I will immodestly confess to being quite the skilled card player. There are exceptionally few card games which I do not know, and a great deal of those I am practically a master at. What makes card games so fascinating is that every game of the 1000s of games you can play with cards involve three key factors.

The first key is luck. No matter what skill level you have, the way the cards are dealt is more of less a matter of chance. Even professional card counters can tell you that sometimes things don't play out the way they expect. There's a miscalculation, a simple dealing error, or a card you are expecting to be further down the deck unfortunately shows up near the top. Luck is always a factor in these games, and in many games (not most, just many) it is the chief factor. This is not something that can be combated but you can mitigate the damage with the second key.

The second key is strategy. Poker, rummy, blackjack these all at first appear to be simple games of chance, but when you've played long enough you develop your own style. Are you aggressive, accepting losses in order to get the big payout in the end? Are you conservative, not surrendering stable footing for an uncertain (and potentially pricey) risk? Each game calls for different strategies, and this is often dictated by your opponent.

Which brings us to the final key. Your ability to bluff. Any poker player knows this to be true. You're not playing the cards; you're playing the opponent. Every day in Vegas there is some ballsy contender (or more often some stoic dealer) who is winning the pot on crap hands by the power of sheer psychological warfare. Don't believe me? Look up Jack Strauss, the man who pulled off one of the greatest poker bluffs of all time. The guy convinced his opponent to give up a fortune in a Texas Hold'em match because he convinced his opponent that he had a pocket pair when in reality he had the worst hand you could get in the game.

That's nothing to turn your nose up at. That is a brilliant bit of bluffing, and using the opponent's own keen mind against them. No need to plant ideas when you know how your opponent is going to think. That is, partly, why I find the game so fascinating. If you're a real psychological whiz kid, you can skate through the game on crappy hole cards.

I give you this brief introduction not to showcase how brilliant I am, though you are certainly free to think so. I explain this to you because my fascination with cards led me to search through the internet for any new game that I hadn't played. I found a rich tapestry of world card games.

Canasta, which originated in Uruguay and became a sensation in the US around the mid 1950s. Double Sir, a Pakistani variation on the game “Trumps”. Macau, the Romanian version of “Crazy Eights”. There's no limit to what a properly equipped deck of cards can do. Some games require either a 40-card french deck, or a 54-card Tarock deck. Some games even use the custom Pinocle decks. But those aside, your standard 52-card deck can be used for a lot of fun.

And then, there's another game you can play. I stumbled across this one completely by chance. I won't tell you where I discovered it, you'll just have to take my word. Suffice to say through a bit of digging I found a card game that you can play with a spirit. The game doesn't really have a name, though it was affectionately referred to as “The Wager Game”.

Because you have to understand the circumstances around what I intend to tell you, I am going to provide details of how the game is played. I strongly urge you not to play this game. Remember the three keys I mentioned at the beginning of this story? Well suffice to say The Wager Game is the absolute pinnacle of these properties.

To start, you need a standard deck of cards: that's a 52-card deck, be damned sure you remove the jokers before you start playing. If it were me, though it doesn't explicitly state this anywhere in the ritual, I would make sure the jokers as well as any other decks of cards you might have are far away from where you intend to play. I can't say for certain but... I suspect they like to cheat.

You can play on any surface, but a table is preferred. You want to make sure that the area is clear of obstructions and that you can deal the cards efficiently without them sliding all over the place. You don't want any food or drink present, this isn't a damned party. Having these present is usually seen as an insult, and I'm not certain what exactly would happen.

The great thing about this ritual, if you can call it great, is that there really isn't that much setup. No arcane chanting, no laundry list of supplies. All you need is your deck of cards, and your nerve. When you are ready to play, you need to turn out any unnecessary lights. You should be able to see the card faces of course, but just barely. Candle light is good, but I'd prefer something that can't be easily overpowered. A flashlight or a cell phone with a full battery usually does the trick. Other than that, you need to be in the dark.

Set the deck of cards in front of you, between you and the spot where he will be playing. I should probably mention that if the spot is in anyway obstructed, he won't show up. Don't worry he won't pop out of the walls and drag you to hell or something like that, he just won't appear. Make sure your guest can comfortably sit. If you're sitting at a table leave a chair for him. If you're on the floor- not recommended- make sure there's an equal amount of space for him to sit as you. Use your judgment for the best results.

