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Craziest Night of My Life

The following story is 100% true and is given in every detail as I recall the evening going.  I’m sure I may have skipped over a part or 2 and the continuity may be a bit off as I try and recollect the events of the night, but… It truly was one hell of a night!

So, it was my 2nd day in Cambodia and was in a bit of a funk over the drama that that got me to go on this trip in the first place.  I skipped doing some of the group stuff and just laid around the hotel feeling a bit sorry for myself, but finally decided I needed to get out and walk the streets of Phnom Penh, as it was known for it’s markets and shopping.  For whatever reason, I had been wanting to buy myself a pair of black-framed glasses w clear lenses just to wear for fashion and a nice watch to go with it.  So, after walking for a while and stopping by multiple shops and getting a ridiculous amount of stares as I had to duck to get in and out of most places, not to mention many ceilings were even too low for me.  Well, after finally making my purchases, I begin to tackle the maze to get attempt to get out and make it back to my hotel.  Well, along the way, a gentleman by the name of Sunny stops me and asks if I’m American and how tall I am.  We exchange a few pleasantries and he tells me his sister is a nurse and is getting ready to move to Atlanta to work here.  I tell him that is where I currently live and he’s convinced that it is a sign and that I need to meet her.  And this is where the adventure begins…

I expected his sister to be one of the many people who had stopped to stare and/or take pictures of me, as it would seem a 6’9″ American is quite the oddity over there, not to mention my flashy, recent purchases and typical basketball attire of Jordan shorts and a beater.  Regardless, it turned out she was at home and he asked me to come with him via a taxi and meet her and the rest of his family.  Rule #1 in these foreign countries is never go anywhere with someone you don’t know.  Well, I was getting a little nervous and excited, but thought to myself, “You’re a big guy and can take care of yourself.  It sounds like an adventure, and you promised yourself you would take some risks on this trip to try and find yourself and clarity, so… Let’s go!”

Well, his “5-minute ride” ended up taking 20 minutes, and along the way, we had broken conversation as his English wasn’t the best, and he was continuously on his phone, supposedly letting his family know to prepare for a guest and to make sure the sister was there, etc… Not gonna lie, I kept thinking he was setting something up for me to get kidnapped once I got there or who knows what.  Especially given how I looked, I’m sure people assumed I was a wealthy American athlete and they could hold me for ransom or do God knows what!  And as we got closer to his home, the only word that came to mind was barrio, the Spanish equivalent of the projects.  Just seemed way off, but Sunny seemed like a very happy and nice guy, but… Something just seemed a bit off about him as well.  But, what could I do, I was already there!

So, we walk into his family’s home and sure enough, there was his sister, preparing lunch for us.  She seemed like a very sweet and genuine woman in her mid-20′s and was very warm and welcoming.  After a brief welcome and introduction, I was led into the living room where his brother sat, watching of all things, The Italian Job.  The brother, Ato, seemed very surprised to see me, but was again, very warm and welcoming and asked me to sit and talk.  Well, his English was a lot better, so our conversation was able to go a bit deeper, so I explained that I was there because of my ex and was trying to do some soul-searching and figure out my next move in life.  No clue if I wanted to go back to England, maybe S America somewhere, or just focus on creating an adult life for myself somewhere back in America, whether it be Atlanta, Cleveland, Philadelphia or Vegas.  He seemed genuinely interested, sympathetic and had a lot of advice.  At that moment I remember thinking I definitely made the right decision by coming there as I felt it was a sign with the advice Ato was giving me… That I need to do whatever it is my heart tells me is right.  To follow it and my dreams, and that everything would be just fine.

Well, as conversations typically do, it progressed to what we do for a living.  I informed him I was just a broke guy who was given this traveling opportunity by a very close friend, otherwise I would still be State-side sulking, or given my depression, who knows what.  He opened up about a previous relationship and then proceeded to tell me his profession was a blackjack dealer at the local casino.  He told me he really enjoyed it, that it paid pretty well, especially since he worked in the VIP section with no limit.  But from there, our conversation was cut short as lunch was announced.

