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Red Hot Poker
(Voyeur Magazine)

Once the game of choice for gunslingers, pimps and crooks, poker has finally earned an air of style and cool. David Smiedt lays his cards on the table.

It’s the game the female residents of Wisteria Lane gather to play. It’s the game to which the venerable New York Times has devoted a weekly column. It’s the game that produced Australia’s latest champion in the form of Melbourne chiropractor Joe Hachem, who defeated over 5,500 players to take out the 2005 World Series of Poker and pocketed US$7.5 million for his trouble. It’s also the game to which two of Australia’s free-to-air TV networks and a slew of cable channels have devoted air time.

The preferred pursuit of vagabonds, scallywags and those with the nous to bluff their way out of a bad hand and into a fortune, poker has long carried with it an attractively disreputable air. Way below the bridge crowd and even a little too low rent for Bond (both Alan and James), poker has recently transcended its once-dubious reputation to become thoroughly mainstream.

Keen player Richard O’Neill, who runs Australia’s largest online poker equipment supplier, direct2public.com.au, believes the impact of television on the growth of poker cannot be underestimated. “It took the game out of seedy smoke-filled rooms and marketed it much as a sport could be,” says O’Neill. “For the first time, the public could follow poker games in real time with the use of cameras to show the players’ hidden cards. These views, coupled with experts providing play-by-play commentary, gave spectators a new insight into the strategies. It gave a whole new understanding of the game.”

Another factor O’Neill believes has contributed to the spike in poker’s popularity is the variety of the game played in these tournaments. Known as ‘No Limit Texas Hold’em’, it is simpler than many other forms of poker. It also works on a knockout format where the winner is the last gambler standing. The ‘No Limit’ aspect of the title refers to the absence of wagering restrictions, which encourages the boldest of gambits, the highest of stakes and what O’Neill refers to as a ‘balls and all’ style of betting.

How do you make a cool game even cooler? Cast some stars! In Tinseltown, No Limit Texas Hold’em is the new botox (which may help nicely with the poker face!). Mena Suvari, Matthew Perry and Shannon Elisabeth have all professed their love of the game. They are, however, B-listers compared with the real heavyweights of Hollywood poker. Figuring his luck had to change after Gigli, Ben Affleck took out the 2004 Californian Poker Championship, winning over US$350,000. In the same year, Spiderman star Tobey Maguire won the Phil Hellmuth Poker Invitational, proving his ability against some of the world’s top tournament pros. Finally, in July this year, actress Jennifer Tilly won the Ladies Event at the World Series of Poker.

Star endorsement aside, the intimidation factor that has prevented many players from trying their hand at a casino has been eliminated by the burgeoning online poker world.

“One of the reasons the game is becoming so popular is undoubtedly the availability of online poker,” says Kathryn Farrell, media relations manager of Crown Casino. “Ease of access has allowed people to learn the game in the non-intimidating environment and comfort of their own home.”

The Australian Poker Championship, held at Crown Casino, is the richest non-tour poker event outside the USA, with a 2005 prize pool of $2.63 million. A whopping $1 million goes to the winner.

The final factor underpinning the game’s popularity is the aptly named Moneymaker effect. To cement a place in the public consciousness, every sport needs a legend, and poker threw a beauty onto the table. His name is Chris Moneymaker. Paying US$39 to enter an online event at pokerstars.com, Moneymaker won the US$10,000 entry fee to the 2003 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Having only ever played against friends, he beat more than 800 entrants to claim the US$2.5 million prize.

“This equates to an incredibly level playing field,” says Farrell. “It’s the only sport where a complete novice can rub shoulders with professionals that they’ve watched on television. It’s like kicking a ball around with Beckham.”

Such is the allure of poker that at Crown Casino alone, dedicated table numbers have gone from 16 to 32 in the space of 12 months, and the regular Thursday night tournaments – which in 2004 drew an average of 70 players – now regularly attracts over 200.

O’Neill adds that home games are also becoming increasingly popular, as are corporate poker nights. He says that while the average Australian poker player is male, blue or white collar and aged between 25 and 45 years, the number of women taking up the game is steadily increasing above the current estimate of 15 per cent.

Beyond the financial rewards it can bring, poker purists like O’Neill believe the game would be just as intriguing with nothing at stake. “First and foremost I love the competitive aspect of poker, where you pit your wits against a group of other players. Poker is a game where you don’t necessarily have to have the best hand to win. It’s as much about playing the people as the cards. When you add the element of luck into the mix it makes for a fascinating challenge.”

Through its star cachet, unimagined riches, technological innovation and television coverage, poker has acquired a veneer of glamour just far enough removed from its speak-easy past. But for all that has changed, some things still remain the same.

As Kenny Rogers crooned, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run. You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”


The subtle signs displayed by players that can betray the strength or weakness of their hand are known as ‘tells’. Here Gaz, a pokernetwork.com player from Queensland – who prefers to remain anonymous – reveals some of the more common tells and how to use them to your advantage.

1. Continually looking back and forth between your chips or cards and those on the table suggests you can’t wait to bet and you have a strong hand.
2. Never underestimate facial expressions. Some people just can’t hide their confidence.
3. Body language is also vital. Shoulders drop with bad cards and posture often improves with good ones.
4. A person’s hands are often huge betrayers – they tremble with excitement.
5. Those who are new to the game need to be conscious of these tells and should try to mix things up a bit, even if it means planting fake tells.


Call: To call is to match the current bet. If there has been a bet of $10 and a raise of $10 then it costs $20 to call.
Community (cards): Face-up cards that are shared by all the players in a hand.
Draw: Draw games are games where at some point during the hand you are allowed to discard some or all of your cards, to be replaced from the deck. The cards you take from the deck to replace those thrown in are draw cards.
Flop: A number of games, such as Texas Hold’em and Omaha, are played with five community cards. The first three of these cards are dealt at once and called the ‘flop’.
Flush: A hand in which all five cards share the same suit.
Fold: To abandon your hand, usually because someone else has made a larger bet than you are willing to call.
Full House: A hand consisting of three cards of one rank and two cards of another rank.
Open: To make the first bet in a round.
Position: Position refers to your place at the table, especially with respect to the order of betting within a particular betting round.
Raise: After someone has opened betting in a round, to increase the amount of the bet is to raise.
Re-raise: Any raise after the first raise in a round.
Straight: A hand composed of five cards of consecutive ranks (aces count as either high or low).
Straight Flush: A hand consisting of five cards of consecutive ranks of the same suit. A royal flush, essentially a straight flush from 10 to ace, is the strongest possible hand.
Texas Hold’em: In this variety of poker, each player gets two pocket cards, while five community cards are dealt face-up on the table. The strength of a player’s hand is the best hand that can be made with these seven cards.

1. In Good Time: You want to be a poker player, not a gambler. Don’t call a bet just because you’re looking for that miracle card to win the pot. This will cost you in the long run. Fold and stay in the game instead.
2. Face Value: Don’t overvalue face cards or aces. Many new players make the mistake of calling a hand just because they have an ace or a king in their hand. The second card in your hand is just as important as the primary card.
3. The Big Picture: Be aware of your betting position. The person who calls last has a big advantage over those betting first. Play fewer hands when you’re first to bet and be more aggressive when you’re last.



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