News & Politics

Have More Fun: Poker

Learn when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em

Some of the best friendships have been formed at a poker table. No other card game provides as many lessons in life, business, and psychology as poker’s most popular variant, Texas Hold ’Em.

Start at the bookstore. My favorite primer is Winning Low Limit Hold’em by Lee Jones. Phil Gordon’s Poker: The Real Deal: Insider Tips from the Co-host of Celebrity Poker Showdown is also good.

Next, deal yourself hands. Playing with pennies for chips and Barbie dolls for opponents will keep you occupied for a while. Then move to the Internet, using play money. Among the most popular sites with play-money options are,,, and You’ll overcome the intimidation factor and learn how to bet and raise.

Online poker has all the convenience of the real world—and all the risks of a potential addiction. I’ve become so engrossed, I’ve forgotten about the stove and nearly burned down the house.

When playing real-money online poker, you put money into an account, using PayPal or FirePay, but I rarely take money out—I find it too dangerous. For some friends, it has ended marriages. It’s more fun to play with real people, and it isn’t hard to find a game—just ask around.

Another option is to drive to Atlantic City and sign up at the Taj (800-234-5678; , Borgata (866-692-6742; , or Tropicana (800-the-trop; for a low-limit game. Only by playing live can you learn the etiquette. Start with a game where the maximum bets are $3 to $6 a round; you won’t find many cheaper. When you get confident, move up to $6-to-$12 games.

You’ll meet people from Washington who can tell you about games closer to home. Before long, don’t be surprised to find yourself in tournaments. Atlantic City’s Showboat casino (800-621-0200; has two for beginners every day, with a $50 entry fee. At different casinos, I’ve won half a dozen times, with prizes as high as $2,500. Now, that’s fun.

—Kim Eisler