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Online Poker News Archives - May 14, 2005

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Copyright 2005 The Financial Times Limited
Financial Times (London, England)

May 14, 2005 Saturday
London Edition 1

HEADLINE: Log on, light up and look out for the losers HOW TO PLAY Ex-bookie Tommy Grimes gave up the day job to play online poker. The gamble paid off, writes Dido Sandler


Tommy Grimes has an enviable lifestyle. He makes a living playing online poker from his villa in southern Spain. He gave up his day job as a bookie in Gibraltar, and has earned Pounds 104,000 in two and a quarter years of playing.

"I have a fantastic way of life... A life of absolute luxury. The profits (from poker) have paid for a hell of a lot."

Grimes loves the sun, the people and the lifestyle of southern Spain. Making his living on the internet means he can reside anywhere.

He describes himself as a "third-generation bookie" having worked previously as a trading manager for offshore bookmaker Victor Chandler, a Pounds 50,000-a-year job. Originally from Enfield, Grimes has a London accent, and the mathematical fluency with which he rattles off the odds on a poker game is a bit like listening to City trader patter.

What differentiates poker from games such as roulette and slot machines is that the former is a skill game. You can actually win if you're good enough. Grimes plays a variant called Texas Hold'em, which dominates the worldwide online gaming community.

According to Andrew Lee, leisure analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, Hold'em is 70 per cent skill. There is no house edge, the operator takes 2.5 to 3 per cent of winning pots from ring games or 6-10 per cent from tournaments. "If you play roulette and slot machines you will definitely lose in the long run," Lee says.

The existence of so many high-profile professional poker players, some of whom had been around for 30 or 40 years, suggested to Grimes that money could indeed be made this way. When he took paternity leave for his second child he won several thousand pounds over a couple of months. So he set to work, studying book after book, website after website, understanding odds and learning strategies.

The biggest gamble of Grimes' life was to jack in the day job. It was high stress, and he was constantly on call. Since then, however, he says hasn't looked back.

Grimes saw how it could be relatively easy to win. "It's amazing how many bad players there are out there."

Global online poker is growing at a phenomenal rate - by around 4,000 people a week. There are plenty of novices, many of whom prove easy pickings to the likes of Grimes. The key to his game is finding "a fish", or someone you can make money from.

He can spend an hour looking at other peoples' games, trying to find players he can beat. One morning, for example, Grimes logged on and saw a couple of players who weren't concentrating on their game, as they were chatting online about that day's Trisha chat show.

"It was like a dream come true. Within 20 minutes I'd won Dollars 850."

It's equally important to avoid the good players. To this end Grimes makes notes about the players he comes across, and their individual playing styles.

He's online perhaps six hours a day midweek. But weekends is when Grimes makes the real killing. "It's like Christmas every Friday and Saturday night. You're playing against the drunk element."

He logs on at UK pub closing time, and cleans up among the half-cut Brits. "People don't understand why they don't win. They're not mentally prepared," he says.

At other times in the week Grimes chooses opponents from across the world.

There are two key skills with Texas Hold'em, he says. First you need to be able to read other players. Second, you need to calculate rapidly the odds of a situation, and only play when they're in your favour. Working out the odds can be a complex business, but it is relatively straightforward for Grimes.

"I've been involved in gambling all my life, and it's easier for me to understand." You also need a good memory for cards.

The ex-bookie prefers playing online to meeting others in the flesh. "I'm no good as a live player. With live poker you have a 'tell'." That is, you can read players' cards by their body language. Grimes says he's too legible to the experienced player, and prefers the invisibility of the web. He uses and, to a lesser extent, VC Poker and Pacific Poker websites.

There are three types of Hold'em - Limit, No Limit and Pot Limit (see sidebar). Grimes plays all three. But his favourite ring game is pot limit, as novices often fail to understand how much they can lose, and may place large bets on weaker hands.

Grimes plays mainly ring games, that is, discrete games where you play for cash. Sometimes he participates in tournaments where you pay an entry fee, and the winner, rather than bagging the money, goes on to the next round. The eventual overall competition winner can pick up hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in prize money.

But Grimes has a warning for all would-be poker gamblers. Playing poker online requires discipline as it is extremely addictive. "(It's) the biggest drug of them all," he warns.

Texas Hold'em is a poker game for up to 10 players. The dealer gives each player two secret, personal cards each, then as the game progresses, five "community cards" are dealt, face-up in the middle of the table. Players select from a total of seven cards to make the best five-card hand.

Before any cards are dealt, the two players to the left of the dealer place the first bets - the "small blind" and the "big blind". After the "hole cards" - the first, personal pair of cards - go out, there's a full betting round. Further rounds follow after the "flop" - when three community cards appear. Then after "the turn" and "the river" - cards four and five.

Players decide whether to "fold", that is, to throw in the hand. Whether to "call" - match the existing largest bet. Or "raise" - ie increase the amount wagered, or "check". To check is to opt not to bet, and you can only do this if there are no preceding bets in the round.

There are three types of Texas Hold'em. With Limit Hold'em there is a betting limit in each game and on each round. In No Limit games a player can bet as much as they have on the table. Professionals tend to play more No Limit, while amateurs gravitate towards Limit. Under Pot Limit rules, the maximum bet is equal to the total pot at the time of the bet.

In online games the dealer is notional - the "dealer button" indicates the theoretical dealer, and moves clockwise to the next active player after each hand.

Punters can log on at any time of the day or night, and sit down to a game with players from all around the world. Individuals may chat online as they play. There are practice games where you don't have to gamble. And 5p/10p versions are available. In actual casinos such small bets are unviable.

There are poker tutorials for beginners on most poker sites. Grimes recommends VC Poker as a good place to start practising.

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