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The Independent Culture
TEACHING NEW players to play poker is a tricky business. The other night I was invited to a game specially organised to give four or five guys some idea about Hold 'em, before going over to Vegas for the World Series. The know-how was supposed to come from some experienced players, who had themselves competed in the World Championship.

It did not work out like that. True, the newcomers, who had all played down-home, kitchen-table-type poker before, knew next to nothing about Texas Hold 'em. If they saw a high card or made a pair, they reckoned it was the goods. They called everything.

The stakes seemed low: blinds of pounds 1, pounds 1, and pounds 2. But with everyone having a few hundred on the table, the pots rapidly escalated. The result was that one of the experts, who was supposed to be showing the new boys what to do, lost an even pounds 1,000 on the night. Everything he tried went wrong. It was not a question of making "fancy" plays. Just whammo!

It would have been better, from the point of view of learning the game, to play limit raises, as they do in virtually all the cash games in Vegas casinos. The idea would be to fix the betting at, say, pounds 10 before the flop and pounds 20 after. That way no one gets too badly hurt even if there is a raise at every step. And the newcomers would have learned something useful.

Of course, pot limit, British-style, is more exciting. A good pot can make or break your whole night. But the limit game is, in practice, extremely subtle. The American pros routinely play seven-card stud or Hold 'em for $400-$800 raises. That hurts enough for anyone.

If you want to learn Hold 'em without tears, I recommend beginners' night on Sundays at the Stakis Regency in Russell Square, London WC1. The indefatigable Roy Houghton gives lessons to new players before organising a pounds 5 entry game, so players can get a taste. Good clean fun and no risk. Alternatively, go to Vegas and stick your money down. You may be surprised how popular you are.