The sister brought out a bowl of rice, chicken wings and a whole, grilled fish.  Who knew that would be a local, Cambodian meal.  I’m not gonna lie, I still felt a bit uncomfortable and took my time drinking from my glass or taking a bite of food as I waited to see Sunny take a bite first.  I just kept envisioning myself waking up in a bathtub of ice missing my kidneys or something.  I felt bad feeling so untrusting, but again here I am, a 6’9″ American walking around the streets of Cambodia, and the next thing I know, I’m having lunch with a local family who I had just met an hour earlier!  Well, regardless, lunch went well and had a good conversation about Atlanta with the sister and that I would definitely help her out whenever she got her as far as helping her find a place to live and introducing her to the friends I knew in the area she was planning on moving to.

Well, as lunch finished and the table was cleared, Ato walked back into the dining room with a little black box, and this is where the wildness truly began!  He asked if I had ever played blackjack before and that he wanted to teach me to make sure I would always win wherever I went.  Math has always been my forte and I understand the concept of counting cards, and even tho I never did the +/- system, I was able to keep decent track when I played to always be successful.  Well, his idea was him chopping cards and giving me hand signals!  He asked me to pick a card and then shuffle.  Sure enough, after me shuffling, him shuffling and dealing me a hand, he still pulled out my 4 of clubs!  I’ve seen some good chopping in my days, but this guy was by far, the best!  He then proceeded to show me his hand signals to show what the dealer had as his 2nd, un-shown card.  (And let me note that they played differently here than we play in America.  It was 1 on 1 in the VIP area, me against another player, who acted as the banker.  The dealer would sit next to the Banker and deal to him as if he himself was the dealer.  So the Banker had to obey the typical dealer rules, but, and this was the interesting part… It was no limit.  Ante was always whatever I, the player, decided it to be, but after we looked at our cards, the Banker could raise, re-raise or simply fold.  So basically, it was a combination of no-limit poker and blackjack.)  So, Ato’s signals went as follows, each finger in his right hand counted as 2 and his thumb counted as 1, so 2 fingers and a thumb would mean the Banker had a 5 hidden.  He also would hold the cards in a certain way to show me what the next card would be so I would know whether to take a hit or not, but he reassured me to put all of my trust in him, and he would make sure I win.

At this point, I still didn’t understand why he was showing me all of these things.  I had told him I was broke, and even if I came to the casino, I would probably only be able to bring $500, but I knew there was no way that would be enough to play in the VIP area, let alone in a no-limit situation where someone could simply buy the pot, as if I didn’t have enough to call, the Banker simply won that hand.  He then proceeded to tell me he still wanted me to come down, to help him get even with a wealthy player from the Middle East from the previous night who had apparently screwed him over.  The custom there is to tip your dealer 5% on whatever your winnings are, and despite this player, Mr. Malik, winning over $150k, he only tipped 3%.  On a side note, the average person in Cambodia supposedly made about$350 a year, or in Phnom Penh, $1,000, that would mean on this one evening, Ato made $4,500.  How tips work in a foreign casino, I have no clue, but regardless, it seemed that he should be very grateful from this tip, not upset or feeling cheated.  As I’m always thinking and analyzing, I definitely did that math and analysis right then and made a mental note of it.  Well, at this point he made it clear he wanted me to come in and help him get even with Mr. Malik.  Despite me only having $500 max, he reassured me he could get me credit and make sure I win, and win a lot!  And at the end of the day, we would meet up and split the winnings 50/50.

Keep in mind, I try and always follow the rules and rarely do anything illegal, but more importantly, never anything immoral.  Well, told him I’d have to think about it, but didn’t seem like something I could do, especially since I was supposed to meet up with my group soon for dinner and then leave first thing in the morning for our next city.  Either way, he said it was my decision and to just play a few hands for fun.  So, we started playing with absolutely no cash on the table whatsoever.  But we went thru the motions and sure enough, every hand I had 21 or blackjack and was winning a fortune of chips!  Was all good and fun until… Mr. Malik walked in!

