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Saturday, October 08, 2005

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THE world’s biggest internet poker company is to press ahead with plans for a $10 billion (£5.4 billion) flotation on the London Stock Exchange despite the abrupt resignation of one of its City advisers.

PartyGaming, the Gibraltar-based group that launched the PartyPoker website in 1997, announced yesterday that it had completed a review of its strategic options but that it was no longer working with Investec Securities.

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The Times understands that Investec had become uncomfortable due to issues including the questionable legality of internet poker in the US, PartyGaming’s biggest market, and the background in “adult entertainment” of one of the company’s founding shareholders.

David Currie, head of UK investment banking at Investec, said last night: “We were doing the strategic review and that has come to an end. Our role is now over and we have parted company.”

PartyGaming said it was “now considering the conclusions of the strategic review” in conjunction with Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, its remaining adviser. It declined to comment further, although most observers predict that it will pursue an initial public offering (IPO) at the end of next month, or in September.

City sources expressed surprise that it was pressing ahead with an IPO. One source suggested that the same factors that had caused Investec to pull out were worrying DKW, claiming that the bank had also considered resigning a few weeks ago.

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Yesterday PartyGaming announced the appointment of Michael Jackson, the chairman of Sage Group, the software firm, as non-executive chairman, while Brian Larcombe, the former chief executive of the private equity firm 3i, becomes non-executive deputy chairman.

Richard Segal, PartyGaming’s chief executive, said: “They are both guys with very substantial reputations and the fact that they are on board with this says something about PartyGaming.”

He said that there had been no falling out with Investec, adding: “The strategic review ended and their mandate finished. David Currie is a good guy and he and his team will be on my Christmas card list.”

PartyGaming, which would be catapulted into the FTSE 100 index, reported annual revenues last year of $602 million (£302 million) and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) of $391 million. Analysts are predicting that ebitda this year will hit $600 million as the poker boom gathers pace.

Cassava Enterprises, owner of the 888.com gambling website, is expected to pursue an IPO in the second week of July or in September, depending on market conditions.

Friday, October 07, 2005

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Fans of Texas Holdem poker can't play the game legally in Oklahoma, according to an attorney general's opinion handed down Thursday.

The opinion, which carries the force of law, will likely slow the growth of popular Texas Holdem poker tournaments common in other states and that have been advertised and conducted by taverns, pubs and other commercial establishments across Oklahoma.

But the opinion also applies to private poker games played for cash or other things of value. Attorney General Drew Edmondson said it is up to individual district attorneys throughout the state to decide whether to prosecute violations.

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Fun aside, the headlines and the big money comes down to the tournaments. Two major brands dominate.

The older, more established (36 years in the running) is the World Series of Poker, which is owned and operated by Harrah's Entertainment (nyse: HET - news - people ), now in the process of merging with Caesars Entertainment (nyse: CZR - news - people ).

Cable-TV channel ESPN, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Co. (nyse: DIS - news - people ), broadcasts the tournament. The series consists of several tournaments offering smaller prize money, in addition to the main tournament, which decides the world champion. This year, some 6,600 will compete in the main tournament July 7-15. Many of the competitors paid $10,000 to enter, with the hope of winning a jackpot of some $8 million.

The other major brand is the World Poker Tour, now four years old and run by WPT Enterprises (nasdaq: WPTE - news - people ), a majority-owned subsidiary of Lakes Entertainment (nasdaq: LACO - news - people ). A TV show based on a series of high-stakes poker tournaments airs on the Travel Channel in the U.S. and 50 other global markets.

The tournaments are held in various casinos and on cruise ships throughout the world. The WPT is credited with making the game more accessible and exciting with its innovative camera shots that allow viewers to see players' hands, or hole cards.

Click on the links below to view several poker mania videos.

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NEW YORK - You could call it the new American pastime. From Las Vegas to Atlantic City, N.J., and from card parlors to cyberspace, poker is the game. You might go so far as to say poker is the game of the globe--if you don't count football (soccer).

In the past few years, the game has attracted millions of new players. Tournaments such as the World Series of Poker--a six-week marathon that kicked off June 2--and around-the-clock play on the Internet have helped fuel the frenzy. So has a group of young Hollywood stars, including Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio. To be sure, promoters have also managed to exploit the game's Everyman image, and casinos have used the game to attract new customers.

