Swedish poker players are the amongst the most fearsome opponents in the world. It seems that in the realm of apartment hunting, they are also not to be messed with.
My search for an apartment has taken me all over the city of Berlin. From the working class district of Wedding, where I wanted to rent a studio where the shower was in the kitchen, but was passed over in favour of a Brazilian lesbian couple. To the quiet streets of Kreuzkoelln, where I was very much into an apartment next door to a sex shop, belonging to an Irish roller derby girl - but sadly she chose to rent it to her friend.
One recent sojourn took me to the south side of Neukoelln - Berlin's Turkish district. The renter this time was an abrasive Irishman called Niall, who was going travelling and then moving to a different area of Berlin. The bonus for me with this one, was that he said he would make an introduction to his landlord, so that when his lease ends in June it can be taken over.
I was into that idea, so I took the train down to meet him at 7:15pm. Arriving a little early, I wandered around the neighbourhood in the early evening drizzle. It was quiet and residential with little of interest there. As I skulked about the area, I spotted an official looking man with a Manila folder doing the same. I wondered what his deal was?
When 7:15 came, I rang the bell with no answer. After trying again, I was about to give up when then man with the folder approached me "Are you Niall?". Then another guy approached and we both asked "Are you Niall?"
When it became clear that none of us were Irish or called Niall, we realised that we had all come to look at the apartment. Niall had triple booked us all and then seemingly not turned up. As the rain increased in ferocity, I was about to cut my losses and move on, when Niall appeared on his bicycle. Slightly dishevelled and apologetic about being late, he ushered us inside.
"Well I'm late but one of you is definitely early" he quipped as we crammed into the hallway and he put his bike away in the basement. Up in his apartment things were no less awkward.
Niall gave us the tour around the compact, unremarkable, but perfectly acceptable apartment. "I've heard rumours that this area of town is rife with drugs, prostitution and gangs" he told us, "and if that's the case, I'm disappointed, because I've not seen any of it and it would make this area a darn site more interesting!"
Nicely done sir, nicely done.
After he gave us the lowdown and a quite funny account of his neighbours, it was time to get down to business. The brusque Irishman wanted to get it all sorted it seemed and was about to leave the country in the next few days. He was all business and very precise about the details, which is exactly what I look for in a sublet.
The four of us stood in a quite cramped circle in his hallway and the awkwardness factor was turned up to 11.
I had been quite frustrated in looking for an apartment in Berlin. Whilst not amazing, this place would probably do me fine, plus I was tired of looking. But what was my move here? I would have to fall back on my poker skills to try and seal the deal on this one.
The American was in early position (by the front door) and was the first to speak. He enquired about the lack of washing machine in the apartment. Niall somewhat unconvincingly told him that the water bills from the washing machine were too big. "I do my laundry every two weeks" he proudly announced. "I just go to the place down the street. It is cheap and takes an hour or two."
My opponent seemed unimpressed by this situation and muttered something about being in touch before stepping outside into the hallway. In other words - he folded preflop. It was now left to me and the Swede to battle it out for the pot.
Next to act, I opened with a raise by telling Niall that I liked the apartment and I would be interested in taking it. The Swede, inscrutable and calculating, called my bet by also informing Niall that he liked the place and would certainly be interested in subletting it from him.
It was time for Niall to deal the flop.
Niall reiterated that he was about to go away and he wanted to get it sorted out. He was looking for someone solid that wouldn't be any trouble to his landlord and that could get the rent and deposit sorted out with in the next couple of days. He again mentioned that he could perhaps arrange possibly taking over the lease when his contract finished at the end of June.
It's fair to say that Niall had dealt quite an action flop there.
First to act, I decided to make a play for the pot. I told Niall that I was living nearby, so it was no problem for me to sort it out in the next few days. I informed him that I would like to sublet for the full two months and that a deposit was also no problem.
Unfortunately, it seemed the Swede was in no mood to be forced out of this pot. Using his positional advantage (by the lounge door and therefore closer to the table where business transactions might take place and further away from the front door), he explained that he had been receiving disability payments after an accident. He then rolled up his shirtsleeve to show a perfectly fine looking wrist.
I eyed him suspiciously.
He continued by adding that he was moving to Berlin because he really liked the city, he was happy that spring was here already (using the weather as a conversational piece - a classic move that I had overlooked on this occasion) and that he would also rent for the full period and had the financial means for this to be no problem.
It was a healthy raise from the Scandinavian and he gave me a sideways look as if to say 'well what are you going to do now then, huh?'
It was time for me to get serious and bring out the big guns. I told Niall that I could sort all of this out with him tomorrow, whenever was convenient. I could pay in cold hard cash and it would be no problem paying the deposit and rent upfront, before he went to Rome. I would be able to move in next week. I could provide references from previous people I had rented from to confirm my reliability. Niall nodded and turned to the Swede. Surely he wouldn't be able to compete with my healthy re-raise?
Cool as a cucumber, the Swede countered my play with ease.
He told Niall that he was currently staying in a hotel and therefore could move in as soon as possible.
Mightily impressive by my Scandinavian opponent, but surely Niall wouldn't give him the apartment just because he would move in first by a few days?
But there was something that I had forgotten in the tension of the negotiation...
~The Manila folder~
The Swede claimed that in the folder were all his documents, bank statements and references that Niall could examine. He also flashed a glance of some money in his trouser pocket, saying he could pay Niall the full amount right now, so he could have it all sorted this evening.
The Swede had made the ultimate move. He'd gone all in.
There was nowhere left for me to go. I'd been defeated by the ultimate Scandinavian weapon. Efficiency.
I made a vague and perfunctory promise to Niall that I would email him in the morning to discuss things. But we both knew the deal was already done and this was to save face on my part.
I hadn't seen the contents of the folder or the full extent of the euro shaped bulge in pocket of my Swedish foe, so he could have been bluffing with a folder full of newspaper clipping and a pocket full of monopoly money. And was the claiming benefits line all some kind of elaborate ruse?
Whether he had a real hand or not, in this uncomfortably cramped hallway he had played his hand strongly and aggressively, leaving me with no way to win the pot. I was faced with only one possible decision.
Stepping out into the stairwell, I bid them both good evening and went on my way.
Sw3d30nB3nef1ts78: wins pot uncontested