The game is played as follows. You are playing with a spirit. There won't be a flash of light or a spectral whispering to indicate that your guest has arrived, you'll just... know when he's there. If you do hear something, turn the lights on and get the hell out of there. Do not attempt to play this game again in the same spot.

You see that's the tricky thing you never really know who your opponent is going to be. Some opponents will play fair. Others will do anything to you in order to win. You don't want to play with a hostile opponent. You just won't win.

Once your docile guest has arrived, you deal each other three cards. Don't look at your guests cards. Don't cheat. Deal them face down. Your guest will know what cards he has to play. From this point the game becomes rather subjective. The source didn't exactly explain step-by-step rules. There's no scoring; there's just betting. You are betting things precious to you against the spirit and the spirit is in turn betting something you want.

Oh, I forgot that part, didn't I? Yes, why would you want to play a game where you didn't know the stakes. You see this game, like many other means of communicating with ethereal entities, is supposed to give you, primarily, knowledge. This version requires less set up, but it becomes a challenging battle of wits. Just beware. You don't have any knowledge that the spirit doesn't so you don't have anything to wager in that category. What you are wagering is a variety of lovely punishments, which are revealed by the turn of the card. It could be something as simple as destroying a treasured possession to as horrible as committing horrible acts of violence. If you're lucky, you'll only destroy your own life.

You begin by playing one of your three cards. You choose the card from your hand. I'll explain what the cards do at the end, but suffice to say your guest always has the advantage of reaction. However, both of you can only play from the cards you have in front of you. When the exchange is over, deal him a card first (it's common courtesy) and then deal yourself one. Neither side should ever have more than three cards in front of them. Discard used cards in a pile to the side of the deck.

Now I imagine you're wondering, how does he select his card. It all depends upon your opponent. Some simply move the card closer to you. Some might whisper the answer in your ear in a voice you could swear was just your imagination. Some might flat you hand you the card; but if your opponent is ever that forward, I strongly suggest you stop playing immediately.

Which brings us to ending, the ritual. Another great thing about this ritual is that you can quit whenever you want. Simply turn the remaining cards in the deck (if any) face up, and then turn on the lights. You should remain safe, though your experience in the game will give you a better idea of that. If you don't feel safe, leave the place you played, and don't come back for a few days. Usually the spirit will have moved on at that point.

Now I'll explain what the cards do. There are a few exceptions which I'll note at the end. In the main here's what these cards do. The suits don't matter:

Aces are your best friend. These act as protection against whatever the spirit wants you to do. Just be cautious about using these. Remember, you go first, and the spirit will, if they are able to, use a weaker punishment in retaliation. Unfortunately, aces are also the spirits best friend. When they select an ace, you must turn over their other two cards and perform their actions without any chance to block, even if you have an ace in your hand. Deal the spirit three new cards after these are performed. In the unlikely event that two aces meet, neither party is obligated to do anything. You can use this move to determine the friendliness of your spirit opponent, as it is a rather selfless thing for the spirit to do. But remember, it could be a bluff.

Deuces through ten can be viewed as “severity”. For you, it refers to the level of information you can ask. Again, like I say this is greatly subjective and much more is revealed about the nature of the game by playing it yourself, but for instance if you play a deuce, don't go asking for winning lottery numbers. If you're wondering, I wouldn't bother asking with anything less than an eight. With a deuce, you can pretty much ask the spirit what tomorrow's weather will be.

For the spirit, as you may have guessed, it refers to pain. A deuce would be equivalent to pricking yourself with a needle, and a ten would be pouring burning oil down your back. But don't worry, you don't have to perform the violent action on yourself. You see the reason the spirit plays the game is not just to cause you torment, but to see what kind of a player you are. If you would do these actions to another... well they rather enjoy that. Emotional damage is also acceptable, but again, use your judgment. This is just an example, but a deuce would be tearing up a photo of a deceased loved one, and a ten would be disowning your children. Some spirits prefer this to physical pain, but trust me those are the ones you have to watch out for.

A bit of strategy on this one, in my experience playing the game, I found that most spirits, even hostile ones, have a bit of an honor code about this. If they are able to they will match you number for number. Occasionally they're one higher or lower, but essentially they try to make it worth your while. Make the answer you want equivalent to the damage you have to cause; you see? Of course, if you find that a spirit plays a low number card on a high number card question... maybe you're better off not knowing the answer. A final note before I move on: Spirits cannot lie about the answers they give you. They may be mistaken if you ask something a bit out of their knowledge, but are generally bound to answer as truthfully as possible. They can bluff the cards, but not the answers they give.