Poker mania has produced TV shows, best-selling books, magazines and a host of celebrities. Even the venerable New York Times has hired a poker columnist for the first time in its history. Nearly 2 million play online poker each month. In New Jersey and Nevada alone--the only two states that track data--revenue hit $152 million in 2004, up 45% from 2003.

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The PartyGaming directors could, in theory, be charged, fined and even jailed if they set foot on US soil. They include some well-known British businessmen, such as Michael Jackson, chairman of the software group Sage, and Brian Larcombe, former chief executive of the investment firm 3i. The PartyGaming prospectus is a porridge of health warnings spelling out the risks to investors. The company could be badly hit, for example, if the US put pressure on the banks to stop processing the payments that enable Americans to place their bets.

These risks are being eagerly seized on by potential investors as a lever with which to force down the issue price of the shares. It is doubtful whether Uncle Sam is really going to clamp down seriously. PartyGaming has been supplying Americans with the delights of Texas Hold'em and online craps and roulette for the past three years with barely a squeak from US legislators or regulators.

PartyGaming's phenomenal story is a parable of our times. It is a thoroughly modern company. But it should give pause to every tax-gatherer, regulator and future job seeker in the west.

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The company is remarkable not only for its Midas touch, but also for its rootlessness. It belongs nowhere. It began life in the Caribbean and is now headquartered in Gibraltar. The great majority of its customers are Americans. Its employees are mostly Indians - based at a call-centre in Hyderabad. Its computer systems are in Canada - on a Mohawk reservation. Its marketing people and stock-market listing are in London.

PartyGaming is a virtual company. Selling a service over the internet, it can locate bits of itself wherever conditions are most favourable: Gibraltar and Canada's Kahnawake Reservation for their gaming regulators' friendliness; India for its low wages; Gibraltar for its low taxes (PartyGaming is paying just 6 per cent of its profits in tax, which compares to corporation tax in the UK of 30 per cent); London for its advertising nous and stock-market respectability.

This versatility and lack of accountability is not without tensions. The big story of the imminent flotation is that almost 90 per cent of the company's customers are in the US, where online gambling is of questionable legality and in some states plain illegal.

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Poker, particularly online poker, is trendy. PartyGaming, whose main business, PartyPoker.com, began operating only in 2001, is the whale of the industry - accounting for up to half the worldwide market. At any time, up to 80,000 people across the globe are hunched over their screens, playing its games. PartyPoker.com has a million registered players.

The appeal is obvious. At the click of a mouse, players can join a table day or night, playing for whatever stake they choose. Someone, somewhere in the world, is always ready to play. For the majority, it is a harmless, entertaining and affordable pursuit. For a small minority, it has led to obsession and ruin.

Working to the premise that the winners in the California Gold Rush were not the diggers but the pickaxe sellers and brothel-keepers, PartyGaming

does not actually act as principal. It takes no gaming risk. It is merely host or facilitator. Customers play each other. PartyGaming takes money off everyone through the so-called "rake" - the proportion of stake money skimmed off as commission, typically 3 per cent.

Revenues have grown from $30m in 2002 to $602m in 2004. Analysts at Morgan Stanley reckon the company will have no trouble scooping in $966m this year and $1.48bn by 2007. It is a volume business. While revenues soar, costs grow much more slowly. It may be a giant, but it still only employs 1,100 people. Profits grow exponentially. This explains PartyGaming's phenomenal valuation. Dikshit, 33, could be worth £2bn ($3.6bn), as could Parasol, 38, and her husband, another large shareholder.

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The thirtysomething entrepreneurs behind PartyGaming are worth $2bn each. Not bad for a pair with backgrounds in pornography and computer programming, writes Patrick Hosking

If you want a picture of the service company of the future, look no further than PartyGaming. In the next few days, this online poker company will float on the London Stock Exchange. Eight years ago, it was a mere gleam in the eyes of its founders - the former porn entrepreneur Ruth Parasol and the computer program whizz-kid Anurag Dikshit.

