Lucy stakes her all in Vegas

Lucy Rokach won $92,500 playing poker in Binion's Horseshoe casino in Las Vegas last week - "a very disappointing result," she says.

Ms Rokach, 47, from Stoke-on-Trent, is one of a new breed of women poker players who are challenging male domination. In three tournaments of the Poker World Series, she won $5,000, $68,000 and finally $19,500 in the climax, the world championship.

"It was my first try in the world championship. On the second day it was vicious, like a testosterone match. If I tried to win even a small pot, the men players would instantly bet their whole stack at me, like $40-45,000 in chips. It was as if they were saying 'I am more macho than you. Don't you dare to steal my ante'."

Ms Rokach played her usual ferocious betting and bluffing game. "I've never seen anyone so aggressive in moving their chips," a former world champion, Phil Hellmuth, complimented her at one point.

Her $19,500 was for reaching the last three tables (27 players) out of 295 competitors - far and away the best result of any British player in the world championship. This followed her spectacular $68,500 third place in a previous tournament, ahead of nearly 200 male players.

"I have never played in a tournament as gruelling as this world championship," Ms Rokach explained. "The intensity of concentration is relentless. There is simply no moment you can relax."

She was upset at a mistake she made on the third day of the championship. "I failed to bet my hand to win the pot outright. It allowed my opponent to improve his hand and take all my chips. I don't mind losing if I am outdrawn or catch bad cards, but I feel very upset if I play a hand badly."

The winner of the event and new world champion is Huck Seed, 27, from Montana, a Las Vegas pro. He won first prize of $1m to join the superstar tournament players of Las Vegas.

Any idea that women cannot compete with the hustlers and rustlers and cowboys who throng Binion's casino, old-fashioned heart of poker in Las Vegas, was exploded last week. "I don't need to be considered a woman at the table, I am simply a player," says Annie Duke, mother of a 13-month- old baby girl.

Ms Rokach,who plays mainly in Derby, Birmingham, Stoke and Nottingham, does not earn the astronomic sums of successful American women players.

"But there is a lot of money in the Midlands. In a good year I hope to make as much from poker as an engineer or a doctor or any other professional. I lost a lot of money when I learned to play about 10 years ago so I've got a lot to make up."