He was a very non-discreet looking gentleman, probably in his mid-60′s, but his personality and arrogance came out strong as Ato had informed me.  He was a man who had no clue the value of money, and did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.  I was introduced as their American-friend who had lost a fortune earlier at the casino and was in town for some business deals.  They want on to say I played in the NBA and was not playing overseas as my career was winding down, but the main point of their story was that I was a very wealthy American who was in town for some fun and action.  Well, Mr. Malik asks Ato if he is ready to go, as it was told me to that Mr. Malik considered Ato to be his good luck charm and wanted him to be his dealer for the night.  Ato explained that I had been there at the house for a while playing and had lost a fair amount of money, and as Mr. Malik was over an hour late showing up to get him, he was obligated to stay there with me until I was finished playing.  At this point, Malik inquires if I would be interested in him playing, and if so, if we could change the game to poker.  Ato had warned me earlier, do not play poker, strictly blackjack.  I repeated his instructions and stated I was a blackjack guy and that was all that I wanted to play, but he was more than welcome to play as the Banker.  And so it began…

I already had $500 in chips in front of me from our fun game, and Malik took out $1,000 in US $100 bills.  I should have taken note at this point, but it still felt surreal, so I just went along with it, but nervously shaking and sweating during the whole process.  Well, I anted $50 and the first hand started.  I was given a 5 and 4 and Malik had a jack showing and I was told an 8 under.  So I asked for a hit and was given a 10.  At that point, I raised another $200 and Malik reraised to his total of $1,000.  I obviously call and next thing you know, I have $1,500 of chips in front of me!  I’m already ready to cash out and call it a day, but that obviously wasn’t in the plan, especially as Ato had told me that when it’s time to leave, he will ask if I want a cup of tea, in which I reply, ‘No, I need to leave after this hand’.

Suddenly, Malik opens up his bag and pulls out another $10,000 US.  That’s when it hit me that this was real and that I was potentially in some serious trouble.  But I felt I was in too deep and if I were to say anything or break character, it would not only jeopardize my safety, but also that of my new friends… So, went along for the ride!  As the games went on, I got further into character, talking about my travels and experiences, as he got further into debt.  I had to take a few “loans” from the house as he continuously tried to buy the pot.  Out of the 8 hands we played, I believe he was dealt blackjack on one and we pushed another.  Besides that, I won every hand.  Seemed to be a bit too good to be true and kept thinking he would pick up on what was going on.  but he seemed oblivious…

The 7th hand tho, the stakes had been taking up to the ante being $4,000 and I was dealt 20.  Malik had another face card showing and Ato gave me the signal of all 4 fingers and his thumb.  Given the adrenaline rush, I completely mistook his signal to mean “10″ instead of “9″, so the entire time I was thinking we would push.  Hence why i was confused why Sunny was trying to talk me into raising and going all in.  Well, i finally put my trust in Ato and went all in, forcing Malik to come out of pocket even more to call, which took the pot to $60,000 or so.  I just won $60,000!  $60,000!!!  Even with only half of that being real cash and my cut being 50%, that was still $15k for me!

Malik congratulated me, shook my hand and said well-played.  I made it very clear at that point that I really needed to get going as I was already gonna be pushing my luck to make it back to my group in time to shower and make our dinner reservation.  As Ato promised, he asked if I would like a cup of tea, to which I obviously replied, “No, I need to leave.  This will be my last hand.”  And so the last hand began.  Malik had been giving me a hard time about only using 4 chips to ante, even tho on this last hand, those 4 chips totaled $20,000.  I was dealt a 5 and a 6, he was dealt a king showing and I was given the sign he had another hidden.  So here I am, with 11 in my hand and knowing he has 20 on his with no possible way to take a hit and get 21.  I obviously know what my next card is going to be, so I go to raise another $10k.  I ask for my next card, get a Queen, and raise my $10k, taking the pot to $50k at this point.  He is acting especially arrogant and says no, this pot is his and re-raises approximately $50 grand!  Through the hands I lost track of exactly what was what, but in order for me to call, I needed $60,000, which would take the pot to $162,000.  I’m shaking and sweating profusely at this point as all I can think about is the $40,500 cash I’m about to win!  I was spending the money before the cards were even flipped over!  My life had just changed forever!

Well, as I call, Malik interjects, saying, “Mr. Mike… I mean no disrespect to you, but the fact is, that if you win, you walk away with $81,000 cash of my money.  However, if I win, I have no way of knowing if you can afford to pay your debt.  I trust you to be an honorable man, but this is a business and I need to see some cash before we proceed.”  Ato and Sunny are obviously taken back and beyond livid, but control their emotions and attempt to reassure Mr. Malik that I’m good for the money and that this pot is meet pennies to me as I’m an exceptionally wealthy basketball player/businessman.  Malik protects saying as he is a businessman, he deals only in gold, platinum, cash and electronics, and before anything proceeds, he needs to see one of those in the equivalent of $50k!  They attempt to show him my “expensive” watch and glasses I had just purchased, which they valued at $5k.  They opened up my wallet and showed him my gold and platinum cards, which obviously means nothing, but which they perpetrated to mean no limit that only high-rollers could get.  They even took him into another room, along with his cards, to have a private conversation to try and convince him to just play on and see what was what after the cards were flipped.  That they were personally guaranteeing my credit and ability to pay the debt, that is if I were to lose.

