Friday, December 30, 2005

Poker Pro Magazine Reaches over 20 Million Readers

Poker Pro Magazine announced today that it has inked a deal for national syndication of its popular "Pro's Corner" column. "Pro's Corner," one of the most popular columns in Poker Pro, features today's leading professional poker players answering questions from readers and giving advice on the game. The feature targets beginning and intermediate players.

As of the January issue, Poker Pro Magazine is now being published monthly. Proclaimed as "the best of the best," Poker Pro's Corner generates the most reader response. "The fan mail that we've received from readers as a result of our 'Poker Pro's Corner' column is intense. There is a huge demand for Poker Pro Magazine in card rooms and on newsstands all over the U.S. and Canada. It's a natural crossover to syndicate our popular 'Pro's Corner' column into mass-print media with our partner, Copley News Service," said Publisher Dan Jacobs.

The weekly syndicated version of the "Poker Pro's Corner" poker column will appear in newspapers across the country titled as "Poker Pro's Corner," bringing the content of the popular column to a broader readership. The target readership is estimated at a newspaper audience of more than 20 million viewers in the United States.

About Copley News Service: CNS is a full-service news wire service and features syndicate that provides a wide array of daily news, weekly and special-feature packages, editorial cartoons, color photos and comic strips to more than 1,500 clients that range from major daily newspapers to community weeklies, newsletters and Web sites across the United States and around the world.

About Poker Pro Magazine: Poker Pro Magazine,, is the world's widest-circulated single title poker magazine with over 150,000 copies printed and distributed nationwide in the U.S., as well as in Canada and Europe. Poker Pro's newsstand and poker room copies get Poker Pro into the hands of our eager pool of readers in the poker community.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Few Online Poker Tips for Beginners

Online Poker Tip1:
If you are new to online poker, an important poker tip is to be sure to learn the software of the poker site you have chosen to play poker at. It doesn’t make sense to start playing poker for real money and make mistakes with the poker software. Every poker site offers free poker games. Play in these free poker games for at least 10-15 minutes to get used to how to post blinds and make your actions before risking your hard earned dollars. Remember this poker tip.

Online Poker Tip2:
Another important poker tip is that you should be sure to take full advantage of the deposit bonuses at the site. Almost all poker sites offer some type of deposit bonus for new poker players. A common deposit bonus is 20% up to a $100 maximum bonus. Even if you are not willing to risk $500 in playing poker, go ahead and deposit the $500 to receive your $100 bonus. Once you have played enough hands you can withdraw the $500 and put it back in the bank. Of course, you have to be careful not to lose it all when playing poker. Be sure to set an amount that you are willing to lose and do not go over it. If you don’t want to lose very much then be sure to play at limits which you are comfortable with and fit your bankroll. For beginners with a bankroll of $500, I would not recommend playing poker at limits greater than $.50-$1. Managing your bankroll properly by playing at the correct limits is one of the best poker tips I can offer as many players make the mistake of playing at limits too high and end up going broke.

Online Poker Tip3:
Pay attention to this poker tip! This third online poker tip is talked about a lot in my book, Internet Texas Hold’em: Winning Strategies from an Internet Pro. Many poker players get distracted in online poker by talking on the telephone, reading emails, playing two tables at once, or watching TV. Let your opponents be the ones who make big mistakes to hurt their poker game because they don’t pay attention. A big part of your winnings will come from analyzing the style of play and poker strategies used by your oppo

Online Poker Tip4:
Here’s an online poker tip focused more on strategy. It is probably the most important poker tip I can suggest in terms of strategy for beginning poker players: don’t play many poker hands! The biggest online poker mistake by poker beginners is playing too many poker hands. They watch poker on TV and see these professionals play crazy poker hands and think it is OK to play them. You will be sure to lose if you play too many poker hands. One big advantage you will have over your opponents is that you will play fewer poker hands than your opponents.

Online Poker Tip5:
Have fun! Poker is a game which is meant to be fun. To have fun you need to be sure that you are playing with money that you can afford to lose. On the Internet it is possible to play for pennies. With these low-limits you can play poker for a few hours for less than the cost of going to a movie. So even if you lose a little think of it as entertainment. This poker tip is essential to enjoy the game! I see too many people take this game too seriously and end up forgetting this tip and the reason why they played the game in the first place.

Online Poker Tip6:
Finally, an important online poker tip to beginners and everyone else, poker is more fun when you win! Take a little time to study your poker game to improve your results. Be sure to read my book and poker books from other authors, participate in the poker Forum on my website, and read poker magazines for articles such as this one. One good idea or poker tip can end up saving you lots of money.

Hopefully these poker tips will come in handy and improve your poker playing skills so that you will enjoy the game even more. So remember all of these poker tips, study the game, play within your limits and bankroll, and have fun!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Basic poker rules

You are one of the most that want to play poker but you are not sure about the understanding poker rules very well? There are about 15 poker games and every game has it's own rules, but it is possible to make an abstract model of specific features of a game. So, when you decide to play poker, first you should know some basic rules and definitions.

There are few sorts of poker. Omaha, Stud and Hold'em are main poker games, which are being held in casinos. They are played by 2-10 players with a deck of 52 cards usually. The aim of poker is to collect the best hand from the pocket cards and the board cards. Let's remember the rating of the hands from highest to lowest:

Royal flush – A-K-Q-J-10 all suited. For example, all hearts.

Straight Flush – Five cards of the same suit in sequence. For example, 6-7-8-9-10 of diamonds.

Four of kind – For cards from five of the same rank. For example, K-K-K-K-10.

Full house – Three cards of one rank and two cards of another rank. For example: 7-7-7-2-2.

