Merc Rule 12: He who changes his bet last is either bluffing, cheating, or both.
If you traveled the span of the Red Frontier you’d be hard pressed to find a merc who ain’t interested in turning a quick buck. And if there’s one skill in the bloody business that every merc’s mastered, it’s waiting around and looking busy doing it.
Whiskey does the trick keeping a merc busy, no mistake. But even the drunks are looking for more profitable ways to pass the time. And gambling is the fastest way to see money change hands. Whether it’s dice or cards, every merc is familiar with Triple Sevens, Thieves Run, and Liar’s Cho-han.
But a merc won’t play for long if he’s no good.
The trick to winning any game of chance is knowing how to bet, how to bluff, and when to rely on less savory tactics. If you’re new to the game, you could do worse than watching Five-Ace Kirkland. The man’s a wizard at the hot table. And it don’t take a genius to know he didn’t get the name Five-Ace by playing fair.
Being a known cheater is one thing. But surviving as one is all about knowing when not to. Getting caught is a quick way to get hung from the rafters and used for a knife board.
That’s what separates the small time gamblers from the high rollers. Although Five-Ace don’t deny cheating, no one’s managed to catch him in the act. That, and he’s good for the house. ‘Cause when he wins he buys a round for the entire saloon. Keeps patrons throwing back drinks and running up tabs on every service and revelry the place has to offer. Helps that the house usually hires him on when he gets in town. Offering him free room and board for 10% of his take of Merc hold ‘em. For a hustler like Five-Ace that’s no meager sum.
Any merc will tell you, whoever changes his bet last is either bluffing, cheating, or both. Unfortunately, this don’t give you much insight as to whether or not said individual has the upper hand. Which, by default, gives ‘em the upper hand. Now, if you’re familiar with the merc, you might be able to predict whether he’s a bluffing bastard or a lowdown cheat. If he’s both—like Five-Ace Kirkland—you’re in for one hell of time. And most mercs are. Because most of ‘em know this rule.
—Coyote Joe, Memoirs of a Merc
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