Malik was still unconvinced and they had a private conversation with me as well, just to make sure we were all on the same page and that I knew he had 20 and that I had 21.  They were beyond excited as they had just struck gold too.  However… They asked if there was any way for me to produce the $60k.  I tried to keep a straight head throughout this entire adventure and promised I would never give any money for anything.  I reassured them I was broke and couldnt do anything to help out.  They understood and concocted the plan of us leaving to go to the bank and drive around while they orchestrated a loan from a friend to cover and I would come back later that night to meet Malik, flip the cards and claim my cut.  Malik and I each agreed, put out cards in separate envelopes, signed and sealed them, placed everything into a lock-box where I was given the key and Sunny and I went on our way to get the cash!

As our journey began, in his broken English Sunny proceeded to ask me to try and help out with the financial situation.  I informed him again, I have absolutely no money and can’t do anything.  He asked me to just try.  His plan was, thinking I could use my credit card with no limit, to stop by, buy 60 i-phones as they were $1,000 each, and then call with those as Malik agreed to using electronics as currency.  I told him no, that it wouldn’t work, several times, but he insisted, so we stopped by an ATM first to try and a cash advance.  I attempted both cards, but typed in the wrong pins to make sure nothing would happen.  So, there we are, no cash and me growing suspicious of this whole thing being a scam to get money out of me, and not us taking advantage of him!  Still tho, Sunny had asked that I give him a finder’s fee of $1,000 for setting this up.  At this point, I told him I would be grateful and give him $2,000 and his sister a $1,000 for being so sweet and hospitable.

We then went to my hotel to get my passport to go to the casino to try another cash advance and talk to some of Ato’s friends to see if we could get the loan from one of them.  At this point I ran up to my room, grabbed my passport and sat down and emailed my friend who had booked the trip for me as she was the only one who knew how to get ahold of me in case of an emergency, and another close friend who is an international lawyer who I stayed in contact with during the duration of my trip.  My email to them consisted of:  “If you don’t hear from me within like 4 hours from this email, call the embassy.  Don’t ask n if I email u, never mention this. But if I go missing, Ato Sudif or Sutif. Lives at 195 street. He’s a blackjack dealer on the 8th floor in the VIP area of the main casino here. I’m taking a big risk here, as I’m supposed to be… Pray for me.”

So, passport in hand and beyond nervous, our next stop was the casino!  This place rivaled any casino I had ever been to in my life, and honestly, the thing I noticed the most, was all of the beautiful women!  the country had seemed to be lacking at that point, and now I knew where they were all hiding!  Sunny led me to the counter where I attempted another cash advance, which I obviously knew would not work.  he insisted I try in decreasing increments for whatever reason, all the way from $3,000 down to $500.  He obviously seemed disheartened and said he was going to speak to someone that worked there.  He showed back up about 5 minutes later saying he had no luck and was going to figure out another plan.

On the way out, he informed me he was going to have to take a taxi to a neighboring village where he thought he could get the loan and would plan on meeting me in the morning to call the hand and split the money.  I informed him again, that i was leaving at 8 AM, so no way I could be there for that.  He asked that we exchange information and for me to call him in the morning to find out what had happened.  And at this point, and this point only, cash exchanged hands.  He said he had no money and needed money to get to the other town and a hotel for the night.  I told him one last time that I was broke and only had $100 on me, and needed money for dinner and expenses the following day, but I gave him $60 to help out with the costs.  He thanked me again, shook my hand, promised everything would be alright and reiterated that this was a life-changing, once in a lifetime moment and opportunity.