Flush – Five cards of the same suit. For example, 7-9-2-K-3 of spades.

Straight – Five cards in two or more suits, ranking consecutively. For example, 2s-3h-4d-5h-6d.

Three of kind – Three cards of the same rank. For example, A-A-A-2-5

Two pair – two cards of one rank and two cards of another rank. For example, Q-Q-10-10-9 or 2-2-5-5-J.

One pair – two cards of the same rank. For example, J-J-7-2-5

High card – The highest card, if no hand can be combined from above. For example, a player has A-10 and the board comes 2-8-6-J-Q. On this case player has nothing but a high card - Ace. If no one has anything better, he wins the pot.

After the dealer gives pocket cards to players, the first betting round begins. The amount of chips to bet depends on which poker game is being played: Limit or No Limit. On Limit case, stakes are set up and they increase on each level (usually after 9 hands) and players cannot bet more then stakes are. On No Limit case, stakes are set up as well, but differently from the limit game you can raise as much as you want.

A number of betting rounds depends on poker game. Usually there are three betting rounds. In Stud games there are five betting rounds. Betting round ends when all players' chips, that has been bet, become equilibrated. After all betting rounds comes showdown and player with the best hand, wins the pot.

There are some specific definitions in poker which could be helpful for a beginner:

A Dealer - A person who shuffles a deck and deals cards to players. A dealer is indicated with a dealer button.

Pocket card - First two cards that were dealt by dealer.

Small blind – An amount of chips that player to the left of the dealer has to bet, depending on stakes.

Big blind – An amount of chips that second player to the left of the dealer has to bet, depending on stakes.

A Flop - First three cards that are dealt on the board.

Turn card – Fourth card of the board. It is called fourth river as well.

River card – Fifth card of the board.

A hand – Five cards, which player collects from pocket cards and community cards.

Community cards – cards that are on the bord.

Dealer button - A red button, which indicates the dealer. It is passed clockwise after every hand.

Showdown - At the end of the final betting round, all active players turn their cards face up to see who has won the pot.

We hope, that these short definitions and basic rules helped you to create some view of a poker game. Keep working and read more poker rules and strategy for beginners. Good luck!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Cheating at Hold’em Helps Poker Players Protect Themselves

Texas Hold’em, like all card games, has rules to keep the play honest, fair and fun. Unfortunately the reality is that 99% of all games can easily be cheated. Double George, LLC has developed a DVD program titled Cheating at Hold’em (The Essentials), designed to educate the general public about how poker scams work, how to detect them, and what steps to take in order to protect yourself from being a victim.

Gambling and especially Texas Hold’em has taken the world by storm. When gambling becomes popular, cheating also escalates but at a faster rate. Cheating at Hold’em (The Essentials) illustrates easy steps you can take to help protect your game (and your bankroll) from being compromised. Most of these precautions are procedural changes that can be made immediately. They are easy to implement, and will go a long way toward making your game above board, and honest.

Forget about fancy surveillance systems or devices to help you shuffle and deal. Within 10 minutes, anyone can learn to shuffle, cut, and deal a fair game. Also, just a few minutes of instruction can show you how to properly look at your cards (a technique known as peeking the hand, how to deal with onlookers and those not playing, and how to detect marked cards, sleight of hand maneuvers and various gambling devices.

How does the program work? Cheating at Hold’em (The Essentials) shows what various scams look like when executed. Each facet of the scam is then exposed, discussed and illustrated in detail. This enables you to spot and prevent cheating or any type of advantage play. Protection and Detection Tips are also discussed for each section, showing you procedural changes you can make to dissuade people from potentially cheating in your game. A hustler is looking for places where it is easy to get away with cheating. If you create an atmosphere that is unfriendly toward cheaters, they will leave your game alone.

“It’s a common dilemma that surfaces when anyone gambles for money; some people feel at times that they may have been cheated,” said David Malek, Chairman of Double George, LLC. “In fact, if you play Texas Hold’em (or any other poker variations) for money, or for fun, it is just a matter of time before someone will try and cheat you. Believe it or not, more money is stolen in private poker games by so called “friends” than is ever stolen in a casino. However, if you know what to look for and how to protect against it, you become a far more sophisticated player. Easy to implement procedural changes go a long way to make your game safe, fair, and fun for everyone. Some scams are so deceptive, subtle, and quick, that knowledge becomes your only protection. When money is involved, game protection must be your top priority.”

Cheating at Hold’em (The Essentials), is an instructional DVD covering the essential details of scams used in the game of Texas Hold’em. You’ll learn how to properly shuffle, cut, and deal the cards. You’ll learn about Peeking (learning the identity of cards that should remain unknown), Flashing (giving up information before players are supposed to know about it), Second Dealing (dealing the second card from the top, rather than fairly from the top), Marked Cards (Block Out Work, Scroll Work, Crimping, and even Nail Nicking). In addition, you’ll learn about Check Copping (a way to steal chips out of the pot), Splash Moves, and the Psychology of a Card Cheat, as well as Protection Tips to combat the most widely perpetrated scams.

Every section of this 90-minute DVD can have a huge impact on the way you see the game and the way your game is played. In order to eliminate the chances of being scammed, you must take game protection and security seriously. You will enjoy the game more, and so will the people you play with. It is easy to incorporate the different protection tips into your games, as well as keep them in mind when playing in a game you have less control over.

David Malek is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on game protection. His sleight of hand skill with cards and dice is legendary. Mr. Malek puts on presentations for law enforcement, casino personnel and celebrity clients. He works as a gambling consultant for film and television productions, as well as giving demonstrations at trade shows and hospitality suites for a variety of Fortune 500 companies. Mr. Malek lives in Newport Beach, California.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Big Poker Gamble

The business of online poker is booming, giving players the chance to win a fortune from the comfort of their own front room.

