New suits reshuffle poker deck

2011-03-25 11:52

Just like Charlize Theron in that corny Sun International advert, I shower myself with R7 000 worth of chips. I’ve won my first poker game.

Except this isn’t a real game. It’s a random night with friends at my humble abode and instead of a green velvety poker table, it’s a dining-room table covered in a questionable lace cloth.

The lights are brighter, the dealer is a friend and, most importantly, the buy-in is only 20 bucks.

In the movies, the table for the high rollers is populated by a bunch of cigar-smoking, whiskey-swilling tough guys outbluffing each other. Not any more.

Former Miss Teen South Africa Phuti Khomo is an ardent player, and one of the few women playing the iconic card game.

“I started out watching it on TV and then I moved to playing the game at home. The loser would wash dishes. Eventually, I went for lessons and started playing tournaments,” she says.

In the beginning, the TV presenter found the response from other punters condescending. “When I first started, people were like ‘are you serious?’. Men generally take it for granted that because you are a woman, you are a bad player. What they don’t realise is that women are much better liars.”

What draws high-stakes players to the game is that as more of the deck is revealed by the dealer, the odds of winning changes.

This is no game of pure chance – you need strategy, nerves of steel and serious money so that when the odds are stacked against you, you know how to bluff.

Businessman Sunil Singh has spent nine years working on his poker face, and once hauled in R330 000 in one sitting. But when it comes to his losses, that poker face comes in handy and he clams up.

Having sat at the table for almost a decade, Singh has borne witness to the changing face of the players.

“There is a balance of businessmen and professionals with unlimited capital to buy into the game. The strategies of the newer players are different – more aggressive – and they have a reputation for being a ‘loose player’,” explains Singh. “They bet higher and take bigger risks.”

The emergence of the upper middle class is becoming more apparent in South Africa and this has seen an explosion in hedonistic pursuits – sushi grandstanding à la Kenny Kunene, designer wardrobes à la Precious Moloi-Motsepe and haute cuisine from the likes of Chef Reuben Riffel. Gambling is the ultimate leisure pursuit of those with cash to burn, so it makes sense that a game like poker is drawing a new demographic.

Sandile Mkhize, who began playing four years ago, has gone from betting R50 at a house poker party to upping the ante to R100 000 on the green felt.

“The prospect of learning the game and the finer intricacies involved intrigued me,” says Mkhize, a software programmer for a financial institution, whose interest in the game was piqued during a team-building function at work.

“I am competitive in nature, and started watching The Poker Channel to improve my game. The next step was to start playing the live cash games at a casino.”

Khomo, who started playing two years ago, was intrigued by the game’s endless permutations.

“I was hooked but I knew that the best way to get the real feel of the game was to play with other poker players in casinos.”

While a Royal Flush may be one reason to play, another is the game’s glamorous reputation.

There’s something sexy about being flush enough to take a devil-may-care attitude to losing money for the fun of playing a game.

Then there’s the special treatment, the allure of huge payouts and the dimly lit sumptuously decorated rooms reminiscent of James Bond movies.

Singh says: “When it comes to tournaments, there are cameras, photos being taken, people being interviewed. There is a definite glamorous factor to poker.”

Khomo, a glamour girl who models and is never without a glossy pout, agrees: “When you walk through the casino and notice people scrambling at the roulette table, or looking sad at the slots machine, and you are whisked away to the poker floor, which is calm and serene, you can’t help but feel important.”

As members of the nouveau riche come of age and prove that they have officially become the Joneses – instead of keeping up with them – poker is becoming one of the new ways to flaunt a fortune.

Rules of the game

The game of poker is a simple one. While there are various types, Texas Hold’Em is the most popular.

The premise is basic: The best five cards win. Five cards are revealed on the table, and each player gets a pair. You can win on something as simple as a pair of twos or something as high as a straight – an ace, king, queen, jack and 10 of the same suit. Now get the lingo right.

All-in: To run out of chips while betting or calling

Blind: A forced bet (or partial bet) put in by one or more players before any cards
are dealt

Blank: A dealer card that doesn’t affect the players’ hands
Buy-in: The amount of money you pay to enter a tournament

Call: To put into the pot an amount of money equal to the most recent bet or raise

Flop: The first three cards, put face up, all together

Kicker: An unpaired (single dealer) card used to determine the better of two hands

Pocket pair: A starting hand with two cards of the same rank, making a pair

River: The fifth and final dealer card, put out face up. Also known as fifth street

Straight flush: A hand that contains five cards in sequence, all of the same suit

Four of a kind: Also known as quads. Contains four cards of one rank and an unmatched card of another rank

Full house: A hand that contains three matching cards of one rank and two matching cards of another rank

Flush: Where all five cards are of the
same suit or a Royal Flush where all cards are from the same suit, from 10 to ace

Straight: Contains five cards of sequential rank

Trips: Contains three cards of the same rank

» Source: and wikipedia
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