This is one of my favourite Stories by Kishon, a great humorist.
For quite a while the two of us sat at our table, wordlessly stirring our coffee. Ervinke was bored.
All right, he said.
Let's play poker.
No, I answered.
I hate cards. I always lose.
Who's talking about cards? thus Ervinke.
I was thinking of Jewish poker.
He then briefly explained the rules of the game. Jewish poker is played without cards, in your head, as befits the People of the Book.
You think of a number, I also think of a number, Ervinke said.
Whoever thinks of a higher number wins. This sounds easy, but it has a hundred pitfalls. Nu!
All right, I agreed.
We plunked down five piasters each, and, leaning back in our chairs began to think of numbers. After a while Ervinke signaled that he had one. I said I was ready.
All right, thus Ervinke.
Let's hear your number.
Eleven, I said.
Twelve, Ervinke said, and took the money.
I could have' kicked myself, because originally I had thought of Fourteen, and only at the last moment had I climbed down to Eleven, I really don't know why.
Listen. I turned to Ervinke.
What would have happened had I said Fourteen?
What a question! I'd have lost. Now, that is just the charm of poker: you never know how things will turn out. But if your nerves cannot stand a little gambling, perhaps we had better call it off.
Without saying another word, I put down ten piasters on the table. Ervinke did likewise. I pondered my number carefully and opened with Eighteen.
Damn! Ervinke said.
I have only Seventeen!
I swept the money into my pocket and quietly guffawed. Ervinke had certainly not dreamed that I would master the tricks of Jewish poker so quickly. He had probably counted on my opening with Fifteen or Sixteen, but certainly not with Eighteen. Ervinke, his brow in angry furrows, proposed to double the stakes.
As you like, I sneered, and could hardly keep back my jubilant laughter. In the meantime a fantastic number had occurred to me: Thirty-five!
Lead! said Ervinke.
With that he pocketed the forty piasters. I could feel the blood rushing into my brain.
Listen, I hissed.
Then why didn't you say Forty-three the last time?
Because I had thought of Seventeen! Ervinke retorted indignantly.
Don't you see, that is the fun in poker: you never know what will happen next.
A pound, I remarked dryly, and, my lips curled in scorn, I threw a note on the table. Ervinke extracted a similar note from his pocket and with maddening slowness placed it next to mine. The tension was unbearable. I opened with Fifty-four.
Oh, damn it! Ervinke fumed.
I also thought of Fifty-four! Draw! Another game!
My brain worked with lightning speed.
Now you think I'll again call Eleven, my boy, I reasoned.
But you'll get the surprise of your life. I chose the sure-fire Sixty-nine.
You know what, Ervinke- I turned to Ervinke -
As you like, he agreed.
It's all the same with me. Seventy!
Everything went black before my eyes. I had not felt such panic since the siege of Jerusalem.
Nu? Ervinke urged.
What number did you think of?
What do you know? I whispered with downcast eyes.
I have forgotten.
You liar! Ervinke flared up.
I know you didn't forget, but simply thought of a smaller number and now don't want to own up. An old trick. Shame on you!
I almost slapped his loathsome face for this evil slander, but with some difficulty overcame the urge. With blazing eyes I upped the stakes by another pound and thought of a murderous number: Ninety-six!
Lead, stinker, I threw at Ervinke, whereupon he leaned across the table and hissed into my face:
Sixteen hundred and eighty-three!
A queer weakness gripped me.
Eighteen hundred, I mumbled wearily.
Double! Ervinke shouted, and pocketed the four pounds.
What do you mean, I snorted.
If you lose your temper in poker, you'll lose your shirt! Ervinke lectured me.
Any child will understand that my number doubled is higher than yours, so it's clear that. . .
Enough, I gasped, and threw down a fiver.
Two thousand, I led.
Two thousand four hundred and seventeen, thus Ervinke.
Double! I sneered, and grabbed the stakes, but Ervinke caught my hand.
Redouble! he whispered, and pocketed the tenner. I felt I was going out of my mind.
Listen - I gritted my teeth -
if that's how things stand, I could also have said 'redouble' in the last game, couldn't I?
Of course, Ervinke agreed.
To tell you the truth, I was rather surprised that you didn't. But this is poker, yahabibi, you either know how to play it or you don't! If you are scatterbrained, better stick to croquet.
The stakes were ten pounds.
Lead! I screamed. Ervinke leaned back in his chair, and in a disquietingly calm voice announced his number: Four.
Ten million! I blared triumphantly. But without the slightest sign of excitement, Ervinke said:
And took the twenty pounds.
I then broke into sobs. Ervinke stroked my hair and told me that according to Hoyle, whoever is first out with the ultimo wins, regardless of numbers. That is the fun in poker: you have to make split-second decisions.
Twenty pounds, I whimpered, and placed my last notes in the hands of fate. Ervinke also placed his money. My face was bathed in cold sweat. Ervinke went on calmly blowing smoke rings, only his eyes had narrowed.
You, I answered, and he fell into my trap like the sucker he was.
So I lead, Ervinke said.
Ultimo, and he stretched out his hand for the treasure.
Just a moment - I stopped him -
With that I pocketed the Mint's six-month output.
Ben-Gurion is even stronger than ultimo, I explained.
But it's getting dark outside. Perhaps we had better break it off.
We paid the waiter and left. Ervinke asked for his money back, saying that I had invented the Ben-Gurion on the spur of the moment. I admitted this, but said that the fun in poker was just in the rule that you never returned the money you had won.