More than $1m (£575,000) are staked every minute by enthusiasts like Jane Foster, or Ms Fortune, as she's known online.

"It's grown and grown, and it's done very well for me," says Ms Foster, a single mother of three from Manchester who is studying for a degree in IT.

"That $30 that I put in two-and-a-half years ago has grown into thousands over the last couple of years."

And because she can play at home, and more importantly at night when her children are asleep, she gets to spend more time with them during the day.

"It helps me with all the extras I could never afford.

"I couldn't afford to redecorate the house. I couldn't afford to take the children away on holiday on a student's income. I couldn't afford to have a car. So it's given me the opportunity that I couldn't have otherwise."

Jane agreed to put $100 into a new poker account for the Money Programme to see how much she could make in a month.

Place your bets on how well she did.

A high stakes business

It is not just players like Ms Foster who have been betting heavily.

Investors in the online poker business have also been playing high stakes.

In June 2005, the founders of Partypoker, the world's largest online poker site, decided to sell their shares on the London Stock Market, sharing almost £1bn between them.

But the bets are risky for investors.

Online poker is illegal in some countries, including the United States, where the authorities say 90% of Partypoker's players are based.

Mark Rausch, former head of computer crime at the US Department of Justice, told the Money Programme that the owners of online poker sites are breaching the rules and taking a huge risk, something Partypoker disputes.

"I would be very wary about investing in a company where their primary business is to do something that's considered to be illegal in the country where they're promoting it," says Mr Rausch.

Winners and losers

But there are still millions of players with their money willing to take the risk of playing on the sites, in the hope of winning big.

Chris Moneymaker, his real name, was a small-time accountant from Tennessee when he qualified online to play in the 2003 World Series in Las Vegas.

He took on some of the biggest names in poker to win $2.5m.

"You got to see me, an average guy, go up against the best in the world and beat them and it gives everybody hope that they can do the same thing."

Doug Speed is one such player who understands the "Moneymaker Effect", which has inspired thousands to take up the game.

Mr Speed won £40,000 in his first year studying Maths at Oxford University.

But the game was not without its downturns.

"In about a month, I managed to lose about $25,000. Thankfully, that was money I'd won the previous months, but it was just money I was chasing. It just kind of shows, there is a dangerous side to it."

Busted flush

Mr Speed is reassessing his future as a professional poker player.

And he might not be the only one thinking of throwing his cards in.

In September 2005, just 10 weeks after offering shares on the London Stock Exchange, Partypoker announced that their player numbers were not as good as expected.

Their shares plunged by 30% and investors lost out.

Since then, the figures have perked up, but although the share price has risen again they are still worth far less than when they were at their peak.

With attracting and keeping players now key to the future of online poker, television coverage has become ever more important.

Barry Hearn became famous for promoting sports like boxing, football and snooker but he has discovered a new passion.

"I have never seen a phenomenon like the explosion of poker," Mr Hearn says.

"Three years ago, I would think that poker - of the eight sports I was involved in - was firmly in eighth position. Today, it's by far the number one"

Not everyone can win

Ms Foster, or Ms Fortune, is a player the online poker sites can count on for the time being.

Although she initially lost $70 of the $100 she started with, she finished up making nearly $2,500 in 45 hours of playing time.

"That's most people's normal working week, so for sitting at home and doing something I enjoy, that's fantastic," she says.

But even the poker companies admit that only 15% of players win, making Ms Foster one of a lucky minority.

As most players and investors have found to their cost, putting money into this compelling game can be a high-risk, rollercoaster ride.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

All In With the Bad Boy of Poker

No one seems surprised that world-class poker champ Phil Hellmuth Jr. has shown up late to his own kickoff seminar at his recent three-day Fantasy Poker Camp at Caesars Palace. This is part of Phil’s shtick. Bursting with confident arrogance, he can be counted on to be defiantly tardy even to multimillion-dollar tournaments, letting his chip stack slowly and dangerously erode with missed hands until he eventually shows up to kick the butts of everyone else at the table.

When Hellmuth finally takes the ballroom podium about 15 minutes late, he’s looking rather spaced out. His lanky 6-foot-6 frame is swabbed all in black — a black cap on his head with an embossed personalized logo in real gold thread and, as always, alien-like, coal-black Oakley shades to hide his eyes, even at just past 9 in the morning. But the normally pallid “Madison Kid” is looking even more wan and shaky than usual.

After last night’s opening reception at the Pussycat Dolls Lounge for the crowd of campers who have anted up big time for a weekend of up-close-and-personal poker school with Hellmuth and a couple of other invited pros, the champ did a second round of partying into the wee hours at Caesars’ red-hot club, Light. And now, just a few hours after swigging his preferred Dom Perignon, he’s feeling rather trashed.

“Got to be honest with you,” he says, apologizing to the 150 campers who have been eagerly awaiting his appearance, “I’ve never had a bar bill so big. Thirty-two hundred dollars.”

“Thirty-two hundred? Shit, hope you can still pay me!” shouts out one of the invited guest speakers from the front row, crusty poker sharpie John Bonetti.

“Don’t sweat it, John,” Hellmuth answers with a small smile. “Gonna pay you.”

Don’t sweat it is an understatement. Phil Hellmuth is arguably one of the five or 10 or 20 best poker players in the world, depending on how you do the handicapping (he thinks of himself as simply No. 1). What’s indisputable, however, is that no single player other than Hellmuth has better commercialized the No Limit Texas Hold ’Em craze that’s been cresting for the last couple of years. And big bar bill or not, he’s in no danger of running out of coin.