So… I took my taxi back, emailed my 2 friends letting them know I was alive and safe and proceeded to finally let what all had just transpired really sink in!  At any point I thought I could’ve died, been arrested, kidnapped… Who knew?!?!  Shortly after, my roommate walked in and could tell I was nervous about something.  i told him I just had the wildest night of my life, but had promised the 2 guys I would never tell anyone about it as it would jeopardize their safety as well as his job at the casino.  Well, I’m terrible at secrets and he told me I had to tell him, so… He got the full story!  I think he was just as shocked and amazed as I was by what all had happened!  Really was like something you only see in a movie!

Well, I tried calling Sunny 1st thing in the morning, but his phone was turned off.  Obviously this led to a bit of trepidation and thoughts of never hearing from then again.  I called again 8 hours later when I arrived to our next city and sure enough, he answered and we spoke!  I was informed he didn’t have any luck, but they were exploring other opportunities and would keep me updated.  And sure enough, they contacted me via phone and email several times while I was still there, even if it was only to tell me they hadn’t secured the funds but were still working on it and would wire me my cut when they had everything squared away.

Sine being home, I have spoken to Sunny probably 4 times on the phone while missing probably another 30 calls from him.  Each conversation and text from him basically goes something like, ‘We’re having trouble getting the money.  Please send us some money to help out and then we will write you your share along with what you wired us.”  No matter how many times I told them I was not sending any money, they continuously contacted me asking for me to borrow money from friends and family and that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Even when i informed them I only had $500 to my name, they said that was fine, to send that and that that would help immensely.  I’m not ignorant, but how would $500 help on a $60,000 debt?!  They tried telling me they had taken out one loan and needed to pay the interest on it before anything could proceed.  I have no clue how loans work overseas in Cambodia, but a vig would only come in when the debt was collected, and no reason to pay that interest before the loan is even taken.

So that is basically where things are.  they continuously contact me, telling me they need my help to get this done and will send the money back ASAP, that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and to help them help me, etc… And here are several of the emails from Ato, as he tells me the last date to call is August 31 as Mr. Malik is tired of waiting.  I have no clue if that hand would just be voided, which would mean there would still be about $60k or so in chips for me to cash out and then split with them.  All I know is, at the end of the day, even if I don’t get a dime, for $60 I got a nice lunch, an adventure, and the story of a lifetime!

 

Ato’s emails:

July 31:  mike. how are u?.if u recieve this message of mine.please respons. ATO…call this number…   +85597 cambodia…i am still looking the money.i cannot complete the credit yet… very difficult for me…i am only a sallary man… please help me…we are both benefited…yr share 25.000 us dollar…after finish the game i send yr money via western union to usa under by yr name…gave me yr full name…bye…take good care of yr self…

Aug 1:  yes the pot money 81.000 the split money 40.000. i was mistake computing sorry. yes i give to my sister yr email.my sister and my brother said thank u for the tip.keep in touch brother

Aug 5:  hi.mike how are u now?my brother he call u.he cannot explain well and he like to finish the game immediately.and he wants to recieve his commision.mike i have the money and i deposit to mr malik.now we still short.need yr help.i need to borrow money from the money lender.but i need to pay fisrt the interest before release the money.u help me to pay the interest mike.after finish the game i send yr share and the money that u invest.i need yr respons immediately becuase mr malik hee wants to finish the game soon as possible.

Aug 14:  hi.michael.i call u but u didnt pick my call.anyway i told to my brother he call u. this is the money lender name.BOY ALISBO TACORDA i borrow money from the money lender but i need to pay the interest. if i complete the money. i will finish the game immediately. u send the money via western union.country only phnom penh cambodia.and u gave me yr name. asap.

Aug 15:  hi.500 dollar big help for me to pay the interest that i borrowing from the money money lender.u will send the money soon as possible.so that i finish the soon.

Aug 16:  why u dont borrow money from yr father only to finish the game.anyway after the game finish u can return it back.

And that is my last contact him from.  However, I still have received about 15 calls from his brother, Sunny.  I highly doubt I will ever see anything from all of this, but again, the adventure and story is priceless!!

2 Comments

  • Simon Rylander

    1

    That is INCREDIBLE!!!! Thank you for taking the time to write all of it down, it was gripping to read it all. Clearly they were trying to scam you, with "Mr Malik" in on it too, no doubt. Glad you got out of there lightly!

  • Sam

    2

    Great story Mike. You said it, it's like something out of a movie. Glad you made it out safe and sound. Thanks for sharing.

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