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Indy Lifestyle Online
Forget everything you ever learned about Hold 'em! I have been visiting the card casinos around San Francisco, and I can tell you that the Chinese gamblers who throng these downmarket dives have rewritten the game. Don't sit around waiting for aces and kings. What you should be looking for are hands such as 5-8 off-suit or 10-2 suited.

In the course of a couple of hours at Ladbroke's card casino in San Pablo, 40 minutes north of San Francisco, I saw such hands win monster pots. The game was $6-$12 limit Hold 'em, with blinds of $3-$6. The usual pattern was a couple of $6 raises before the flop, which five or six or even seven players call. "Show me the money!" they scream.

Down comes an indeterminate flop such as 6-7-Q, off-suit, which provokes a furious series of new bets and raises. At this point there is already close to $150 in the pot, which makes it very difficult to fold any sort of hand that is in with a chance, such as bottom pair or a middle pin draw to a straight. The value for a $12 bet, even with a raise, is so good it just can't be turned down.

On the turn, if a blank such as a deuce or other unhelpful card falls, the hand may be checked all the way round. But if someone does bet, it is sure to be check-raised. Everyone holds their breath as the river card is dealt. Perhaps it pairs a low card; more likely it makes a possible straight - who knows what's going on.

The betting takes off again. Someone has hit a miracle back-door flush (last two flop cards in suit). The man who came in on wired kings or perhaps even hit trip queens on the flop, watches the mountain of chips disappear.

The winner of the pot then proceeds to dominate the game, until someone else outguns him. Of course you can't beat Hold 'em this way, can you? The only counter-measure I can suggest is to take every raise going, when you catch a playable hand, and hope it stands up. One good pot can make up for many losses.

Ladbroke's card casino, done in a sort of shocking pink Ali-Baba-goes- to-Hollywood style, is a class act. The games are structured to produce high action. Bay 101 in San Jose is also well worth a visit.

Under the latest Californian decree, there is no smoking in any public place, including casinos. But beware! It's dangerous enough without the smoke.