Pursuits: Poker

THE BRITS did well at the recent Rio carnival of poker in Las Vegas. The good players won and the other players learned a lot. Among the winners, John Kabbaj, 25, one of the up and coming (sometimes down and going) younger players on the London circuit, showed good form. His aggressive style prevailed over 150 rivals; he took first prize of $40,000 in the $1,000 pot limit Omaha event.

The turning-point hand for John came just before the final table, when he found 7-7-K-10 on the big blind. The flop came down 7-J-Q. Bottom trips is a good but dangerous hand at Omaha (the four-card version of Hold 'em). With 15,000 in chips left, John raised 2,000. When he got re-raised, he stopped to think. He was inclined at first to throw his hand away. But with a straight draw as well as trips, and the chance, if his hand held up, of becoming chip leader, he stuck all his money in.

This is the kind of risk you have to take in tournament play, if you are playing to win (and not merely to hang in there as long as possible). Even if you think you may be taking slightly the worst of it, the bet is justified. In this instance, John's trips stood up against two high pairs. And at the final table he was in a commanding position. Tournament play is as different from cash games as, say, one-day cricket is from a regular match. As it happens Kabbaj (known to all as "Cabbage") is a fast bowler who can swing it when he needs to.

The best book on tournament play is the former world champion Tom McEvoy's Tournament Poker, available from High Stakes, London's new gamblers' bookshop (21, Great Ormond Street, London WC1N 3JB, (0171-430 1021, fax 430 0021) at pounds 34.95, plus 10 per cent postage. "There is a very fine line between loose play and solid aggressive play," McEvoy advises. The former world champion Phil Hellmuth says in his foreword that he begged McEvoy not to write the book. It gives away too many secrets!

The most detailed and technical book on tournament play is Poker Tournament Strategies by Sylvester Suzuki, pen name of a freelance writer living in California. This little book is the tournament equivalent of Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance - immensely practical, if you happen to be driving round the highways and byways of American card rooms.