Poker: Three stages of play

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The Independent Culture
TOURNAMENTS are completely different from regular games. In poker tournaments, which are very popular in casino card-rooms, the entry fees paid by all the players make up the total prize money, which is paid out at the end to the winners.

First place usually receives 50 per cent, the runner-up 25 per cent, and the other players at the final table smaller amounts in proportion. The attraction of such tournaments is that for a relatively small outlay, say pounds 25 or pounds 50, a player can win pounds 1,000, or often considerably more.

Monday 20 June sees the start of the fifth annual 'Festival of Poker', staged by the Victoria Casino in Edgware Road, London. It runs for a fortnight, culminating on July 2-3 with a contest for the British open poker champion. Entry fees are pounds 100 for seven card stud, lowball, dealer's choice and hold 'em events, rising to pounds 1,000 for the championship, which is no-limit hold 'em.

Despite the high cost, or perhaps because of it, this event attracts a good number of players, many from abroad, and the prize money is likely to top pounds 100,000.

Tournament play, which is always a bit of a shoot-out, can be divided into three stages. In the first hour or two, the object is simply to survive, and only very strong hands should be played.

The idea is to come through the field, which rapidly gets thinned out as players are busted. If you are unlucky and get busted yourself, re-buys (a second entrance fee) are usually allowed in the first hour, which gives players a second chance.

The second stage begins when the field has been reduced to about five or six tables. Players have now accumulated a fair stack of chips from the losers, and can withstand a losing hand. Now it is possible to play poker, take a few risks, run a few bluffs (but not against the big stacks), exploit good situations and 'steal' a few antes.

The third stage is reached when the last nine players meet at the final table. As the number of players is reduced to single figures, card values undergo a radical change. With only three or four players left in, a small pair at hold 'em or even a bare ace - which would be be unplayable any earlier - can become powerful hands.

This phase, marked by much manoeuvring, may last some hours. By the time it gets down to two players, heads up, it is usually over pretty quickly.