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23/09/2005 No.16
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday September 23, 2005
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How to play poker
(How to play started with this issue)

Poker was once a seedy, secret pastime, its practitioners shadowy and its rules an enigma. It took place, or so the general public believed, in smoky underground caverns among people who gargled whisky and carried guns. Mention poker nowadays and people say, "Ooh yes! We have a lunchtime game at the office, and my granny plays online."

The combination of our government's enthusiasm for all gambling, the fashion for televised poker, and the freedom created by the internet has turned this game into a massive nationwide hobby. There are two TV channels dedicated to poker. One and a half million British people are playing regularly. Online gaming companies are floating on the stock exchange. Will it last? That's for City traders to worry about. Our only problem is how to avoid going broke in the meantime.

Television has lifted the lid, to some extent, on how the game is played. Once we saw poker only in the background of the odd gangster movie, and even then the banter was usually wrong. Now there are all sorts of poker-themed sports shows and game shows which actually stop to tell us the rules.

But knowing the rules does not stop poker being an enigma. It is a game of infinite complexity, each hand being affected by the situation, the opponents, the timing, the chip stacks. As with bridge or chess, or sex, you could spend your entire life learning the subtleties.

In this series, we will look at some simple ways to avoid making mistakes which cost all your money. It is not a column for the top pro, but the new player who wants to feel in control. We will consider certain hands, and certain approaches to the game. We will look at the difference between live and online play, books and props and clothes to buy, and report from a few international tournaments to see what the big shots are up to.

Poker is not the national lottery: it is a game of great skill. But it is also a game of luck. On any one night, you can play brilliantly and lose anyway. Nevertheless, it's still worse to play like an idiot. Fingers crossed ...


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