"HE PLAYS poker for small stakes, likes a whisky, but otherwise has no noticeable vices." Wow! I read this judgement on the novelist James Jones in a review in The Independent last week. At first I thought the vice might be to play poker only for small stakes as opposed to serious money. But I think the comment was made because to many people, poker is a risky and risque activity.

And that is fine with me. Poker should be regarded as a dangerous game - that is its appeal. If it ever came to be seen as a harmless little nursery card game, that would be the end of it. In fact James Jones loved poker. The scene in From Here to Eternity when the soldiers are playing five-card stud in the motor shed after pay-day is one of the greatest scenes of poker in action ever written. "It was true poker, hard, monotonous, unthrilling, and he truly loved it... But before the big win he was just waiting for to quit... they caught him; they caught him good."

Playing five-card stud, Prew is dealt (10) 10, a good hand. On the fourth card he hit another 10. On the same card Warden paired kings showing. Warden checked to the 10s. Prew was cautious; they were not trying to play dirty poker in this game, but with this much on the table, anything went.

When the bet had checked around to him Prew bet lightly, just a touch, a feeler. O'Hayer obviously had an ace paired to his hole card and was willing to pay for the chance to catch the third. Warden thought quite a while before he called and looked at his hole card twice and almost didn't call, so he had no trips. (So Prew thought.)

O'Hayer (?) x A x x

Warden (?) K x K x

Prew 10) 10 x 10 x

On the last card, O'Hayer missed his ace and dropped out. Warden still checked, and Prew bet 25, figuring to milk the last drop out of him, figuring he had this one cinched. Warden raised him $60.

Poor old Prew! How could he have fallen for it when he'd known all the time, read it exactly, in fact, what was going on? When Warden looked at his hole card a first and then a second time and then almost didn't call, he gave his hand away. He was trying to bluff that he didn't have the third king. Prew felt had to call - wrong again! - because there was so much money in the pot. The author James Jones chose a fine phrase to celebrate poker - "the old familiar alchemy, the best drug of them all against this life..."