James Hipwell: Net removes stigma and proves a winner for poker

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The Independent Online

If you want a game of poker, casinos can be a hostile environment for many people. In order to get in in the first place, you have to be a member. They are often smoky, out-of-the-way places with rules of their own and inhabited almost exclusively by men, which makes them very off-putting to women. And there are actually very few casinos in the UK which have card rooms, so if you want to play poker, you are really stuck with playing with your mates for a few quid on Friday night.

If you want a game of poker, casinos can be a hostile environment for many people. To get in in the first place, you have to be a member. They are often smoky, out-of-the-way places with rules of their own and inhabited almost exclusively by men, which makes them off-putting to women. And there are few casinos in the UK with card rooms, so if you want to play poker, you are really stuck with playing with your mates for a few quid on Friday night.

This makes the internet the ideal medium for poker ­ it allows anyone to play and it doesn't matter if you don't have a very good poker face. Women can play poker in confidence, without any intimidation or stigma, and novices can join tournaments for as little as 25 cents. If you are feeling really brave, there are tournaments where the pot can reach thousands of dollars.

An online game is faster, too. Instead of the waiting around you have in a live card game between hands, the cards are played more rapidly on the internet. There is also something alluring about the anonymity of it ­ you can also take on another persona. And how else can you pit your wits directly against people from all round the world from the comfort of your own home?

There is also the lure of serious money from playing online. Companies such as PartyGaming offer the chance to win a seat in the World Series, which is the holy grail for poker players, as well as many other high prize tournaments. For about $30, you can compete for a seat to win millions. Even if you don't win, you've been on an all-expenses trip to Vegas. Players who qualified online have done this, and this has spurred on thousands more.

But because online poker is so simple to play, it can become highly addictive. There are dangers with playing online that are easy to forget. People have an initial good run, and then think they can go on to make a living out of it, playing 16 hours a day. If you are not careful, you can be attracted to tournaments where the other players are way above your skill level. In the top games, big money is being staked by very experienced players.

If it's out of your league, it won't take long before you build up losses. If you get sucked in to playing more to try to win it all back, that's when the game spirals out of control.

James Hipwell is editor of Inside Edge magazine

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