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The poet and novelist Al Alvarez got his lines right last weekend. He came through the Victoria casino's no-limit hold 'em championship, to win £5,000 for third place - a somewhat higher return, one may assume, than an author's advance on a book of verse.

No-limit poker is quite different from pot limit, which is in turn quite different from limit poker. If limit raise poker is equivalent to swordplay - you may get cut, but you won't be slaughtered - and pot limit is like a duel with six-shooters - if hit, you can reload and fire again - then no-limit resembles combat with atomic weapons. You can detonate all the chips you have in front of you in one blast. Either you wipe out your opponent, or he wipes out you. End of story.

It follows that the technique of no-limit involves a lot of manoeuvring. The decision on when, and how much, to bet is very positional, according to where you are in the betting order. The basic idea, obviously, is to be the player who causes the explosion, not the one on the receiving end.

The turning point for Alvarez came late on when he found 10-10 in the hole. A Scandinavian player sitting to his right, who had been playing very aggressively throughout the night, "stealing" antes, made a small raise. Alvarez called. Out came the flop 10-Q-4.

Alvarez was first to act. Naturally he checked. He is hoping his opponent has hit a queen. Sure enough, the man bet £2,000 (the players' entry fees were £300 a head), which was a big bet.

Al does not want merely to win the pot. He wants to knock his opponent out. So he flat called. On the 4th card, which was a rag, the man bet again. Maybe he had A-Q and read Al for a hand like Q-x or second top pair. Now Al raised all his chips. His opponent did not call.

This is a standard kind of play, but it may take all night long before such an opportunity can be created and exploited.

Alvarez says he intends to play up his winnings in the world championship in Las Vegas in May.