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The Independent Online
DO YOU want to play poker with the author? Well, a chance comes up next Thursday, 23 September. All you have to do is to go to Borders bookshop at 197 Oxford Street, in London, close to the Tube station, at 6.30pm. The bookshop is staging a little Hold 'em tournament, to promote both a collection of my columns from The Independent, entitled The Little Book of Poker, and Jesse May's very funny poker novel Shut Up and Deal.

The entry fee for this event will be pounds 5, for which you get a glass of wine and a copy of either book. If you have never played in a poker tournament, this will be a good opportunity to learn, as the rules will be explained as we go along. No experience necessary; all ages welcome. The winners will receive prizes in Borders' book tokens (no gambling for money).

We can't play for money in a bookshop; that would be against the law. But the regulations on gambling, I'm glad to say, are being eased, little by little. People can now join a casino by letter, fax or e-mail, 24 hours ahead of playing, instead of signing on in person. (Apparently there is a way of sending your signature by e-mail.) The number of slot machines in casinos has been increased from six to 10. Modern-design machines are still not allowed, and the absolutely ridiculous system of limiting the maximum stake to 50 pence remains in force. But casinos are now allowed at least to inform the public they exist, by listing their address and facilities in classified sections of newspapers and magazines or in hotel brochures. Hooray! This is another step forward achieved by the British Casino Association, under its painstaking secretary Brian Lemon.

Poker is not a gambling game like other casino games. It is a game of skill with a big gambling element in it - which is what makes it such fun and why people can play it for so many hours on end.

`The Little Book of Poker', by D. Spanier (Oldcastle Books, pounds 4.99); `Shut Up and Deal', by J. May (No Exit Press, pounds 6.99)