PartyGaming expects to be valued at between £4.4bn and £5.1bn ($9.3bn). That would give it a price tag similar to blue-chip companies such as Boots or Sainsbury's or ITV, and considerably higher than British Airways or Dixons.

We all know how quickly the apparent value of a business can be destroyed. The $80bn tag for Enron evaporated in weeks as the fraud relating to that company unfolded. But wealth creation can be quick and spectacular. The prospect of large and growing profits can put eye-watering valuations on the youngest of businesses.

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GAMBLING is becoming a mainstream hobby. Once the preserve of high-rollers in upmarket casinos, or low-rollers in smoky high street bookmakers, gambling is now a middle-class pastime raking in about £4 million a day.

Part of the reason it has become more popular is the willingness of women to play online. Partygaming, the owner of the PartyPoker.com gambling website, which is set to float on the Stock Exchange with a price tag of £4 billion to £5 billion, says that 10 per cent of players are women. Other estimates put the figure at 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

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The PartyGaming offer will be open only to institutions. Private investors, who have to wait until the shares start trading before they can buy, will be disappointed by their exclusion because some gambling stocks have been delivering generous returns. For example, if you had put your money on Sportingbet, the AIM-listed online gambling company, when it launched two years ago, you would have seen the price of your shares rise from 18p to 290p.

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Tracy Meston, 39, who discovered internet gambling two years ago, exemplifies the new online punter. The horseracing fan spends hours every week poring over odds online at Betfair, the internet betting exchange which is also in line for a possible flotation.

Betfair operates person-to-person, much the same as eBay, the internet auction website. Punters bet against one another, rather than the bookmaker, and Betfair takes a small commission on each transaction.

Research by Paddy Power, the bookmaker, has found that a third of its online poker players gambled only on traditional fixed-odds events before the advent of the internet.

Mrs Meston, who runs her own clay pigeon shooting business, Frock Stock and Barrel, in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, likes the flexibility of online gaming. “When I discovered Betfair I closed my telephone account. I have about 15 horses that I follow,” she says.

It is not only new gaming businesses that are exploiting the UK’s eagerness to play online. Established bookmakers such as William Hill and Ladbrokes have also reaped large profits from moving into the online market.

Mrs Meston, who holds William Hill shares, has seen the price of her investment rise from 247p in May 2003 to 528.5p this month. “This market is fairly recession-proof,” she says. “There are always going to be people who bet. There is a wealth of gambling companies out there and some are gems which will go great guns.”

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But should investors share Mrs Meston’s optimism when it comes to online gambling shares? Richard Hunter, the head of UK equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, believes that they should. He says: “Gambling used to have a cloak-and-dagger feel. Now you can bet from the comfort of your own home or the office. People who would never set foot in a casino are playing virtual poker online and you can now bet on just about any sport, along with financial stocks and indices.” However, not everyone is as enthusiastic about the future of online gaming. Ryan Hughes, of Chartwell Investment Management, cites resistance to its expansion in the US as a threat to investors.

Online gambling is still illegal in the world’s biggest market. In a rare alliance of God and Mammon, the Church and the casinos of Las Vegas have joined forces to lobby against online gaming companies. This has prompted several big banks and credit card issuers to stop processing online gambling transactions.

Mr Hughes says: “Even if the US relaxes its stance, that could result in the creation of large US gaming companies which could take away market share from UK rivals.”

Justin Urquhart Stewart, of Seven Investment Management, says that the sector has all the hallmarks of a bubble about to burst. He says: “There is excess capacity in the market and some of the smaller players are bound to collapse, which will create nervousness among investors. This is also an unregulated sector which runs the risk of fraud and money laundering. If the sharp growth in share prices continues, there will be a classic mismatch between the stock market valuation and the real price of the business.”

Mr Hughes says that anyone considering buying internet gambling stocks should question whether it will be a sound investment over five years. “The growth in these stocks has been so quick. No one can be sure that it is here to stay,” he says.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

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PARTYGAMING, the world’s biggest internet poker group, will announce today an indicative price range for its proposed stock market listing that would value the company at between $8 billion (£4.3 billion) and $9.2 billion, The Times has learnt.