His commercial success stems from a lot more than his player stats, though they are, in themselves, rather staggering: The youngest winner ever of the World Series of Poker — at age 24 in 1989 — Hellmuth now has nine championship bracelets (only two players in the world have 10). His official tournament winnings of almost $4 million put him in the top-10 all-time earners; he’s made the final tables at World Series events more than 50 times; and earlier this year he won the first “Heads-Up” one-on-one showdown, besting Chris “Jesus Christ” Ferguson for the half-million-dollar payoff.

At a moment when Texas Hold ’Em has become a TV sensation, with a loyal following of tens of millions of viewers, it’s what Hellmuth calls his “creative persona,” more than just his strategic skills, that is fueling a growing branded franchise empire. Known variously as the Poker Brat, the Bad Boy of Poker, the Human Whine and the John McEnroe of Poker, Hellmuth has alternately delighted his fans and outraged his opponents by being, well, sort of an asshole. “In every other aspect of my life I’m in complete control,” he told me while sipping a drink between sessions in his suite. “But I just can’t control it when I lose at the tables.”

Viewers of ESPN no doubt have seen umpteen replays of the wonderful little tantrum Hellmuth pitched after he took a bad beat in that standoff with Ferguson. It wasn’t the first time in Hellmuth’s televised career that after losing the hand he literally threw himself on the floor to bleat and bitch — and then came back to coolly dispose of his opponent.

In another well-viewed snippet from this year’s World Series of Poker — in which he busted out relatively early — Hellmuth nearly explodes in rage when he loses a hand, and most of his chips, to a clearly inferior, amateur player. In front of the cameras, Hellmuth resorts to one of his favorite zoological epithets, saying it’s hard to win when he’s so smart and his opponents are playing “donkey poker.”

His pal Bonetti — who Hellmuth has staked with some great success — jokes that “Phil wants to win that 10th bracelet so bad because if he puts them all together they might fit around his swollen head.”

But like any cool player, Hellmuth has parlayed his volcanic, smart-ass, obnoxious image into a growing fortune. There are the two Hellmuth best-selling books; the prize-winning instructional DVDs; a syndicated column that he writes himself that now appears in dozens of newspapers; his part-ownership in Card Player magazine; his lucrative association with the online; his $50,000 a day corporate appearances; his set of personalized poker chips and autographed Oakley glasses; and his Texas Hold ’Em pay-to-play game now downloaded onto hundreds of thousands of cell phones. Add to that a probable soon-to-be-made biopic and some very sweet endorsement offers.

“I act the way I act and I’m not proud of it,” Hellmuth says of his crybaby antics. “The irony is that back in ’97 and ’98 people were saying my behavior was bad for poker. And I’ve really tried to stop whining. I really want to be better for me. But the last couple of years my sponsors, my producers, my agents, my companies tell me they want me to be Phil Hellmuth, the bad boy of poker. That’s what sells and grows the brand.”

Indeed, nowadays, Hellmuth is much more likely to be juggling business calls on his cell phone rather than shuffling and stacking poker chips. Some of his colleagues have chided him for putting business before card playing. Others who admire him worry he might be putting his career at risk by not continually sharpening his playing skills. Professional player Mike Sexton, now a colorcaster for the televised World Poker Tour, says that other than Stu Ungar, who died at age 42 in 1998, “I ranked Phil as the top no-limit player in the world. People feared him.

“I put that in the past tense because I think he’s immersed himself too much in the world of business,” Sexton continues. “I think players are learning how to play him. He’s still one of the top players in the world. But I think it’s killing him, eating at him.”

Hellmuth is having none of it. He vows to stick with his business and family priorities and still wind up the best player in history. “So what if I’m not playing high-stakes poker every day?” Hellmuth says. Living in posh Palo Alto with his wife, a Stanford doctor, and two teenagers, he prides himself on having a life beyond the tables.

“There’s maybe a grand total of 10 guys in the world making maybe 2 or 3 million dollars a year playing all those side games, sitting out 30-hour playing sessions and wanting to chase the money when they’re $300,000 down. Me? I’d rather hang out with my family,” he says, hugging his floppy-haired 12-year-old son, Nick. “Let those other guys make a million or so stuck inside a casino. I’m gonna make a hundred million dollars without ever leaving the best place in the world. It’s not that I can’t play. I’d just rather have a varied and rich life. I’ve been married for 16 years and have never cheated on my wife. And I’m the supposed bad boy of poker.”

Not that Hellmuth is leading the Fantasy Campers in a chorus of “Kumbaya.” They didn’t pay a respectable $3,500 each to hear a lecture on family values. Nor, to my surprise, does it seem that many or even any of the 150 or so who have signed up are here merely for the brush with celebrity — the chance of hanging out with Hellmuth and Bonetti, or with 1959 Rose Bowl player–turned–poker ace T.J. Cloutier or with magician and pro poker champ Antonio Esfandiari.

Nope. This is different from forking out the big bucks to go to a pro baseball or football camp. These folks, mostly younger white males, but also some single women, some older couples, even some doctors and dentists, have come because they want to win money playing Texas Hold ’Em. Okay, I’m here ostensibly as a reporter, but I too entertain the notion of living out the rest of my years hiding behind shades and raking in piles of poker chips from the other chumps.

One white-haired woman, a hippie-ish homeopathic doctor from Oregon, tells me she wants to quit medicine to play tournament poker full time. “It’s a lot more fun than what I do now,” she says. “And I can make a lot more money.”

Chris Hindle, a 21-year-old British law student (make that former law student), has a similar yen. “I started watching poker about a year ago, and Phil was one of the first players I noticed,” he says. “I was studying law, but decided I didn’t want to go into it. I’ve been playing poker online and doing pretty well. I paid for this camp with student loan assistance. Over there they give you about a thousand pounds for the semester, so I took it and treated myself to this.”

