(PICTURE: They hand this to you at the Royal Palace. They only recommend you don't bring in guns.)
In preparation for my triumphant return to Howie's bar, I spent twenty minutes googling Connect Four theory the other night. I found a 91 page thesis online which proves that if one goes in the center column on the first move, and plays a perfect game, it is impossible to lose. This was exactly what I needed! Unfortunately I couldn't gain access to the paper...so I settled for a 29 page document I found which had the same basic premise. Ryan and I spent the day combing through the paper trying to find all the most important information. We outlined a few key points and memorized the ideal first five moves. Ryan and I quizzed each other for hours:
BEN: You start at D1, your opponent goes A1.
RYAN: I go anywhere but A2 or B1.
RYAN: You start D1, your opponent goes F1.
BEN: You go either B1 or F2.
We had the whole thing down pat by 10PM when we walked into the bar. As we strolled into the dimly lit drinking hole it felt like we were in slow motion--gunslingers walking into a saloon. I motioned with a flick of my wrist for the bartenders to take out the boards. However, all the bar girls turned to their right and locked their gaze on the center of the bar. Standing there was the sheriff--Trea.
Trea worked at Howie's for three years and I was told the other night that she was the best...ever. Trea looked at me and said,"You vs. Me. For a beer." I said, "Game on. But I go first." She agreed and Ryan and I looked at each other: D1 it would be.
Trea and I started to play and after about a minute she screamed out, "Damn you!"Apparently I had won the game. She saw it unfolding about fifteen moves ahead. It was unbelievable. She was right though, I won. One free Beer Lao for me. I was on cloud 9. With my new found strategy I would be drinking for free all night. Only one problem: No girls would play me anymore! I was blacklisted and they only wanted to "play for fun." Who plays for fun!
Ryan, not blacklisted, took on Trea's sister Annie. Annie agreed to play him 9:1 and let him start every game first. Ryan and Annie started to play and immediately Annie won five games. Ryan turned to me and said, "I guess the strategy is perfect." Well, perfect or not it ended up being pretty good. Ryan won the sixth game and then took four more beers from Annie. I got to reap half the benefits. Another successful night hustling the hustlers.
I'm leaving Cambodia in a few hours. It's been a great two weeks here but I'm ready to get back to 'Nam. Now I just need to find a bar in Ho Chi Minh City where they play Connect Four...and the girls don't know me.