The price range, which will be followed by the publication of a prospectus, is within the predicted range of $8 billion to $10 billion. The figure is said to have been reached after Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, PartyGaming’s adviser, sounded out as many as 200 institutions.

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The pricing for the flotation, which would catapult PartyGaming into the blue-chip FTSE 100 index, is understood to value the group on a multiple of 18 times its 2005 earnings and 13.3 times 2006 earnings. That is a slight discount to Sportingbet, its nearest quoted competitor.

However, some observers think that the group, which owns the PartyPoker website, will have to discount the price to do the float by the end of this month. PartyGaming will have to deal with several issues as it nears the float, not least the doubts surrounding the legality of internet gambling in the United States, which is the company’s biggest market.

Investors will also want to know why the company is floating when its cashflow is strong and it does not need to raise money for expansion or acquisitions. The fact that the four controlling shareholders will cash in 23 per cent of their holdings in the flotation and become billionaires will also raise eyebrows.

Empire online

LONDON (SHARECAST) - Empire Online made a steady start in first dealings on Aim this morning despite its float being overshadowed by the pricing of industry giant PartyGaming.

Shares in Empire climbed to 187.5p from a float price of 175p, valuing it at £549m and making it one of the largest companies on Aim.

Empire placed 70.6m shares at 175p, raising £123.5m gross which it will use to build on its existing customer base of 144,000 poker and 266,000 online casino players. Empire's business is to direct new custsomers to third pary operated sites such as empirepoker.com, which is run by PartyGaming.

Rambler Media, another new Aim debutant, also made a steady start. Shares in the the Russia-based media group jumped from a placing price of $10.25.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

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The next day, I went to the tournament ready to play. I wasn't going to let the previous day's satellite losses get me down. When I sat down at my table, I was pleased to see that I didn't know any of my opponents. There were two empty seats and they were soon filled by Lee Watkinson and John Juanda. It seems like that always happens. Big name players fill the empty seats of a table I am playing at. I won the first three pots I played and I thought things were going to go well for me in the tournament. On the first hand, I called one opponent down with AK high and won the pot. On the second hand, I held pocket Kings and won a nice size pot. The third hand was the most profitable of all of them. I raised to $75 with 87 of spades. The player to my left reraised to $200, one of the blinds called and I called. The flop was 952 with one spade. The big blind checked and I checked behind him. I was prepared to call a small bet because I figured my opponent would never know what hit him if I caught the six or backed into a flush. The player in position bet $225 and I called. The turn was a six giving me the straight. I checked, my opponent bet $1,100 and I moved all-in. He called in an instant and showed me his set of nines. He was not pleased to see my straight. The board didn't pair and he left complaining about "another bad beat".

I made a big mistake on a hand that followed. Lee raised in early position and I called with 87 of spades again. The flop was 873 all clubs. Lee bet, I raised, and he reraised. I thought he had the dry ace. The turn brought no club, so I called Lee's all-in bet. He showed the 54 of clubs. I wasn't expecting that hand at all. I was mad that I gave so many of my chips away. I was even madder that I gave them to one of the most talented players at our table. About a half hour later, Cyndy Violette joined our table. This was not exactly the table I wanted, but I wasn't going to let them get the best of me. I vowed to play the best game I could.

John Juanda built his stack up nicely. He played conservatively in the beginning and made some great calls. With his experience and his stack, he started to dominate the table. Whenever it was my big blind, he was in the cutoff seat and he always raised if the players folded to him. On one of the hands, I decided to take a stand and call his raise with T9 of clubs. The flop was KTx. I checked, he bet, and I folded. I actually considered moving in on him in this spot, but decided against it. During the dinner break, I told myself to take a stand against him the next time around. The first hand after the break, I was in the blind and John didn't fail me. He raised and I moved in with A4. He called my raise with J8. My hand held up and I doubled up. After seeing his hand, I wish I would have moved all-in with my pair of tens earlier. At least I know what to expect the next time he is sitting at my table.

