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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Casino cruising

The Oosterdam, a luxurious Dutch cruise ship, slipped out of the southern Californian harbour of San Diego last night with 725 of the world's best poker players, including 20 Britons, on board.

Over the coming week, as the 950ft, 85,000 tonne ship cruises at a top speed of 24 knots to the Mexican Riviera and back, the players will compete for prizes worth more than $7.2m (£3.8m).

The event is being billed as the "world's largest 'limit' Texas Hold 'Em tournament; Texas Hold 'Em is the most popular form of on-line poker and "limit" means that the players are restricted by how much they can raise another player during a hand. The players, most of whom have qualified in preliminary tournaments on the internet, will challenge for a minimum first prize of $1.5m (£789,000).

The cruise has been organised by PartyGaming, one of the most phenomenal business success stories of recent times and the company which has helped poker shed its sleazy image of being enjoyed only by steely-eyed card sharps playing all-night sessions in smoke-filled drinking dens.

Today, partly due to the enthusiasm for the game from the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, the actress from Sex and the City, poker has a new cool and sophisticated image - as well as providing the potential to make millions, even billions, for those who are capitalising on its popularity.