Them Texas fellers, hmmh? Hell. Ah guess they prob’ly made this town, y’ know.…

THERE’S MAYBE A DOZEN OF them left now, men like Ned, wandering through Vegas like Banquo’s ghost in dusty gear, living artifacts of the Pre-Neon Epoch. They were prospectors back then, solitary seekers after Fast Money, picking their way across the Nevada hills in much the same manner as their spiritual descendants plumb the crystal canyons of the Strip in search of the same end.

Las Vegas indulges them fittingly, bestowing on Ned and his cohorts a kind of invisible carte blanche: the freedom to amble in and out, come and go, eat and drink, all on the house, wherever they go. If it’s done in atonement for the broken souls, a karmic redemption for those who paid-their-money-and-took-their-chances, then it’s done in typical Vegas fashion, brassy and ballsy, shoot the works.

Tom Wolfe once observed that when Monte Carlo made its debut as a gambling resort, a world-renowned architect was retained to design the opera house and Sarah Bernhardt read poetry; when Bugsy Siegel inaugurated gambling in Vegas, he hired Abbott and Costello. That, averred Mr. Wolfe, says it all about Las Vegas.

The coffee shop in Binion’s Horseshoe is crowded earlier than normal for a still-dull Vegas afternoon, with prosperous-looking, sports-shorted men milling around, going from table to table to say hello and reminisce, trying to kill time until the four o’clock start of The Game. Just a silver dollar flip away, on the other side of the double row of blackjack tables, the grand finale of the Fourth Annual World Series of Poker is set to take place and gamblers from across the country have homed in on Binion’s like art collectors at a Sotheby’s auction.

In a corner booth an ominous-looking sort, with a Johnny Cash kind of blocky face, deep cleft chin and wavy dark hair, is furtively scribbling on a placemat, buttonholing passersby to ask their opinion on something. At a small table a few feet away, “Treetop” Jack Straus is drinking milk, chatting amiably with a visiting journalist and whoever else stops by. He’d been declared co-champion of the Kansas City Lo-Ball tournament the day before, one of the preliminaries to the World Series, and he remarked as how he was “feeling great and ready to play. Only problem is I lost my glasses. Got propositioned from the rail last night and couldn’t even read the damn note.”

The suspicious placemat scribbler calls over, “Hey, Jack, will you take five to one on yourself?”

Straus, without a moment’s hesitation, replies tiredly, “Naw, I’m feelin’ pretty worn out, give me maybe 12 or 15.”

“How about eight to one?” tries the Johnny Cash look-alike, sporting a monster red ruby on one finger.

“Naw, I don’t think so,” answers Straus, returning to conversation with the much confused journalist. The other man, the suspicious one, arises from his booth and flourishes the placemat while other men crowd around. He is Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, it turns out, protean oddsmaker and Vegas’ town crier, and the placemat doodlings are the official line on the Poker World Series; Straus is the favorite at nine to two.

Like most high-stakes professional gamblers, Jack Straus is from Texas, Houston in his case, and he folds his angular six-five frame around a glass of milk while pondering why that is so: “I think Texans just got a lot more guts has a lot to do with it, most other folks just don’t take the heat when you start playin’ real poker. In Texas you grow up playin’ poker, it’s a Texas game. Jews are generally better at gin rummy, for example, ’cause they’re better at mathematics, but when you get ’round poker, you’re talkin’ about Texas.

I learned how to play from my daddy and been playin’ cards since I was six or seven, just like the rest of these Texas boys. I can remember when I was a kid they’d be shootin’ craps out in the woods. They’d lay a four-by-four piece o’ plywood on the ground and you’d get 50 or 60 cars pulled up in there, people sittin’ round drinkin’ beer and throwin’ dice. At night they’d turn the car lights on and they’d go all weekend.”

Straus is a gambler’s gambler, widely thought to be one of the best all-around card players in the world, equally adept at everything from gin rummy to blackjack and a dozen variations of poker. He was a basketball player at Texas A&M and then taught school until he decided teaching couldn’t support his penchant for betting, and he’s been a professional gambler for the second half of his 42 years. He lives hard, manfully, in the apocryphal tradition of the Texas wheeler-dealer; he has hunted and fished, gambled and gamboled, all over the world, spent his money freely and loosely, generously, win or lose. He has done many of those things that are characteristic of the Texas high-roller, like chartering planes to fly his friends to places like Aruba or Curacao, but he does them without the swagger and bravado that also typify the archetype.

His attorney, Phil Greene, calls Straus “one of the most honestly generous people you’ll ever meet. We used to room together a while back and when I first started practicing law he wanted to help out. I’d just passed my bar exam when he was charged with gambling conspiracy, so he goes out and fires Percy Foreman and hires me! Hell, it was my first trial! When we lost it, I took it pretty hard but you know what old Jack did? He drove me around all night trying to cheer me up. Here was a man who’d just been convicted of a felony and what he was concerned about was how bad I felt.”

Another friend, a codefendant in that same trial, remembers it in somewhat more colorful fashion: “Hell, there musta been a thousand people makin’ book on that one. We opened the trial at 20 to 1 favorites, jes’ runnin’ away with it, see? But then every time someone’d get up to testify, we’d get a new line on it. The thing that really killed us was when they brought a bunch of school kids into the courtroom on one of those classroom trips, y’ know? The damn prosecutin’ attorney gets up an’ points at ’em and starts moanin’ about how we’re responsible for leadin’ them kids straight into Hell or somethin’, and you could see old ladies on the jury startin’ to cry. We finished the trial at 8 to 5 underdogs.”