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I got moved to another table and John moved with me. I was still pretty short on chips and I needed to double up again. I lost most of my chips when I called a guy's raise with A3. He was short stacked and on the button, so I thought I had the best hand. He showed AK and took almost all of my chips. I posted the small blind and called when 3 other players limped into the pot. I was definitely getting the right price for my call and if I managed to flop a pair, I might have been able to triple up. I didn't flop a pair and ended up folding the hand. After that hand, I knew I had to play a hand within the round. My plan was to slide under the protection of any raise (any standard raise would have been larger than my chip stack). Finally, one player raised and I called without looking at my cards. My best shot was to be heads up with a player holding two live cards. To my disgust, one other player called. The first player turned up JT, the other player turned up A2 and I said, "I haven't looked at my cards yet." I turned them up and revealed pocket nines. I escaped the over cards and won a small pot. The next hand was my big blind and I posted the $600. I had $800 left and I knew I had to play the hand. All the players folded to the small blind and he moved in. I called and turned up 97 and he showed JT. The flop was T8x giving me the open end straight draw, but I didn't get there. I finished the tournament in approximately 150th place (they paid 100).

Mark Seif Shirley RosarioI went over to the final table of the $1,500 No Limit event to watch Mark Seif play. I had a strong feeling that he was going to win his second bracelet. One thing I know about Mark is that when he thinks he is going to win, he usually does. He approached me earlier in the day and said, "Can you say back to back?", so I knew he was feeling good. Mark ended up getting heads up with Minh Nguyen and beat him. The final hand was exciting. Mark raised to $100,000 (his standard raise), Minh reraised to $600,000, Mark moved in and Minh called. The flop brought a king and I knew the only way Minh could win was if he hit runner runner QJ. The turn was a nine and it was all over. Officially, this was not a back to back win, but it was for Mark. He left for Florida the day after his last win and stayed a few days. He came back to Vegas and won the next event. By 2:00am, I was exhausted and headed back to my hotel.

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The next day, I relaxed. I woke up late and spent the afternoon at the pool. I have spent so much time in hotel rooms; I wanted to hang out in the sun. During the evening, I had a nice dinner and then played some poker. I was staying at the Luxor and they had a poker room there. I asked what kind of games they had and they told me they had a $2-4 Limit game. I asked if they had something bigger and they told me they had $4-8. I asked them if they had something bigger than that and they told me they had No Limit. I told the guy I would take the No Limit and he told me it was a $50 buy-in game. I kind of laughed and told him I would play. I spent about an hour and a half in the game and then headed off to my room for some sleep.

The Ladies event started at 11:00am and I made it there with only a few minutes to spare. I started dominating from the moment I sat down. I raised with any two cards if I was in position and I took down a lot of uncontested pots. Finally, I had to show one of my hands and I couldn't have been happier about the situation. I raised in position with 64 of diamonds and I got called by the lady in the small blind (she was short stacked). The flop brought two diamonds and after she checked, I bet $250 into the pot. She had less than that and she called with second pair. I had to turn my hand face up and everybody at my table got to see one of my garbage hands. I made the flush on the turn and eliminated the first player from my table. A short time later, I knocked out two more opponents when I raised with pocket kings and got called in two spots. The flop was queen high. I bet $300, the second player raised to $600, the next player moved all-in for $500, I moved all-in behind her and was called. One player had QJ and the other had QK. I am positive that showing the 64 helped me win as many chips as I did on that hand.

At the first break, I had $6,000 in chips (we started with $1,000). I was probably the chip leader in the whole tournament, but it didn't last very long. The first hand back, the player under the gun raised the $100 big blind to $250 and I reraised to $800 with pocket eights. My reraise was enough to put her all-in if she called. All of the players folded to her and she called. She flipped up pocket aces and I lost. A couple hands later, I raised in position with pocket fours and the woman in the big blind moved all-in for an additional $150. I called her and she showed A3. She flopped a three and rivered a three. It didn't stop there and I found myself short stacked. Our table broke up right after I took the blinds and I got moved into the big blind at my next table. I took my blinds at that table and I got moved again. I got moved into the blinds again. I was totally irritated. I had to build my chips up and I wasn't going to be able to do it that way. I played about a round and a half and got moved again. I just knew I was going to get moved into the big blind again. To my surprise, I was in between the blinds so I got to come in after the button on that table. I figured I might have a chance to get something going again.

