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22/09/2006 No. 65
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday Sep 22nd, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

The European Poker Tour hits London this week. This annual series of live televised tournaments (which kicked off last week in Barcelona, and will continue with events in Baden, Dublin, Copenhagen and Deauville before finishing with a grand final in Monte Carlo next March) has been quickly established as one of the most important series in the calendar. It is an impressive rival to the much-toasted World Poker Tour, which, despite its name, takes place almost exclusively in the US. I guess Americans were never afraid to call something "the world" when they meant, basically, America.

There are various reasons for the EPT's triumph over other would-be European series. (Barcelona was a sell-out, with players queuing for return tickets like a frenzied crowd outside the first night of Cats.) It is the brainchild of a poker player rather than a lofty businessman: John Duthie understands what players want. It has an experienced tournament director, Thomas Kremser, who is widely respected in Europe and famous for his other televised poker work. And its internet sponsor, PokerStars, can always guarantee a strong supply of online qualifiers.

One hundred and seven of the players in Barcelona had won "packages" on PokerStars (travel, accommodation and entry fees) for as little as $13 instead of paying the full €5,000 buy-in. One of them, who rejoices in the name of Jon Dull, as if he were an internet poker player in a Martin Amis novel, finished seventh and won €92,000. It is often said that "the information superhighway" is democratising the world; this is equally true when it makes big-league international tournaments accessible for small-time recreational players.

If you want to try this (qualifiers are running now for Baden and Dublin; look on the downloaded site under "EPT"), I have one crucial piece of advice. This also applies if you are not attempting to win an international title, but just making the jump from internet poker to any live game. Practise at home with chips. You must be able to move them easily and cleanly. In live games, if chips are not placed in one clear movement, it's a "string bet" and doesn't go. Also, a classic "tell" of a bluff is to lose motor skills and fumble with chips; this is especially dangerous when you're not used to them.

It may feel daft, but I strongly recommend buying a cheap set of poker chips and using them while you play an online tournament. Before pressing the button to make your bet, physically move the correct chips forward. This practice will put you in good stead when you set out to become European champion, or just go round to play at your mate Jim's house. It can also benefit your online play: if you remove chips from the table when you lose a pot, you maintain a clear visual indication of your stack's health.


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