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13/01/2006 No.30
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday January 13, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Televised poker, that most trendy of cultural genres, can make dangerous viewing for the novice player. Watched as entertainment, it can have a hypnotic quality. Watched for tips on how to play, it can be expensive. The reason is simple: poker is a slow game, and TV is a fast medium. Poker demands patience, a concept that television fears. Many of the games on screen are one-table satellites: knockout tournaments in which six to eight contestants play no-limit Texas hold 'em until one remains. Tournaments are faster than cash games; one-table satellites are faster than multi-table tournaments; Texas hold 'em is faster than any other variant; and no-limit is faster than any other betting format. You're already looking at a highly speeded-up version of poker, as might be played in a Charlie Chaplin film.

And television wants it even faster. The costs of studio rental and editing time mean that most producers want the game finished quickly. To this end, they create fast "tournament structures" - ones in which the compulsory blinds are quite large in relation to the chip stacks, and increase frequently.

When a tournament is moving quickly, you have to gamble. In many cases, a re-raise before the flop would put a player all in. There isn't time to let the cards tell a story, to try "feeler bets" for information, or make a good fold: you just can't afford to leave chips behind. So, on TV, you often see people gambling in a way that negates much of poker's thoughtfulness and sophistication - the speed favours luck over skill.

We will return to this subject at a later date. For now, I'd like to recommend an unusual series starting on Tuesday night on Sky Sports. To its credit, sponsor William Hill invested enough money to film a slow tournament, allocating a full day per game. This attracted many world-class professionals, as a slow structure gives an edge to better players. The nine-week series should therefore show us many more sophisticated moves, showcasing "the skill factor", and prove a useful masterclass for budding tournament players.