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I doubled up when I took AK against one opponent's AT. There were about 150 players left from the 601 we started with. I ended up getting knocked out a short time later when I raised with pocket tens and was called by one player. The flop was eight high. I thought about what I was going to do. If I bet the pot, I was going to be pot committed, so I thought it would be best if I just moved my chips in. She called in an instant. I said, "If you called that quickly, you must have Aces." She flipped up pocket eights for a set. I turned a flush draw, but neither the heart nor ten got there on the river. I finished in about 135th place.

I went over to the reporter's table and told Pauly from Tao of Poker that I had just been eliminated. He asked if I would mind doing an exit interview and I told him that it would be no problem. We talked for awhile and then I went to play a satellite. I got down to five players, but was eliminated with pocket tens again.

I went to check out the Ladies Event again. One of my friends was still in it and she had some chips. I also noticed that Jennifer Tilly was still there too. Earlier in my trip, I talked with Phil Laak about a variety of things. One thing he mentioned was that he got the better end of the deal regarding his relationship with Jennifer. When I walked out, I noticed that Phil was at the final table of the Pot Limit Holdem event. I thought it would make a great story if both of them finished in the money on the same day.

I went back to my hotel room and packed up my stuff. I was ready to go home, but I wanted to take a nap before droving home. My nap ended up being nine hours. Sometimes poker is so exhausting. When I got home, I looked up the results and found out Jennifer won the Ladies Event, my friend Theresa finished sixth, Phil Laak finished in second in the Pot Limit Holdem event and Johnny Chan won his record tenth bracelet. It has been an exciting series. The only thing that will make it better for me is if I come home with a victory. My next shot at it is at the $5,000 Omaha Hi Low event.

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"The average woman overcompensates and is too aggressive," he said. "They often assume men are trying to bully them. The key for women, they have to gauge which ones are the male chauvinists."

When facing a woman, men fall into two traps, he said.

"They play nice-nice with women or resent the fact the women are there," Negreanu said.

They play nice, Duke added, thinking they can get a date.

Harman's ability to read her fellow players makes her the favorite among the women.

She plays at the Bellagio hotel-casino in Las Vegas, home to some intense poker games. Some nights she'll gamble a half-million dollars of her own money. She doesn't blink when it comes to raising someone a few hundred thousand dollars.

"I have very good instincts," she said. "I play in the highest cash games in the world against the best pros in the world. You have to have instincts. I can size up eight or nine players in no less than a half hour."

Even with that, Harman, Duke and the other women will need more than ability if they want to make history. As with the men, they'll need Lady Luck.

"You have to be very patient to win this tournament," Duke said, "and get really lucky."

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Even winning this year's ladies no-limit hold 'em event that had more than 600 entrees - almost three times the number in 2004 - was no easy task. Actress Jennifer Tilly took the title and $158,625 on June 27 by topping Liebert and Violette.

Liebert and Violette both have finished in the money in some of the other World Series of Poker events held in Las Vegas in the days leading up to the main draw. Violette won $295,970 in a $2,000 no-limit hold' em showdown after finishing second among 1,403 players.

Such success at the table has earned women players respect - sometimes grudgingly - from men.

Duke no longer has to endure a guy sticking his tongue in her ear or others making sexually charged comments - unsavory tales from her poker past.

"I'm easy to yell at because I'm not going to beat you up," said Duke, a mother of four who graduated from Columbia University and went on to study cognitive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Duke said men like to think they can steamroll women and it's "odious" to them to lose to a woman player. Those attitudes can create advantages and disadvantages in a woman's game, according to Negreanu.

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Mirroring poker's national surge in popularity, the main event at the World Series of Poker has grown dramatically among both men and women. Three years ago, only 631 people registered to play.

But since then poker has exploded, thanks to the game being dealt into homes through nightly TV shows and a pair of poker phenoms who learned how to play on the Internet and won in 2003 and 2004.

Suddenly, one of the most difficult card games became accessible, and anyone willing to practice could become a winner - a big winner.

Also, Harrah's Entertainment Inc., the largest gambling company in the world, bought the rights to the World Series of Poker and created the popular championship circuit. Company officials decided to move the tournament to the Rio's cavernous convention hall and announced this will be the last year the finals are held at the historic Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel.

