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Picking up a hot poker game

Card shark Aaron Bone makes a living playing Texas Hold 'Em

QUICK ON THE DRAW

The game begins with each player being dealt two cards face down and a round of betting starting with the player to the left of the dealer and continuing clockwise (pre-flop). Players can call, raise, or fold. The dealer then flips the next three cards face up (the flop). These cards can be used in combination with one’s two hidden cards to form a poker hand. There is another round of betting before the dealer flips a fourth card (the turn) – after which players can bet again – and fifth card (the river). There is one final round of betting. After that, all of the remaining players reveal their hands (the showdown).

SO what can you expect from a poker tournament in Phnom Penh, aside from laying your stakes on a makeshift poker table (often just a pool table under cover) in somewhat dingy yet strangely comforting surroundings?

Most poker played in Phnom Penh is Texas Hold 'Em and there are currently four very different venues where the game can be played six nights a week.

And, while the average Phnom Penh player can be classified as a single male in his 30s, these guys are more than willing to accommodate newcomers from all walks of life.

If you are new to poker, Texas Hold ‘Em is an easy variation of the game for beginners to learn. But, while it can be played reasonably well within a few hours, it can take forever to perfect. With a US$5 buy-in, the takes in Phnom Penh are not high and make the city a perfect place to complete the ‘perfecting' side of your game.

One of the familiar faces on the Phnom Penh poker circuit for last few months has been Aaron Bone who was initiated into the game by his mother when he was nine years old.

"I liked to play poker as a kid and I inherited my mum's instincts for the game," he said.

"To me poker is a job, not an obsession," said Bone, adding that the game has provided a small but steady income since he started playing tournaments here two months ago.

"I play as many nights as possible," he said. "Ever since the Mekong Daily closed and I lost my job, I've been playing poker six nights per week.... I am looking for a Friday night game now," said Bone.

"I don't play for high stakes here. The most I have ever lost or won in a game in Phnom Penh in one night has been around $45. Generally I am up or down $10 or $20. But I have heard of a guy winning $600 per week in Sihanoukville where the stakes are much higher."

To me poker is a job, not an obsession. I've been playing poker six nights per week.

Venues in Phnom Penh offer tournaments throughout the week to a relatively small number of regular players and a few tourists thrown into the mix.

"There is a bar run by a Khmer woman that holds weekly poker nights, and while this place will take a while to develop, it is doing OK," said Bone. "There is also a bar that draws quite a few tourists and a French run bar where up to recently I used to be the only English-speaking player."

Playing against a relatively small number of regular players, Bone said, "I developed a playing pattern and had to consciously practice at home to be unpredictable."

Sometimes there can be a bit of tension at the table. "At times you just want a friendly game because there is only $5 at stake, but you have to respect the people that take it seriously and always follow the little rules that can appear unimportant.... Some players take the game too much to heart."

And what does the future hold for Bone? "When you're a poker junkie, your goal is to save up enough money to take a trip to Macau, the gambling centre of Asia. Because poker there is new, you can expect a lot of bad players with a lot of money."

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