Poker

"THE FRENCH never fold a flush," I was warned at the Aviation Club in Paris last week. While not on a par with Descartes' "I think, therefore I am", this is useful to remember. The way they play at this renowned and entertaining card club at 104 Champs-Elysees, is frenetic. Everyone seems to go all-in nearly all the time, regardless of cards or pot odds - the Gallic equivalent to "no fold 'em hold 'em". And everyone stops for a five-course dinner.

In last week's series of high- action tournaments, the club was bursting, manager Bruno Fitoussi squeezing everybody in. The cash games filled up early and ran all night. The games are all dealer's choice, with Omaha most popular. Stakes ran from a beginners' game with blinds of five and 10 francs through middling-sized stakes, up to big games, minimum sit- down 10,000 francs.

The way French players bet all the way at Omaha high-low (eight or better to qualify for low) on rubbish hands and then hit a flush on the last card was unnerving. It had the effect of making me play that way myself. In frustration, I started coming in on hands like A2-8#-84-J4 - after all, some miracle flop might come down to make a house or even a straight flush! And then when the flop shows A!-A!-32, you find yourself in a terrible position because if someone else has an ace and a low card, or an ace and a higher kicker, you are done for. But having started out on a hand like this and hit trip aces, you feel you have to go on - with predictable results.

"The French play so badly," I lamented to a friend as I dug into my pocket for another sheaf of green 500-franc notes. "Why are they doing us up like ze proverbial kippaires?" "Perhaps they play better than us," was his dour response.

Stuck for Christmas presents? A great selection of gambling and poker books is available at High Stakes, 21 Great Ormond Street, London WC1N 3JB, 0171-430 1021, including my own The Little Book of Poker at pounds 4.99. The ideal stocking-filler, if I say so myself.

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