Poker: Worth your weight in silver?: David Spanier reports from the World Championship taking place in Las Vegas

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A DETERMINED effort to beat western gamblers at their own game is being made by British players at the World Poker Championship, which opened in Las Vegas yesterday.

The event lasts four days and is worth dollars 1m to the winner. In addition, as this is the 25th anniversary year of the championship, the victor also takes home their own weight in silver. Some 300lb of silver - poker players out here tend to be the heavy side - is on display at Binion's Horseshoe Casino, which is hosting the world series of poker.

dollars 7,193,500 has been won (and lost) in the various tournaments so far, with a further dollars 2m at stake in the big event this week. Although success in Vegas is measured in terms of greenbacks won and stacked up like towers of Monopoly money around the tables, the World Championship is a bit different.

The winner becomes a celebrity, renowned as the fastest gun in the west, and a member of the poker hall of fame. As such, he becomes the man everybody else wants to challenge.

It could, of course, be a woman who winds up the winner, but Wendeen Eolis from New York - who finished 20th last year - explained that women find it harder to raise the dollars 10,000 entry fee than the men, who bankroll each other. The eventual winner usually finds his prize money rapidly reduced by a congratulatory circle of creditors.

The game played in the World Championship is Texas Hold 'Em, no limit. The antes start small at dollars 50 and dollars 100, and continue rising throughout the tournament to dollars 5,000 and dollars 10,000. At these stakes, players cannot hang around waiting for good hands. It is often a shoot-out at the final table, but the skill and stamina needed to get there is immense.

The British winner who is running into form is Iranian-born Mansour Matloubi, from Cardiff. His fourth place in the deuce-to-seven draw lowball tournament brought his total tournament winnings to dollars 1,118,700, making him the leading foreign money winner. His favourite games are hot-limit and no-limit, particularly Omaha, and he plays poker two or three times a week, an average of five or six hours a time.

His worst flaw? 'There is too much gamble in me. As long as I can afford it, I never say no to a poker game.' As for advice to other players, Mr Matloubi says: 'I'm terrible. My tip is - don't do things the way I do.' This might be taken as another bluff by the 1991 world champion to put off his rivals, if he did not also admit a weakness for roulette - not exactly considered to be a poker player's game.

Another British hopeful is Colin Kennedy, from north London. This is his first world championship - a reward for winning a London qualifying tournament. 'I think the British players may have one advantage over the Americans, because we have more experience of no- limit games,' he says. 'They play limit-raised games, so their play is rather stereotyped.' The test will come over the next 80 hours.

(Photograph omitted)