By the time you read this, my fate will be sealed. This year, I am playing in the big one - the World Championship of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas. For any poker player, this is a lifetime's dream, which in my case has been realised by the generosity of a poker-playing friend, who is backing me in raising the $10,000 entry fee - what a guy!

I have about as much chance of winning the event, which is no-limit Texas Hold 'em, as of beating Tiger Woods at golf. But that is not the point. What counts is the thrill and experience of competing against so many great players, including a whole raft of world champions. What's more, anyone can get lucky, which in this event means catching a few good hands at the right moment.

"You may be a 100 to 1 shot," the enthusiastic and talented Vegas pro Annie Duke encouraged me, "but that means that once in 100 times you're gonna win!" I have seen too many friends crash in the World Championship to have any such illusions. One year, a player went out in the very first hand - he hit four aces and came up against a straight flush! No disgrace, but so painful.

My fellow poker writer Al Alvarez got trapped on a pair of queens early on when he played, and Tony Holden had aces wired outdrawn by a lucky flush to finish in 111th place. "I reeled away badly winded," he recalls in Big Deal, "as if I'd been punched hard in the stomach - a real physical pain, gradually giving way to a deep spiritual bruise."

My objective is a modest one: I want to survive the first session and if possible the first day. I intend to follow a policy of "selective aggression" - playing very few hands but playing them hard, as recommended by Tom McEvoy in Tournament Poker. I may crash out, but I intend to give it my best shot. If I get through to the second day, that will be time enough to consider my game plan. Fortunately there is a ready cure for being busted - move over to a new game as fast as possible!

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