Jacks are prank cards. No, this isn't as “fun” as it sounds. This is a card where even if you draw it, you lose something. When either you or the spirit plays the card, the spirit plays a prank on you. If the spirit is benign something might go missing or turn up in an odd place. That's about the best you can hope for. If the spirit is malignant, then you are going to get the piss scared out of you. The spirit can take any number of monstrous forms, perform almost any unspeakable act with the exception of physically harming you. But trust me that limitation only makes them more hell bent on “getting you”. The worst part? They don't have to do this right away. They can wait for later, even after the ritual is over. And don't think about trying to use any protective rituals, they won't work. But remember, they can't physically hurt you. So at least, there is that.

Queens are universally the worst cards that can be played. Honestly if a queen is dealt your best bet is to stop playing and leave. And I don't mean go to a neighbors or something like that, I mean get as far away as you possibly can. This is, mind you, if the spirit plays the card. If you play the card, the Queen acts as a throwaway card. Be glad you drew it and not the spirit, but it does nothing. It essentially gives the spirit a free pass to do whatever they want. You might not think to play it, and that's your right, but hoarding queen cards is also potentially problematic. I'll explain why in one of the exceptions. What the queen actually does when a spirit plays it, is breaks the boundary between you. The spirit now has license to harm you, haunt you, follow you to the ends of the earth. Your best bet is trying to get a head start, but I can't guarantee that will work.

Kings are free passes. Not much to say here. If you play a king card, you can play another card uninterrupted by the spirit, and the spirit can do the same to you if they play it. An ideal strategy for those seeking information is to pair a king with a ten and play them together. This will guarantee you get whatever burning question answered and then you can simply stop playing. However, I recommend you don't do this on your first move if you are lucky enough. Not letting the spirit play will likely anger them and again, I'm not certain what could happen.

Finally a few exceptions:

First, there's the two of clubs. If you play hearts, you recognize this as the starting card. Playing this is beneficial especially if you play during the beginning. The response card will not be an action you have to do to yourself but will a truthful assessment of your opponent. If they respond with a low number, they are a benign entity. If they respond with a higher card, well... that's unfortunate. When the spirit plays this card, it functions as a normal deuce.

Next is the suicide king. This is unpleasant. Not the worst card, arguably, but not pleasant. This card is murder. If you play it, it merely functions as a free pass, but when the spirit plays it, you are obligated to either murder somebody, or commit suicide. Again, the choice is yours. This is a horrible affair of course, but some spirits, generally benign spirits, will accept a tribute in place of an actual murder. But it will be something painful, horrible beyond anything you might do with an ordinary 10. It will be something that will cripple you for life. And yes if you opt out of the murder, you must perform this tribute to yourself.

Finally, the queen of spades. The ultimate chance card. If you play it, turn over all your opponents cards. If they do have a queen, you simply discard these cards, redeal and move on. If they don't have a queen, then you'd better start running. Don't bother ending the ritual: run. Because you've given the spirit the power of a queen, and done so willingly. If you're caught by the spirit... again, you can imagine. Suffice to say nobody is going to find you. It's at this point I should warn you that reneging on something that the spirit has played, refusing to follow through with the torment or murder that was ordered, has this effect. If you lost a wager, cut your losses.

If the spirit plays the card, the same effect happens, but the results are opposite. If you weren't hanging on to any queens, then praise whatever entity you worship because you are free from the effects of the queen and can continue playing in safety. If you were however hoarding queens because you didn't want to play them and leave yourself exposed... don't bother running. You've already lost everything. The realm in which you will spend the rest of your days is supposed to make Hell look hospitable.

This is the Wager Game in all its occult glory. I recommend against playing it despite my own experience with it. Playing against a spirit is a thrill, and the few times I successfully bluff one of them is rewarding. I know exactly when to play what cards and how to avoid the pitfalls. Luck is certainly a factor, as is my own strategy and my own brilliance at bluffing.

However, I had the misfortune to get overzealous and made a few mistakes. I played the queen of spades in my last game, and my opponent did not have any queens of his own. I'd miscounted. Made a very poor guess about my opponent. He had bluffed me. He's been following me for many nights now. Every time I think I'm rid of him, I see him right on my tail, in the window of a car beside me on the highway at night, a shadowy figure in a mirror that I only see for a split second.

I'm putting this on here to warn you not to play this game in case you were to stumble across the game on some website. I'm one of the greatest card players of all time, and I lost. What possible hope do any of you have?