The Perfect Game

The Perfect Game

You’re set to play poker (or Scrabble or something else . . .) with a group of four. Write a story set during this game. Or, describe the ideal match: the players, the relationships — and the hidden rivalries.

I could obviously have written something football themed, but football is usually at least five a side. If they were playing without goalkeepers as you do in some types of games of street football then it could have worked, but I thought I’d stick with the first suggestion of poker, I had a good reason for doing so. Just a few days ago I got a set of playing cards in the post, not just any cards of course but a special collectible set of VfB Stuttgart themed cards from when Jogi Löw was their coach. I was pleased to see that his card was the first to greet me when I opened the box, and less so to find Thomas Schneider next in line. Given that not long ago I got those cards and that Schneider seems to be quite the poker player. I don’t know if he actually plays cards, I’m just going by his behaviour on the touchline and the fact that I can only think of three times I’ve seen him smile or display any kind of facial expression. And one of those times is unconfirmed,  I thought I saw him smile during the Georgia game but when I went back and checked whilst I was making the Löw highlights I couldn’t find it, so who knows. Anyhow, first the playing cards in question and then the story:

Joachim Löw - VfB Stuttgart playing cardThomas Schneider - VfB Stuttgart playing cardHansi had laughed when Jogi told him he was going to play poker with Thomas. He didn’t mean to, not out loud at least but the idea of it was so amusing that Hansi could do nothing to hide his reaction. A reaction which did not go unnoticed by Jogi.

“What’s so funny? Explain yourself, Hans-Dieter” asked a visibly annoyed Jogi.
This only made Hansi laugh even more, for as he said this his hand went up to slightly sweep his fringe back in his usual manner.
“I’m sorry, Jogi, I don’t mean to laugh at you. It’s just the idea of you playing poker with Thomas. This I would like to see.”
“Why, what’s so special about it?”
“Well, he’s got such a poker face and you, well you’re you.”
“I know who I am, who else would I be but myself. What’s your point, what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Let me put it this way, I don’t think poker’s your game.”
“All games are my game, I can be good anything. Just you watch. You said you wanted to see it, so come along. You can watch me play.”
“No, I didn’t really mean, I….”
“I know, you don’t want to come to Thomas’ game.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t have to.”

If Hansi refused to go with Jogi to the game, he would be admitting the truth. Something he had no intention of doing. Which was why a few minutes later he found himself sitting across the table from Thomas, trying not to be unnerved by his poker stare. He tried instead to focus on what he’d come to see, on what at any other time could capture his attention completely, Jogi’s mannerisms and other odd little ways. He tried his best to focus on watching Jogi shuffle and reshuffle the cards and could not help but smile to himself whenever his hand went up to his fringe, as it frequently did. Luckily for Hansi, Jogi was so focused on his task that he didn’t see this and thus Hansi could get away with his amusement this time round.

Hansi originally intended to watch them play, but a game of three soon became four. When Jogi dealt Thomas and Andreas in and then asked Hansi if he wanted to play too, before Hansi knew what he was saying he answered in the affirmative. It wasn’t until they were playing for a few minutes that he realised why. That he realised that he felt compelled to beat the replacement. Sitting there thinking whilst Jogi was shuffling the cards, Hansi was thinking how he’d like to see whether or not the replacement could decipher Jogi’s tells. He wanted to see if he’d gotten to know Jogi as well as he did, despite the fact that all the evidence so far proved the opposite to be true. It was something related to this very fact that was driving Hansi in his quest to beat the replacement.

The incident of the missing hug as Hansi had come to call it, an incident which showed that at least at that point the replacement had not learned any of Jogi’s ways at all. Previously Hansi told Jogi that he needed to let this go; that no good would come of obsessing over it. Obviously Hansi could not take his own advice.

Jogi was normally the competitive one, the one who didn’t know the meaning of the words “ a friendly game.” Here Jogi soon found himself outdone in those stakes and a game of four soon became a game of two as it descended into a duel between Hansi and Thomas, with Andreas and Jogi being reduced to hapless spectators.

Their roles were well and truly reversed now, Hansi was not only being the competitive one but he was the one who was failing to pick up on the fact that Jogi was bored and impatient. Usually it was other way around, Jogi was the one who boring him to death about stickers or trading cards or some other such subject Hansi found tedious. At such times Hansi would soon stop listening to what it was Jogi was actually saying and would lose himself in listening to the delightfully odd sing-song tones of his wonderful voice.

Here Jogi had no such distractions to enjoy. He didn’t have Hansi’s equally delightful voice to lose himself in listening to, for he barely said a word and every word he did say was as curt as could be. He also did not have Hansi’s adorable elf-lord smile to enjoy the sight of, nor the sweet look of concentration on his face that was usually present when he was thinking.

Thomas turned out to be as competitive as Hansi was determined and with neither of them willing to back down, the game soon turned into a stalemate. It seemed neither of them was going to walk away from this game a winner. Not until Hansi in a moment of distraction looked over at Jogi and realised something important. He didn’t need to win this game. He’d already won the game that counted most of all and already had the best prize imaginable.

“I fold, I’m out.”
“Giving up already?”
“No, it’s just that I don’t need to win this game. I’ve already won the only game I care about winning.”

Afterwards Jogi asked him what he’d meant, what the other game was that he’d been referring to. It was awkward at first, Hansi wanted to simply say the truth, to say why he’d wanted to beat the replacement so much. Instead he settled for an answer which was suitably cryptic for Jogi to not know exactly what he was referring to, but one which still contained the truth.
“I didn’t need to beat him, not at poker or any other game. I’m the one who gets to come home and hug you every night, that’s all that matters.”

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