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28/07/2006 No. 57
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday July 28th, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Today is the first day of the World Series of Poker, 2006. Two weeks from today, one of the expected 8,000 competitors will have won around $10m and become, overnight, an international star. Overnight, that is, unless the event is won by an already known player - but with the vast majority of entrants having won their seats online, the odds are against it.

So what kind of person will he be (or she, but the odds are heavily stacked against that too), our new world champion? American? European? Will he be the first British player to win the World Series since Mansour Matloubi of Wales in 1990? Will the money transform his life into a non-stop succession of flashy sports cars, fast women, and gold Jacuzzis in five-star hotel rooms at further poker tournaments around the world? Or will he approach victory like Lee Biddulph from Blackpool, who won a million dollars in a tournament last year and - after paying off his mortgage and investing in a modest van for his business - decided not to play higher-stakes poker because "I'm a sensible bloke and I don't want to give my winnings away to other people"?

The lifestyle junkies tend to travel to Las Vegas for the World Series on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class (beds, manicurist, cocktail bar), get picked up by limo, and take suites at the Bellagio Hotel. The solid winning players travel Premium Economy (aspiring to the top; not there yet) and wait in the taxi queue. The truly sick gamblers do not take Virgin Atlantic at all (indirect route, several stops, £100 crucial roulette money saved) and get the shuttle bus to the Budget Inn. But all are equal at the Rio Convention Centre, where this glorious world championship takes place: each and every player too cold, too crowded, and queueing too long for the loo.

My personal omen this year came at the airport. At check-in, they offered me an upgrade to the full-on winners' Lifestyle Cabin ... but then availability disappeared at the gate. This has set me up nicely for the next fortnight's bad beats.

Here are two things that I can definitely tell you about the 2006 world champion: he will be a pretty good player; but more importantly, he will be very, very lucky. Ten-million-dollar prizes go to the man in form. What does this tell you about strategy? That you can't play too solid. Flair re-raises are like asking for upgrades at check-in: you must be brave enough to put yourself in situations where the luck can hit.


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