Thursday 03 December 1998
Len, my host, had registered his name and credit card details with Planet Online Services. This company is run from Duluth, Georgia, but the poker was played in Costa Rica because, as everyone knows, gambling across state lines in the United States is illegal.
Len logged on, and a picture of the outside of a casino card room came up on the screen. The doors opened and there we were - inside the card room with no problems of driving in, parking and waiting for a seat. It was 12 noon on a sunny London morning, 4am in California.
Five players were engaged in a game of Hold 'em. Len knew one or two of their names from previous games - "knew them", that is, by their style of play. The game was $3-$6 limit-raises, played quite fast, as you would expect from electronic simulation of the deal and betting. After each hand, the result was given and the player's running total of wins or losses was shown.
Planet Poker, as operators, raked 5 per cent of each pot, kicking in at $1 for a $20 pot, increasing to $2 when the pot size reached $40 and capping at $3 for pots over $60, just as in a regular casino. But it took no part in the game as such.
For my first trial I put $200 (of Len's money) on the table. There were five other players from California, and one from Istanbul.
First hand, when I had to post, ie put up the blind of $3, I found (7- 7) in the hole and got three callers. The other players' action was clearly shown on screen. I lost. Before each deal, the noise of a shuffle was played out, replicating "real" poker. After 15 hands, I found myself down $28.
Then I found A-Q clubs in the hole and raised, just one caller. The flop was no help; I bet again, and then again on fourth street. On the river a three came down, pairing the turn card. I would have checked but Len egged me on to give it a shot. I bet the $6 and my opponent folded. Hey! I was one dollar ahead.
I signed off for lunch. I found the experience of playing on the Net amusing. It's tailor-made for people cut off from a proper card game. At these stakes, the downside risk is low, and you may even win a little.
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