Tips from the Experts

In the last five years, poker has become America's new favourite pastimes - a game for gamers, sophisticates, and laymen alike, a dual in which strategy, game-face, and the luck of the draw can yield outrageous fortunes or desperate heartbreak in an instant. Perhaps poker is a metaphor for the ages. Maybe it's just one of the world's great games. We have rounded up some of the game's best players, most well knows commentators, and other poker aficionados for a look at poker today.

Peter Thomas Fornatale: author of The Poker Aficionado

Phil Gordon: two-time World Poker Tour Champion, host of Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown, author of Poker: The Real Deal and the forthcoming, Phil Gordon's Little Blue Book.

Brant Janeway: author of Drawing Dead To A Gutshot Straight: The Poker Lingo You Need to Know to Talk Like the Pros and co-creator of Poker Flash Cards For Texas Hold 'Em.

Penn Jillette: comedian-magician who appears nightly in Las Vegas, daily on CBS radio, on Showtime's "Penn and Teller: Bullshit!" and author of How To Cheat Your Friends At Poker.

David Kushner: author of Johnny Magic and the Card Shark Kids, the true story of the geeks who stormed Las Vegas.

James McManus: author of Postively Fifth Street, a non-fiction account of Binion's World Series of Poker and Ted Binion's murder, currently being made as a feature with Gary Oldman and Jay-Z.

Storms Reback: author of All In: The (Almost) Entirely True Story of the World Series of Poker.

Wayne Allyn Root: professional gambler, executive producer and host of Superstation WGN's "Wayne Allyn Root's WinningEDGE," creator, executive producer, and co-host of Spike TV's "King of Vegas" and author of The Zen of Gambling.

Thomas Legendre: author of the poker-themed novel, The Burning.

Laura A. Van Vleet: author of Playing With The Big Boys: A Woman's Guide to Poker.

All right, you're the experts. Give us your best poker tip or strategy - something the regular guy can take with him to the table.

Phil: the important attribute is to be aggressive. At the table, aggression manifests with bets and raises - betting and raising gives you two ways to win: you can either have the best hand, or you can get your opponent to fold. Constantly pressure your opponents with bets and raises and you'll get them to make mistakes.

Thomas: Never, ever bluff. Then bluff.

Storms: I am a huge proponent of always maintaining a healthy bankroll. You frequently hear of players going broke when in actuality what they've done is lost their bankrolls. This should be a rare occurrence, not a normal one. You need to have a playing roll large enough to withstand a sustained slump, like losing every single day for a month.

Peter: The biggest mistake that beginning poker players make is simple - they just play way too many hands. They don't understand that they only want to be playing when they're getting the best of it, so they conjure all sorts of reasons to keep playing (reminds me of the stock market - overtrading), to see 'one more card.' It's very hard to win in the long run playing this way. A second mistake beginners make is that they call too often - most of the time in poker the right move is to raise or fold.

Penn: The best strategy for poker, if you want to live like a real poker cheat is to remember that nothing matters but money. That means if while walking to the poker table in someone's home you see an open purse with about as much money in it as you're going to win in the night, just grab the money, turn around, go to your car, leave and never see them again. If you're really a poker cheat, you're there only for the money. You must not ever think about friendship or 'the game.'

You've been around the table a few times, and probably seen a lot of money won and lost. What's your most outrageous experience at the poker table?

David: It's outrageous every time I win.

Storms: One that sticks in my head is playing a middle-limit game of hold 'em at the Bellagio and watching as an extremely drunk Norwegian player opened every single hand he played with a raise and won nearly 90 percent of them! He was so drunk he was nearly falling out of his chair and, despite his success; he was continually berating his opponents. Eventually, he got thrown out of the card room, but as lucky as he was, if he's stayed he would have won thousands of dollars.

Phil: I was playing at the table with one of my best friends a few years back in Las Vegas. A very good-looking, young woman approached my friend and said, 'Hey, I really love the way you play the game...Would you like to go up to my room for an hour or so?' My friend, seeing that he had paid for three more 'free' hands (about five minutes worth of play) said, 'Let me just play five more minutes.'

Penn: I don't play poker because I know too much. My old friend, Dickie, The Poker Cheat, once got caught cheating red-handed, blamed someone else, and while everyone was fighting about it, he said he needed a drink to calm down. He went into the guy's kitchen, stole the entire chip box with all the money and... since they would soon figure out he really was cheating so he could never come back, he stole the microwave just for kicks.

