I’ve lost money in Macau, Las Vegas, and Monte Carlo. Always through Texas Hold Em’. I still think of hands I lost and the memories still sting.
I think about those hands when I read Forest of Fortune by Jim Ruland.
“I don’t believe luck is making these Indians rich. Do you think luck keeps the lights on at Thunderclap? Do you think luck pays the bills for their fancy cars and huge houses?”
Casinos aren’t just instruments of luck, doling out cash to those who are blessed for a night. They’re an orchestrated affair down to every scintillating light, catchy sound, and shaded hue of red. There’s a mysticism to it, a ritualistic foray that demands worship. Ruland’s prose is the most unlikely of creeds and his saints are doused in the alienation of those who are tantalized by the prospect of salvation (Pemberton, one of the unlikely trinity, is in trouble because of cocaine, a weird Korean porn fetish gangster lady, and a few late night missed calls). Ruland sets the forest of our expectations on fire, a riveting blaze that keeps me enthralled, even if the heat makes me sweat uncomfortably. Macau and Vegas are like that. An open world microwave with the only solace being those big air-conditioned casinos.
What would it be like to play cards with the stakes being your life?
Forest of Fortune has gotten lots of praise, deservedly so. It’s a fast-paced read, hard to put down, as flashy and addictive as the casinos they describe. But like those casinos, it’s not just luck that makes the book so good. There’s a designer at the helm, managing every hand, every nuanced interaction.
“They say no one knows their fate until it’s too late.”
I’m heading down to a new casino. I’ve gotten pocket queens on my first deal. I’m feeling pretty confident and decide to be bold early on, going all in. The guy across from me smirks. An Ace on the flop makes him giddy.
I know it’s too late for one of us. The question is, is it me, or him?