Cowboy gambler Benny Binion began the poker tournament in 1970 to establish the world's best player. Then, only grizzled veterans stood a chance of being crowned king. Binion probably never imagined a woman could win the World Series of Poker's most prized bracelet.

Last year, Suzanne Carpenter finished 21st among the 2,576 contestants who entered the main event - which requires a $10,000 buy-in. Women made up about 5 percent of the 2004 field, said Nolan Dalla, the tournament's media director.

Dalla expects that figure to rise slightly this year, meaning the top women players still face very long odds.

"We are all very competitive," said Liebert, who won a "Battle of the Sexes" episode on the Game Show Network in March. "It's a long shot for anybody. You gotta play your best game and you can't be afraid to lose."

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LAS VEGAS (AP) - No woman has won the prestigious no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event at the World Series of Poker. In fact, in the tournament's 35-year history, only one woman has made it to the final table.

But this year, several women have established themselves as top contenders ready to conquer the world of green felt and show this no longer is just a man's game.

"I think that this is the first year that it is actually possible," said Shirley Rosario, who runs the poker-babes.com Web site. "If a woman wins this year, they'll finally have to stand up and recognize that we can compete with them on their level."

Topping the list is Jennifer Harman of Las Vegas, one of the most feared players at any high-stakes table. She finished second in a World Series of Poker circuit championship event this year.

She is among the women who should be taken seriously when the cards are shuffled at the World Series of Poker's most well-known event beginning July 7 at the Rio hotel-casino. An estimated 6,600 players will compete for about $62 million, with a first prize that could reach an eye-popping $10 million.

"She definitely has a shot," said Daniel Negreanu, perhaps the world's best poker player. "She's been tearing it up. Jennifer is already among the greatest players in the world - men or women. She's a killer. She's a pit bull in a Chihuahua's body."

Joining Harman is Annie Duke, who beat out her older brother and eight other poker legends last year to win $2 million at the World Series of Poker's Tournament of Champions.

And watch out for Cyndy Violette and Kathy Liebert, an expert at throwing off opposing players with her quizzical expressions and the first woman to take home $1 million in a poker tournament.

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$10 internet gambler clicked on wrong link and ended up in the $10m World Series of Poker
WHEN Robert Guinther switched on his computer for a game of online poker, the most he thought he could win was a couple of hundred dollars. Little did he know that fate would deal him a slightly luckier hand.

Instead of entering a regular game with a $10 (£5.50) entry fee, as he had intended, he accidentally clicked on the wrong link and stumbled into a World Series of Poker satellite tournament costing ten times as much. Mortified at his error, but realising that there was no going back, he played on. By the end he had beaten 180 other contestants, scooped the $11,000 (£6,300) prize and earned a coveted seat at the WSP finals in Las Vegas, where there will be a prize pool of $100 million.

“It could be the best mistake of my life,” Mr Guinther, 65, of Killeen, Texas, said. “I’m just going to go out there to have some fun and, the good Lord willing, I might make something out of it. Everybody can dream.”

He added: “I must have touched the computer mouse with my thumb and clicked on the wrong game. Twenty minutes later I’m playing and playing and I think, ‘let me see what the payout is for this table’, and it said $11,000. And I think to myself, ‘this can’t be right’.”

BTDino mistake

Calling itself the richest sporting event on the planet, the WSP brings together 23,000 poker players from 45 countries. The tournament lasts six weeks, but only 6,600 elite players are allowed at the main event, which will start on Thursday, either by buying their way in for $10,000 or by qualifying through an online championship. Thousands stand to make or lose their for- tunes, and the ultimate prize is expected to reach $10 million.

Should he win, Mr Guinther, a Vietnam veteran who retired from the Army in 1985, said that he would give some to his church and donate to a military servicemen’s charity. “Sounds funny, but then I’d probably buy a nice big mobile home and just travel a little bit,” he said. Other participants may include Chris Moneymaker, the aptly named 2003 champion, and Greg “Fossilman” Raymer, the 2004 winner, who wears glasses resembling dinosaur eyes to distract opponents. Also in the line-up is Jennifer Harman, who is called a “pitbull in a chihuahua’s body”.

