Poker: Time is money in California

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AFTER the World Championship, I found some light relief in the card rooms of sunny southern California. A few miles outside Los Angeles is the Commerce, a noisy, neon-lit shed, jammed with over 200 poker tables.

Half the tables play Hold 'em and Seven Card Stud at stakes to suit all pockets. The other half is packed with Asian gambling games such as Pai Gow. The big difference from Las Vegas is the speed of the action.

Every half hour, a table charge is made; for instance, dollars 5 a player at the dollars 10-dollars 20 Hold 'em game. The result is that the participants play out their hands at machine-gun speed. Whereas in Vegas you might get 30 hands an hour at Hold 'em, at the Commerce, the hourly total is likely to be over 40.

Another difference is that the level of skill in the Los Angeles card clubs is considerably lower than in Vegas, where everyone has read the set texts on how to play - but this is not necessarily an advantage.

The unquenchable enthusiam of some players for gambling turns all the accepted values at Hold 'em upside-down. Players will come in on any two cards that offer straight or flush chances, and regard an ace on the flop as an irrelevant distraction to drawing out on their hand.

In the low-level Hold 'em games, they play jackpots - a real gamble. If you are beaten holding aces-full or better, you win a massive jackpot in compensation. The jackpot, worth several thousand dollars, is made up of 50 cent antes paid by each player on every hand. This makes the dollars 5-dollars 10 game hard to beat - it is fun, and rather like playing a poker slot machine.