TJ Cloutier is a big guy. When he sits at the poker table his sheer physical presence is intimidating. At high school he played centre in the basketball team, football and baseball. He also happens to have won more no-limit and pot-limit hold 'em tournaments than any other player. His analysis of the game in a new book, therefore, commands respect.

Physique aside, TJ's skill, honed in the back rooms of Texas in games where players were all carrying guns, is based on psychological insight. "If you're in a game with a lot of players that you don't know, you should be able to get a line on each of them within the first 15 minutes of the game." For TJ, knowing how his opponents usually play in specific situations is the most important element in the game. Here is an example of the sixth sense he has about what makes his opponents tick.

It was the final of the Diamond Jim Brady no-limit hold 'em tournament in 1991. TJ had $120,000 in chips, heads-up against Tuna Lund on $360,000. He was chipping away at Tuna, winning every little pot by being super- aggressive. He nicked 14 out of 15 hands, with a little bit here and a little bit there. When it got to the point when Tuna was only 2-1 in chips ahead, he asked if TJ wanted to make a deal on dividing the prize money. TJ said no. "I had been chipping away at him so badly that I knew he was going to run a bluff on me.

"Then a hand came down when J-9-4 came on the flop; I have been known to play the J-9, but this time I only had a 9. Tuna bet the flop and I raised him just a little bit. Then off came a 3. He took the lead with a $40,000 bet, and I thought to myself, `I know I've got him, even though I only have second pair.' I called the $40,000, and thought that if neither a king nor an ace came on the river, he was going to bluff the pot.

"The board paired threes on the end, which was perfect for my hand. Tuna bet $50,000 and I called. `Before you turn your hand over,' I told him, `let me tell you what you have. You have a Q-10 off-suit.' He turned his hand over and there it was."

Championship No-limit and Pot-limit Hold 'em, by TJ Cloutier with Tom McEvoy, Cardsmith Publishing, 4535 W.Sahara, Las Vegas, Nevada 89102, price $45 including postage.