The Russian and the Medallion

I had seen in him in the cardroom since I sat down, he was obviously a local and was in there a lot. You’ll have that when you’re in the only casino within a couple hours’ drive. I don’t remember his name, it was something obviously Russian or at least Eastern European. We’re gonna go with Andre, even though I know that’s not right, but it’s something in the same phonetic realm at least.

Andre was playing $1/2 No Limit when I sat down, and it took less than an orbit to figure out that he was one of the more dangerous players at the table. He could lay down a hand after he bet it, for one thing, which put him head and shoulders ahead of 70% of the room. He understood the strength of position, too, and had a talent for exploiting weakness in others. In short, he had most of the gears and knew when to use them. He was only at my table that first night for an hour or so before his name got called for a $2/5 seat and he moved on to play at higher stakes.

The next day, we ended up at the same table again, and this time it was for a longer period. I noticed he had on a different sweater, but the medallion was the same. It was a big medallion, and there wasn’t another good word for it. It was probably 3″ in diameter, with a young man’s picture taking up the whole face of it. It hung to the center of his chest on a thick gold rope chain, and it obviously had some significance, as he wore it everywhere. After we’d shared the table for several hours, and shipped a few pots back and forth between us, I finally asked him whose picture it was.

He got very quiet for a moment, and this 50-year-old man, who looked not unlike someone who you’d find drinking straight vodka in a fuzzy hat in a Cold War movie, got misty-eyed at the poker table. He looked down at the medallion and very quietly said “My son.” I let it go at that, not wanting to intrude too much on the real life of someone who I just happened to share the felt with for a little while, but by the mist in his eyes I could see the story of a man who died far too young and left a father behind who will never forget.

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