Hellmuth, however, refuses to pander to the greater delusions of his paying audience. “You will go broke if you play professionally,” he flatly says during his hourlong talk, no doubt causing a lot of the guys in baseball caps all around me to fidget. “If you’re going to play,” he warns, “get yourself a job, a business, some sort of income to back up your poker playing.”

That said, hangover be damned, Hellmuth drifts into a long verbal reverie, clearly relishing just talking about Texas Hold ’Em. One ESPN writer sitting by me, and also participating, leans over and says that with Hellmuth at the mike, this is more of a poker revival than a seminar. “Hellmuth is the Anthony Robbins of poker,” he later writes in an online diary of the camp weekend. “You listen to him and think that, yes, anything is possible at the felt tables.”

I have the opposite reaction. Hellmuth’s rap scares me witless. I’m stunned to watch him stand there and just plain riff, perfectly recalling the sequence of cards that came out in different hands he played two, three, five and 10 years ago. While he remembers them exactly, I can’t even note them down fast enough to keep the sequence straight. My feeling is that you have to be a mathematical genius and an almost clairvoyant reader of human behavior to have any chance, in the long run, to make it in the No Limit world.

“Reads, reads and more reads,” Hellmuth lectures, confirming my fear. “If you read people great then you can become a great No Limit Hold ’Em player.”

Right. And if you can keep your eye on the ball and have perfect timing, I suppose you can hit 70 homers a year. “Do you read just your opponents' hands?” Hellmuth asks us. “Or do you also read the bet pattern? Or overall body movement? Or body language?”

Before I can digest these rhetorical challenges, it’s time for the weekend’s main event — the biggest draw beside Hellmuth himself. Recently retired FBI counterespionage agent Joe Navarro is going to lecture to us about reading people — how to take one or two looks at them and figure out if they’re telling the truth. This had been his job for 25 years in postings around the world and now, for a mere $3,500, he’s about to share all that federal expertise ?with us.

You could hear a pin drop as the affable Navarro, with his Giuliani-like bearing and outfitted in his Central Casting gray spook suit, goes through his routine. What a knockdown performance. A full hour on why sunglasses are so cool (not so much because people can’t look into your eyes but more “because they don’t let the other person know what you’re looking at”). Navarro leads us through a tour of “nonverbal tells,” explorations of the neocortex to the limbic brain, to the all-important pacifying behavior versus high-confidence behavior. If you’re pacifying yourself — biting your lip, covering your mouth, straining to keep your feet stable on the floor, rubbing your nose, wrinkling your nostrils, or leaning back in your chair — you’re probably showing weakness. In poker terms, you’re scared to death that someone’s going to call your measly Q-10, or your wired pair of 5s. Watch and see if the guy across from you who’s firing away with big raises is also turning his lips inward. He’s probably bluffing.

“Disappearance of the lips is a sure sign of high stress, a sign that someone’s lying,” Navarro tells us. “Just watch Donald Rumsfeld every time the press comes after him.”

Hey, Navarro was sounding like my kind of fed.

Then there are the converse tells. If you’re leaning forward, if your feet are steady on the floor, if your arms are open wide instead of restricted inward, if your leg is jiggling, if you poke your nose high in the air, if you’re steepling your fingers, if you purse your lips or engage in any other “high-order cognitive displays,” you’re probably feeling pretty ballsy — confident that your pocket pair of Aces or your Big Slick (A-K) is going to successfully suck out all of your opponents’ chips.

“You see some guy sitting there with his hands flat on the table,” Navarro says, diverging from his PowerPoint script, “and then the flop comes out and all of a sudden he steeples his hands, look out! That’s a high-confidence display. Just get out of there! Fold, fold, fold. Fold right away.”

Most important, Navarro teaches us that you can pretty much ignore facial reactions. “Too easy to fake. The most accurate way to look at the body is from the feet up,” he says. “You can fake a smile, but you can’t fake your feet. What we know is that when we are threatened, our feet turn to run away. When we have a good hand, our feet begin to jiggle and then that works its way up our body.”

By the time Agent Navarro finishes his procedural, I’m revved up. Ready to rumble. Prepped to sit down at this afternoon’s camp tournament and read my opponents like they’re 24-point, boldface type. Ready to skewer them like overstuffed, ready-to-burst Thanksgiving turkeys. We will each be given 2,500 chips, and I’m feeling like I can build those into a mountain.

Five minutes into the afternoon’s tournament play, staged at the legendary downtown Binion’s casino, I’m sweating like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. I feel like I’ve walked in stark naked to a local PTA meeting.

I’m so self-conscious of the other eight players at the table reading me, that I can’t even keep track of my own cards, let alone figure out a way to duck under the table and see if the college junior in front of me has his feet pointed inward or out.

I’m dealt a pocket pair of black 8s — a decent, playable hand when there are so many other players at the table. And I’m “on the button,” as they say, having the advantage of playing last, so I raise the minimum $100 bet to $300. All around me I sense the players checking out my hands, my strained neck, my flaring nostrils, my lying eyes. Truth is, I don’t know if I am lying, if I’m feeling confident or terrified, because a pair of 8s is actually a middling hand, neither real strong nor laughably weak. Am I bluffing or bulldozing? Shamelessly, in the middle of that play, I reach into my shirt pocket, whip out my smoke-lensed Maui Jim shades, take a deep breath, steeple my fingers and lean forward as if to signal, “I’ve got the nuts, suckers. Y’better fold.”

