Games: poker

Poker tournaments seem to be the dominant feature of the contemporary game and the way of the future. According to one estimate, there are probably 30,000 small-stakes poker tournaments held across America in a year. Entry is often as low as the $10-$25 range, as distinct from the thousands of dollars required in the World Series. In Britain too, tournaments are increasingly popular, with buy-ins of pounds 10-pounds 20 or so (and no casino charge to pay). The point of these events is that you can win a prize of several hundred for a very small outlay.

A poker tournament differs from a regular cash game in that all the players buy-in for a fixed number of chips. The entry fees then go into a prize pool which is divided among the eventual winners - say 50 per cent for first place, 25 per cent for second, 15 per cent for third and so on. The popularity of these events makes a new book entitled Poker Tournament Strategies particularly timely. Coming from the leading gambling publishers in Las Vegas, it may be taken as authoritative (the author, who prefers to shield his identity under the pseudonym Sylvester Suzuki, has a life- time's experience of poker, much of it in service with the US Defence Department, which sounds like a good background).

The trouble is that his book reads like a manual for, say, fixing a car's gearbox. Most people only want to know that it runs okay. Certainly it is very hard to absorb so much information, which makes virtually no concessions to readability. Despite that limitation, anyone who wants to understand the manifold subtleties of tournament play will benefit from this unrelenting analysis.

There are chapters on Progressive Stack Rebuy Tournaments, No Rebuy Tournaments, Constant Stack Rebuy Tournaments, Shootout Tournaments and so on. Most players, who are aware of such distinctions intuitively, have never thought it all through in detail. Here they may study the first, second and third 20 minutes of play, the intermediate stage, the end game and much more besides.

Whether studying this material will make you a better player is questionable.

Although the author goes out of his way to dismiss what he calls "flair" as distinct from technical understanding, I think the vast majority of poker players see tournaments as an opportunity to play poker for fun as well as profit. Mr Suzuki is no doubt a winner, but any real sense of enjoyment of the game is hard to find.

`Poker Tournament Strategies' is published by Two Plus Two Publishing, 226 Garfield Drive, Henderson, Nevada 89014,USA, at $19.95 plus postage.