The gaming industry estimates that 50 million Americans play poker at least once a month. Tournaments receive hours of coverage on late-night television, including Celebrity Poker Showdown, among whose contestants have been the Hollywood stars Ben Affleck, Martin Sheen, Mimi Rogers and Heather Graham. Jennifer Tilley, the actress, won $160,000 at the WSP’s Ladies’ No Limit event last month.

The game has proved similarly popular in Britain. PartyGaming, the owner of the world’s biggest online poker sites, floated on the London Stock Exchange last month and is valued at more than £5 billion, putting it in the same league as British Airways and Sainsbury’s.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Small online casino

It’s 110 degrees outside, shivery inside, the rows of leather-banked, green felt tables running hot and cold for the shrewdest poker players on the planet in the sporting world’s richest showdown.

All the colorful characters are here — Texas Dolly, the Brat, the Professor, Jesus, the Unabomber, Magician, Devilfish, Fossilman — and a couple thousand online aficionados who aspire to make their names and fortunes. Some are math whizzes, some seem clairvoyant. Most play straight, a few lowlifes still try to cheat, nicking cards with their fingernails.

Online world series

Three other previous champs, Greg Raymer (2004), Huck Seed (1996) and Harrington (1995) were still alive. Harrington has made it to four final tables, including two in the last two years.

Harrington, along with Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer and Sam Farha, were considered favorites to win the crown jewel of poker. All remained in the hunt.

Before play resumed Sunday, Haakon Waerstad of Oslo, Norway, was in the lead with $169,200 in chips. Sam Farha, who came in second to Moneymaker two years ago, was in second place with $156,600.

Johnny Grooms, the tournament's director, said Seed and Farha stood a good chance of making a run at the title and earning the $7.5 million first-place prize.

Farha, a well-known pro, is looking for some redemption after Moneymaker bluffed him at that final table in 2003 and scored a huge pot of chips on the way to winning the title.

Lady Luck has also not been kind to the best women, either. Jennifer Harman, Kathy Liebert, Annie Duke, Cyndy Violette and Evelyn Ng were knocked out in the first round.

"I guess I could give you a lot of excuses," Ng said. "But I kind of played bad."

Hopes for a woman to win the World Series for the first time appear to rest with Liz Lieu and Barbara Enright, the only woman ever to make a final table. Enright finished in fifth place in 1995.

poker world cup

Many of the top poker professionals were already gone when the World Series of Poker's second round began Sunday.

After three days, the field of 5,619 entrants had been winnowed to 1,884 at the Rio hotel-casino, with 10 former champions already eliminated, including 2003 champion Chris Moneymaker, Robert Varkonyi, who won in 2002, and Bobby Baldwin, the 1978 winner.

"It's insane," Moneymaker said shortly after busting out Sunday. "It's tough to make money. Every time I made money, something bad would happen. I could never accumulate any chips."

Getting to the final table that begins Friday will take a staggering amount of luck. To stand a chance of winning the no-limit Texas Hold 'em event, players must land superb hands and avoid bad beats.

"I got a lottery ticket in the lottery," said 1995 champ Dan Harrington, who made the first cut. "Realistically, there's no practical chance."

Online poker casino

Greg Raymer's victory in the main event of the 2004 World Series of Poker showed the world a few things. One is that patent attorneys can have an eye for eyewear. Another is that talented poker players exist in all walks of life, and given the chance, they will show what they got under the hood.

Perhaps the biggest lesson of Greg's victory is in seeing poker as a game of perseverance. Many people like to think poker tournaments are all flash and show. Greg is a perfect example of a solid, talented longtime semi-pro player who paid his dues, worked on his game, and enabled himself to be in the right place at the right time. For many years Greg read and participated on the two main Internet poker forums (when such participation was much more practically useful than it is today). The best way to win a major tournament on any given day is to have over the course of your life done the work to make yourself a solid poker player.

Greg Raymer got close to pulling off the all-but-impossible feat of repeating as World Series of Poker champion by coming in 25th in 2005, out of a field of over 5600 players. He earned $304,680 for his finish.