To my horror, only two other players fold on my raise. Four people call my bet, and the guy sitting to my right bumps up my raise with another $300, literally pinning me against the wall. I try to read this turkey, but my glasses have fogged up from my sweating. My pulse is pounding so hard, I feel like I’m going to pass out. I call the raise and play the flop. My throat dry, my head spinning, I keep calling the bets made on Fourth Street and then the river. When the guy with the silver hair who looks like Paulie Walnuts bumps the bet to $1,000, I fold and muck my cards. Only as I toss them to the center face-down do I fully realize that the final card was an 8 of hearts — I’ve thrown away three of a kind. Paulie the Raiser takes the pot with an inferior two pair. How hopeless can I be?

With half my chip stack gone after barely two hands, I decide to magnetically erase all the “reading” lessons taught that morning by Agent Navarro. I will stick out the tournament as best I can the old-fashioned way — playing cluelessly.

Good decision, because less than an hour into play, Navarro himself gets eliminated. Then goes pro Bonetti. Paulie the Raiser is out right behind him. Two hours in I’m still alive; I’ve even built my chips up to more than $4,000. Hellmuth, meanwhile, cruises the tables with a portable mike, gleefully narrating every high-stakes showdown he finds. This is of dubious educational value, but what the hell. It’s an intimate snapshot of a world master at work, and for all his blustering about his entrepreneurial commitment, it’s dead obvious that Texas Hold ’Em is Phil Hellmuth’s lifeblood. His high-flying vibes rub off on me. As I hold my own at the table I start to feel, well, invincible.

As players continue to get squeezed out, we survivors consolidate into fewer tables. Soon I find myself sitting next to a bona fide pro — Barry Shulman, the publisher of Card Player magazine. The glare of the gold and diamonds off his five-pound Rolex blind me. Out comes the deal and I pull a pocket pair of 10s. I lead out for $300. Shulman calls me. Everyone else folds and it’s just me and the pro. A certain sensation in my bladder area crowds out what had been my burgeoning confidence. Out comes the flop — a Jack, a 7 and a 10. I raise to $600. Shulman immediately calls me, and once again I’m on the verge of losing track of what I’ve got. My three 10s are strong, but maybe Shulman’s got a set of Jacks. Or a straight draw — or maybe he already has a 7-J straight. Fourth Street card is a red 3. What the fuck? I go all in, shoving my whole pile of chips into the center. I try to keep my head down and my eyes shaded, but I know I’ve blushed beet red.

Shulman folds!

I feel like Jesus resurrected. That is until 15 minutes later. With a pair of 9s in the hole, I get suckered into a betting match by a college-age kid in a sweatshirt and Giants cap. I flop a set. He goes all in. I follow him off the cliff as he busts me out with a Jack-high straight.

Through it all, Hellmuth stands over me and broadcasts the showdown to the entire room. He hypes up our play as if this were the last game of the World Series. When I go down, he pats me on the back and simply says: “A respectable loss. You played well.”

I guess that’s what that kid felt like when Babe Ruth pointed to the spot in center field where he’d swat the homer. I’m not ashamed to admit that Hellmuth’s words bring a mist to my eyes and a quiver to my lip. I don’t know if it’s just his stamp of approval, or the fact that I’ve outlasted about 95 of the 150 players, or if I’m just relieved to be out of the pressure cooker. Or all of it combined.

Phil Hellmuth’s poker career began in the ’80s, when he was an undergrad at the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin. He started matching up his wits in improvised games at the Memorial Union. Tutored by poker great Tuli Harmony, Hellmuth began developing his now well-known method of “super tight” playing strategy. Relying on enormous discipline, patience and self-restraint, super tight is all about waiting for the very best hands to play and not taking unnecessary risks.

Hellmuth’s winnings began to pile up, and the decision to go full-time pro was sealed when he was denied entrance into UW’s business school. Having just won $7,000 off some pro players, Hellmuth dropped all his classes and has never looked back.

The only way to understand the shock this decision set off within his own family is to watch a DVD copy of Quiz Show and relive the rift between Mark Van Doren, the tweedy literary critic, and his golden-boy son, Charles, who sells his soul to the TV shlockmeisters. It helps that Hellmuth’s father, Phil Sr., actually looks and carries himself like actor Paul Scofield, who played the elder Van Doren in the movie.

When Hellmuth dropped out to play cards, his father — with a Ph.D., a JD and an MBA — was an associate dean at the same UW. His mother, Lynn, a sculptor, was a prototypical Madison liberal.

“Let’s say there were tensions, great tensions,” says Hellmuth’s father. He, along with Hellmuth’s mother, Hellmuth’s doctor wife, his younger brother (an attorney) and his three younger sisters (another lawyer and former Peace Corps worker, an assistant teacher and Special Olympics medalist, and a U.N. hydrologist just returned from Africa) were all on hand at the Fantasy Camp to cheer on the family card champion and play in his tournament.

So for anyone who was watching, the secret was out. Big Bad Phil Hellmuth Jr. actually came from a family of overachieving and urbane intellectuals, and behind the dark glasses and foreboding attitude he was just one more of them. Sort of like finding out that in his spare time Dale Earnhardt Jr. plays the cello and illuminates ancient manuscripts.

But all this family harmony was a long time in coming. Until 1989, the year of his dramatic win at the World Series of Poker, Hellmuth risked losing his father completely. At a banquet dinner during our Fantasy Camp weekend, Hellmuth’s father no doubt embarrasses the shit out of the poker champ when he gets up before the microphone and, tweed jacket and all, tells us — in rich detail — the sort of story only a dad risks telling. With visible emotion, Hellmuth Sr. talks about how “disappointed” he’d been in his son’s decision to go pro. “He kept inviting me to watch him play, and I kept refusing him,” he says, as Phil Jr. slumps in his chair and pulls his hat brim down — the dark glasses still on at 10 p.m. inside a Caesars dining room.

