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You Are Gonna Know When to Fold 'Em
The woman across the table bears a striking resemblance to my sainted third-grade teacher, Mrs. Maloney. Even here in the middle of poker training, I am flooded with warm feelings.
But now this Mrs. Maloney doppelgänger has just pushed a small mountain of chips to the middle of the table and declared, "All-in." For players of No-Limit Texas Hold 'em that's the equivalent of “Remember the Alamo,” “Death Before Dishonor” and “Banzai” rolled into one. I push my stack of chips in and watch as she confidently flips over a pair of queens. I slowly roll over my two cards -- aces -- and see her smile evaporate like a snowflake in hot soup. Oh yeah, baby. Pocket rockets. Read 'em and weep. What a rush.
On the plane to Las Vegas, I read this nugget about No-Limit Texas Hold 'em: "No beginner should even consider playing it. It is not a friendly game." Maybe not, but that bit of advice was published in 1997. Now the game has become a national obsession, infesting cable channels, college dorm rooms and probably old-folks homes.
The game is awash with beginners, and most have discovered the hard way that poker "is a one-way love affair," says fellow camper Carlota Gonzalez. So we don't fall into the ranks of "marks" and "patsies," 60 of us have anted up a pretty penny to learn the intricacies of the game from professional players.
And if you've never played – or never played well – you'd be surprised just how intricate a game it is. No-Limit Hold 'em is to five-card draw as chess is to checkers. Your betting position on the table is a factor. The different reasons to bet, the amount to bet and the odds -- not the chances of just making your hand, but those odds versus "pot odds" – are other factors. Add to that getting a read on your opponents based on everything from betting patterns to eyelid twitches. Of course, intimidation plays a big role.
The two-day WPT Boot Camp is an excellent and practical way to learn poker. You sit at poker tables in a conference room, so after lectures on strategy you can play a couple of hands and immediately internalize what you've learned. Also, clips from World Poker Tour events are played both to demonstrate key points and to engage in "what if" scenarios.
The campers come from all walks of life, but are mainly white-collar types who play regularly. Gonzalez is a personality on Las Vegas hard-rock station KOMP 92.3. I meet engineers, teachers, systems experts, retirees and two doctors. Every fellow camper I ask says the tuition is worth every chip.
The camp tournament's winner is Jim Caplan, a Los Angeles doctor. The WPT Boot Camp, Caplan says, gave his game structure and foundation. "Now I am playing much more methodically."
Caplan uses his newfound skills to knock his girlfriend, Fay Gauthier, out of the tournament. As Gauthier recounts how his flush beat her pocket tens, I notice the look in Caplan's eyes. It's part adoration for her, and part “Oh yeah, baby! Read 'em and weep!”