daily spins at the poker of life are inconsequential. It doesn’t matter if you beat a Believer today, cuz that Believer will see you lose to him on the very last hand: the only one they believe actually counts. Judgment Day. Comforting for the Believer of course. Not comforting for the Doubter. In the mind of the Believer, the cards are stacked in their favor. Did you know some 70% of Believers assume Mother Theresa made it to heaven, but over 80% of them assume they’re gonna make it? Piety seems to be a rather subjective thing.

Reality doesn’t actually work that way, but it does work this way: every day (often several times a day) you’re dealt a hand of cards. You play those cards as best you know how. You try to gauge others around you also playing their cards. You try to take in variables. You try to read signs to predict the outcome. You hope you come out on top so you can reap the rewards accumulating in the middle of the table, and there’s a point of reckoning where someone at the table wins, and someone loses.

But maybe, just maybe, every great once in awhile, the people at the table figure out a way where we can all win. Cuz this isn’t just poker. This is life. Sometimes we can make up the rules as we go along, and we get to decide for ourselves how a victor is chosen. Sometimes that decision is out of our hands, however, and the 99% of the universe that wants to kill us all makes that decision instead. Arbitration can be a fickle bitch.

How do you know Paris exists? You look at the available evidence, interpret it as best you can, and you make an informed decision. Or you don’t pay attention to reality at all and blindly choose to believe it’s there or doubt it’s existence, and hope you are right. For some people, revelation beats investigation. For others, it’s the other way around. How you decide to read the table, helps you tell reality from fantasy, and it is what separates the winners from the losers. As for that final day of arbitration, standing before the Abrahamic Creation god? I’ve counted the cards. I’ve weighed the variables. I’ve read the body language. I’ve surveyed the table.

I know it’s a safe bet to call Abe’s bluff: he’s got a tell.