“When he went to Las Vegas in 1989, I still didn’t want to go. I told him I would never go there,” his father continues. “But when he sent me the plane tickets and made the room reservations, I finally went.” Hellmuth also promised his father that he’d buy him a new car if he won.

Hellmuth’s father then witnessed one of the most dramatic wins in the history of professional poker. Phil Hellmuth Jr., then only 24 years old, outplayed a field of 177 other competitors. When he was left going head-to-head with master Johnny Chan, it took Hellmuth only 47 minutes to suck up all of his remaining $630,000 in chips. Hellmuth was dealt a pair of 9s and went all in after Chan had fired with a $100,000 raise. An Ace-7 is what Chan turned up in the hole. Out came two Kings in the flop and then a Queen and 6 on the turn and the river. Hellmuth’s pair of 9s made him the youngest winner ever of the WSOP, and he raked in $775,000. In an interview last year, Hellmuth recalled his first reaction. “I still remember when I won it,” he said. “I threw my hands up in the air and within 10 seconds I looked around and said, ‘Where’s my dad?’?”

He made good on his promise and immediately went out to buy his father a new red Mercedes-Benz. “I’m still driving it today and very proudly,” Phil Sr. says humbly at the end of his banquet speech. It was as if Mark Van Doren had decided to accept the gift of that TV set from his son, instead of turning it into a planter. “You see one Phil Hellmuth Jr. on TV,” says Phil Sr., “and we know another one. He’s a generous, compassionate man with a heart of gold.”

Dad better watch it. This sort of testimonial could sink the kid’s whole business empire. Hellmuth Sr.’s heartfelt tribute to his son is certainly the most memorable moment of the Fantasy Camp weekend — at least for us fellow dads. That testimonial sure made me wonder, for a moment at least — would I rather have my daughter finish up her history degree at UCLA, or would I rather have her buy me a new Viper? Anyway, Phil Sr.’s homage to his son beat the hell out of the little talk given at the same dinner by Barry Shulman — the pro I had whipped earlier in the afternoon. “Poker mirrors life,” the gambling-magazine mogul says in a mysterious, philosophical manner. “And poker is good for kids.”

During the second and final afternoon Fantasy Camp tournament, I decide to completely ignore that morning’s seminar lessons. Magician-turned-poker-pro Antonio Esfandiari gave us a one-hour locker room lecture on how to win by being ultra-aggressive, by playing just about any hand, even a set of awful cards, known as “rags.”

“If you have to as much as look at your hole cards,” Esfandiari says, “you’re not betting aggressively enough.”

No thanks, I think I’d rather see what I have and toss away the garbage hands. Hellmuth had put up five grand of his own money when he realized there was no prize pool for this tourney. And my bad luck is that when we commence play, I’m seated at the “feature table” — immediately to the right of Hellmuth. The worst, most dangerous seat in the house.

No way am I going to play aggressive with this guy sitting ahead of me. I’m more than content to quietly lurk under the black Camp Hellmuth cap out of our swag bag. I’m also wearing the pitch-black Hellmuth-autographed Oakleys I bought at the previous night’s banquet, and the obscurity they provide is comforting.

Fortunately, I’m able to play around Hellmuth for a good hour without having to confront him directly. I start to win and even bust out two players when I go all in on an A-Q and flop two pairs.

By the time I’m moved to another table, and then another, I’m riding a chip stack $12,000 high. From 150 players we’re now down to about 30. From almost 20 tables down to only four. Even Hellmuth has been knocked out. Esfandiari is also out. Could this be my breakthrough? Could I put down the pen forever, tell my kid to stay in college, and spend the rest of my life behind these black-as-night glasses collecting ever more chips, pots, awards and bracelets?

The price of poker rises, the blinds now topping out at $800. And I’m “on the button,” in prime position, when I’m tossed a suited A-2 — an invitation to make a move. Someone raises the bet to $1,600 when it comes around to me. I fire with $3,200. Click, click, click, click, everyone around me folds. Right across from me, a very quiet and nice woman in her late 30s with a thick pair of glasses calls me. Bring it on, ma’am!

Out comes an amazing flop — a rainbow-suited 3, 4, 5. Holy Hellmuth! I flopped “a wheel” — a high-flying Ace-5 straight. I don’t want to scare off the sucker in front of me. So I check, trying to draw her deep into a trap. She, amazingly, bets out another $3,000. I call her. Should have raised, but what the hell?

The turn card is an 8, which does nothing for me. Again we both check — I figure I’ll kill her off on the river card. Out comes a measly 2. No way she can beat me. She leads out with another $3,000 — the moment I’m waiting for. I go all in, knowing for sure she’ll now fold and leave me the booty of chips on the table.

By now Hellmuth has come over with his microphone and has been calling out our moves to the rest of the room. “Now Marc here is betting aggressively, but he’s getting called on each move,” he says. “The board’s showing a possible straight, four cards to an open-ended straight. An Ace or a 6 from either player can win it.”

Damn! As soon as he says that, everything sort of fuses together in my mind. Instead of folding to me, the soft-spoken, bio-med editor from Maine pushes in all her chips and calls my all-in bet. As she turns over her cards and I turn over mine, Hellmuth’s narration rings in my ears. I show that marvelous Ace-5. But my opponent turns over an A-6, showing the one card that, frankly, I hadn’t even thought about until Phil’s mention of it a split-second before. In a heartbeat, I’m broke. Busted. Eliminated. My 5-high straight edged out by a 6 high.

