Poker: On the move from Vegas to Vienna

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The Independent Culture
POKER games seem to be breaking out all over. Recently I received a leaflet for the Turkish festival of poker in Istanbul, to be held from 21-28 February. It is promoted by the Grand Antique Casino, which promises a dollars 300,000 prize fund. The festival is offering a variety of games, both pot limit and no limit.

A photograph in the brochure shows six happy winners from the previous year. Close inspection reveals that they are all professionals from the London circuit. For casual players, this holiday snap is equivalent to a 'smoking may damage your health' warning.

Vienna has also launched casino poker. The Concord Card Casino, opened last autumn in a suburban backstreet, is reportedly thriving. It has 15 tables offering mainly Seven Card Stud, at limit stakes (equivalent to pounds 2- pounds 4 up to pounds 15- pounds 30). What is surprising is that in a city with no tradition of poker (though the game perhaps has something in common with opera) such a club can prove successful so quickly.

In London, the rivalry between the two main casino card-rooms is growing quite intense. At the Victoria Casino in Edgware Road, the prize money - which is the sum of the players' entry fees, usually pounds 25 a head - is being augmented to the tune of pounds 1,500 a week. At the smaller, more intimate, Barracuda Club in Baker Street, a complicated system of bonus points offers poker players the chance to win a trip to Las Vegas for the poker World Series in the spring.

It seems that when one card room has a big event, the other is correspondingly empty. Casino poker in the Midlands is also strong, especially, so I am told, in Birmingham, Nottingham, Northampton and Wolverhampton.

All serious players will be heading west this year, for the 25th anniversary of the World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas. For three weeks from mid-April, the action will be furious. Fremont Street, the famous neon heart of downtown, becomes a non-stop playground of poker.

Up on the Las Vegas Strip, competition is also growing. Three major poker rooms have opened recently, at Kirk Kerkorian's mammoth MGM, at Luxor - the new casino built in the shape of a glass pyramid - and at Treasure Island, which adjoins the Mirage.

The latter is still the market leader, despite the departure of Erich Drache, who for so many years personified the free-wheeling spirit of poker in Vegas. Eric once confided to me he was the seventh-best Seven Card Stud player in the United States. 'The trouble is,' he said, 'I play with the best six.'