Brankt: At the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, a skinny kid who looked like he just turned 21 that morning got into a raising war with a guy who had biceps the size of my thighs. After the skinny kid took down the pot, Mr. Biceps made a comment about his play, to which Skinny replied: 'Go play the low-limit game with the other morons.' Biceps was immediately out of his seat and went after Skinny. Skinny popped up and grabbed his own chair and held it in front of him like a lion trainer at the circus. Security got things calmed down before anyone got hurt, and Biceps was asked to leave for the day. If I were Skinny, I would have asked for a security escort when I left.

Laura: A fellow poker player was so convinced she had everybody else beat with her four Kings hand that she literally was giving away all the tells. She had this smirk, was laughing to herself, being big about tossing money onto the table. I sat back quietly and met the bets, didn't raise too outlandishly, but stayed in the hand. After the rounds of betting ended and she went to lay down her cards, she called four Kings, reached for a drink of soda, and raised it to her lips. I calmly laid down four Aces and she literally spit out her drink!

In the last few years poker has almost become America's new favorite pastime. It's everywhere. Why do you think the game has become so enormously popular? What is the enduring appeal of this game?

James: Poker has been part of the American experience since around 1810, so it's deep in our cells by this point. No game has contributed more words and phrases - business or military or diplomatic tactics - to American culture. President Bush playing 'Plutonium Poker' against North Korea and Iran, for example. Or the Iraqi Most-Wanted decks.

Thomas: One of the many reasons poker has become popular is because anybody can win with anything. It's the American dream in a visor and Hawaiian shirt. What more could you ask for?

Storms: Poker has become so popular in the past three or four years because of the convergence of being able to play online and watch major tournaments on television. Now anyone can quickly acquire years' worth of experience in a very short period of time and, with a little luck, take down a major title and a huge payout. It feeds the American Dream: get rich quick.

Laura: The celebrity poker craze broadcast on so many different networks - ESPN, Traven Channel, Bravo to name only a few- is certainly part of the explanation, but personally, I believe there is a deeper answer. People are always looking for a quick fix to their financial problems. It seems, at least to this Poker goddess, that the lure of playing poker professionally is only the latest 'pyramid scheme' that offers people such hope.

Peter: In my view, the poker boom is the product of two things. The first is that poker became a fabulous tv reality show once it was realized that the hold cards could be seen by the audience. A guy names Rob Gardner pioneered this with a show in the UK called 'Late Night Poker' in 1999. But the tv explosion went to the next level when the Travel Channel debuted its World Poker Tour broadcasts. At the same time as poker was gaining a foothold on television, it was fomenting a revolution online as well. The advent of online poker meant that people could play whenever they wanted, wherever they wanted. It also meant they could play the game almost in character, like the guys they saw on tv. It's much easier to be hyper aggressive and make crazy moves when you can just switch of the computer if you lose and there's no social pressure as there is in a card room. The convergence of these two factors was best evidenced when Chris Moneymaker won the main even at the World Series in 20003. Here he was, a guy who won a small money buy-in tourney online, suddenly beating some of the best in the world and becoming a tv star in his own right.

Brant: As the old saying goes, poker takes a day to learn and a lifetime to master. Chris Moneymaker showed people that an Average Joe could win millions. It only takes a small taste of success for a player to start having World Series dreams. I'll never be able to drive a Randy Johnson fastball or dunk a basketball or catch a pass in the Super Bowl, but if I can scrape together $10,000, I can compete against the biggest names in the world for a life-changing payday. As for enduring appeal, it's been said that poker is not a card game played with people, but a people game played with cards, which is what makes it endlessly fascinating.

Any other thoughts, advice, or tips about poker?

Wayne: In the end, poker is just like life - it's all about sales, confidence and bluffing. I believe that you must look, smell, feel and act like a millionaire before becoming one.

David: If you want to get to know people quickly, play poker with them.

Thomas: Poker is the ultimate Zen experience. What is the sound of one hand folding? If a player has a royal flush and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Satori comes in a pile of chips.

Laura: Keep it fun. Play friendly games around the card table with friends and family, and enjoy every single deal of the cards. If and when you feel ready to take the show on the road, keep the tells invisible, watch the action on the table with the eyes of a sharp and savvy observer, and if the cards dictate it, take a chance. If not, fold - you can always pony up for the next hand.

Phil: If there is one thing about poker that strikes me as odds, it is this. Poker is the only profession in the world where it pays to surround yourself with the biggest morons you can find.

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