“Great playing,” Hellmuth says with a hand on my shoulder. “You did everything you were supposed to. But she had better cards.”

For a moment I feel like throwing myself on the floor and pitching a fit. But then I remember — that’s Phil’s job, not mine. Stunned, I quietly sit behind my dark glasses.

Friday, December 2, 2005

US calls as poker king cashes in

Just months after winning $10 million, the former chiropractor is now even richer after finishing fifth in a world series event at Bally's Paris casino.

"It was nice to know that the other win was not a fluke," Mr Hachem said.

"It's given me another boost of confidence."

Flushed by his poker success at last week's tournament, Mr Hachem says he plans to move to the US and buy a home in Beverly Hills so he can play more US tournaments.

The 39-year-old father of four said he and his family planned to live about six months of the year in the US and six months in Melbourne.

"I love Melbourne and I love Australia but America is the centre of the poker universe and that's it for me," Mr Hachem said from Las Vegas.

"It's taken me three months to come to grips with the fact that I have to come over here.

"And as long as the family is here with me, that's all that matters."

Mr Hachem said he had applied for a US visa given to those with "extraordinary ability" and high salary potential.

"Hopefully I will get the visa and it will give me three years here," Mr Hachem said.

Since winning the $10 million in July at the Poker World Championship in Las Vegas, Mr Hachem has become a poker celebrity in the US and he and his family are now being flown business class for free to every tournament and put up in the best hotels.

"I'm really blessed," Mr Hachem said. "When I think it wasn't too long ago that me and my mates were playing home games of poker - and now all this.

"This is the biggest dream I could have. It's my time."

Thursday, December 1, 2005

TV, Internet adding fuel to America's poker craze

Jeff Coda was bit by the poker bug two years ago while watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN.

Fascinated by the intricacies of the game and the high stakes involved, he bought a deck of cards and started teaching himself. Soon he and a group of friends started a regular Thursday night game of no-limit Texas Hold 'Em.

In an attempt to perfect his play, the 27-year-old Redlands man began playing poker online about a year ago. He made the rounds on the free sites for six months before upping the ante and playing for money.

"I'm not going to risk money that I can't afford to lose," the restaurant manager said, talking about his regular poker nights and online playing. "You should not be playing the game (for money) if you can't afford to lose some money, but I'm also trying to win and be successful at the game."

It's the convergence of Internet gambling, high-stake games on TV, and allure of the risk-taking competition that has caused the proliferation of poker playing whether it be the ultrapopular Texas Hold 'Em or the standard five-card stud. Gambling critics say it's all starting to have a negative influence on younger players, but proponents view it as wiping away the perception that poker is a seedy game.

Justin Marchand, managing editor of Card Player, an international poker magazine, said playing online gives people a chance to learn the rules for free and then enter low-stakes games before trying their hand at high-stakes contests.

"Online poker is proving to be safe and affordable, and learning in the comfort of one's home helps playing in the real games," he said. "This past World Series of Poker, the field doubled and many are learning from online poker."

Marchand said that younger players are starting to compete in poker tournaments, mentioning 21-year-old Nick Schulman who won the World Poker Tour event this past week at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. Schulman took home the $2.1 million prize.

While online poker has been a boon to the industry, Gary Thompson, operations director for the World Series of Poker, said the hole-card camera and increasing monetary prizes has especially spurred the growth.

"I'm not going to beat Tiger Woods at golf or tackle LaDainian Tomlinson, but I can play poker and win a fortune and that's heady stuff," Thompson said. "You can be young or old, man or woman, rich or poor and you still have a chance."

The entry field for the World Series of Poker tournament, which is owned by Harrah's Entertainment, has increased in the past three years from 839 in 2003 to 5,719 in 2005, Thompson said. In addition, prize money ballooned from $22 million in 2003 to $103 million in 2005 with the first-place winner receiving $7.5 million, he said.

Thompson said the television exposure including allowing viewers to see cards the other players can't see has led not only to fortune but also fame with endorsements sometimes doubling a winner's yearly income.

But it's the allure of being a star like those who play on ESPN, Fox Sports and Bravo's celebrity show, and the easy access of online gambling sites that worry gambling-addiction experts.

Mark Lefkowitz, director of training for the California Council on Problem Gambling, said the most dangerous trend surfacing is the age of poker players.

"We are starting to see it through gambler anonymous meetings with poker players who are getting younger and younger," Lefkowitz said. "They suck you in (online) by saying they are trying to teach you and then they have you."

The gambling addiction organization has seen an increase in callers seeking help on its hotline. The largest influx of calls come from the 909 area code, according to the group's annual statistics.

The annual report states that on average the person who needs help through the hotline spent $33,636 gambling in 2004. The bulk of those with a potential gambling problem are between 36 and 65 years old. But the percentage of those under 36 is slowly increasing from 31.7 percent in 2003 to 34.7 percent in 2004, the report said.

While the report doesn't break out all types of poker games, it does note the rise in Internet games as being the cause of potential problems.

Christen Reilly, executive director of the Institute of Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, cautioned about rushing to judgment on the consequences of Internet gambling.

"The jury is still out on whether there is an increasing rate of online gambling disorders it's so new," Reilly said. "There are indications that there may be problems, but it's too early to tell."

But David Robertson, a board member of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, said the anecdotal evidence is frightening.

"We are beginning to see that poker is becoming the majority of calls received by major addiction hotlines," he said. "You see parents throwing their children poker parties thinking it's harmless, and now we are seeing young people who call who are in way over their heads."

But none of the opponents or proponents of poker see the popularity explosion stopping anytime soon.

"With the fame and fortune out there, it can be a life changing amount of money," said Thompson, World Series of Poker director of operations. "People love the competition."