Although Straus’ conviction was set aside, his legal difficulties are a persistent worry. “I can’t understand why the government spends so much time worryin’ about gamblin’,” he says, “ain’t nobody ever bet a nickel on a football game that didn’t decide for himself that he had just as good a chance of winning it.”

A strange twist of federal law, one that many constitutional lawyers claim negates the right to due process, is currently pressing hard on Jack Straus. The law allows the Internal Revenue Service to exact a ten percent levy on all bets made, won or lost. While straightforward enough at that point, if somewhat stiff, it then takes a curious turn: The IRS can bill you for just about any amount they can conjure up, making no pretense as to its accuracy, and you have no right to protest until after you pay. The IRS is presently claiming that Straus owes them a million and a half dollars and there is considerable side-betting at Binion’s on just how far he win get with his money, should he win, before the IRS swoops in on him.

There’s no other place, really, that the World Series of Poker could be fittingly played than at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino, the home of the highest stakes gambling in the nation. It’s a Texas place, owned and run by Texans, and Benny Binion or his son Jack can always be counted on to cover it if you want to bet some truly outrageous sum on a roll of the dice or flip of the cards. As Jack Straus puts it, ” At other places up here they love you if you got money but they won’t even let you in the door if you don’t. At Binion’s they’ll always welcome you, it’s got Texas hospitality.”

Benny Binion came to Vegas in 1951, just five years after Bugsy Siegel brought in gambling (and, sayeth the Justice Department, the Mob). Binion had grown up in northwest Texas, was a cowboy and a hustler who worked hard and minded his own business, came to run game rooms and bootleg liquor in Dallas and Ft. Worth when the latter was still a whiskey and revolver Hard Town. He was well-liked and well-respected, a precarious duality in the world of professional gambling, and when he took over the run-down hotel that became the Horseshoe, it was natural that Texas gamblers would gravitate in that direction.

The Horseshoe was the first casino in Vegas to have wall-to-wall carpeting and, audaciously apt, Binion threw up a million dollars in cash—a hundred $10,000 bills encased in a double sheet of plastic—smack in front of the never-closed main entrance, a welcome mat that would seem loathsomely brash were it laid out by anyone but a Texan. The tourists file past to gawk and drool, to puzzle over who this Chase character is who got his picture on the $10,000 bill, and to sample the odds at the casino that otherwise proffers the prettiest women, the stiffest drinks, and the best Mexican food in town. Chill Wills, who concocted the recipe for the restaurant’s chili, is a Horseshoe habitue, regaling the occasional journalist with apocalyptic stories about the Great Beeville Hijacking or Lone Wolf Gonzalez of the Texas Rangers.

Wills and Binion have known each other for five decades, have been, together with Johnny Moss, the members of a tough-luck-to-gold-dust trio that extends clear back to their mutual service as West Texas paperboys. Moss, of Lubbock and Odessa, is one of the legendary figures of professional gambling, a man who once won five million dollars at cards only to lose it at craps, who another time ran a $1000 stake into a half million playing hard road poker just in time to payoff a debt that had earned him a price on his head, who yet another time dropped a $250,000 pot to one-time mobster Nick “The Greek” Dodario in a fabled game of five-card stud.

He looks like everybody’s German grandfather, balding white hair and sparkly blue eyes, but admits to having “knowed maybe 50 thieves and 15 or 20 killers.” He ran the card room at Binion’s for years, helping to earn its reputation for the world’s richest poker pots, the setting for historic games that could climb as high as a half-million dollars in a single hand. He’s nearing 70 now and many of the other professionals feel he’s past his prime; in the month prior to the World Series, he lost “an easy quarter million” at the Aladdin, home of the second richest poker pots, and, said another player, “I don’t care how much money a man has, that’s just got to hurt him.”

Moss had won the first two World Series, in 1970 and ’71. Last year he was eliminated when Adrian “Texas Dolly” Doyle, of Ft. Worth, filled a Heart flush on a 28 to 1 draw. The winner then was Tom “Amarillo Slim” Preston.

Rail-thin and ebullient, Slim has done for professional poker what Bobby Fischer did for chess, pulling it out of back room obscurity and putting it on Johnny Carson. The mass media has “took a hankerin'” to him and he plays it to the hilt, wearing Stetsons and anteater-hide boots, speaking in a sllooowww draawwwull that sounds like Jackie Cooper at 331/3. He is zesty and quotable, with a 10-gallon hatful of one-liners, and he really is from Amarillo (“Jes’ a li’le ol’ place. Population don’t grow much ‘cuz ever’ time a woman gets pregnant a man leaves town.”). Most of his colleagues rate him only a “middlin'” poker player, but they admit he’s done a lot for the game.

Slim once phoned Johnny Moss and suggested they fly to London where he’d been “given t’understand there’us a poker game in progress.” On arrival they discovered the game to be something called hari-kari.

“How d’ya figure ya play it?” Slim asked.

“Don’t know,” answered Moss, “but if it’s poker, it’ll take us about five minutes to figure it out.”

Slim and Moss then proceeded, as Slim recalls it, “to do us a little work on thet balance o’ payments problem.”

The World Series of Poker is to card-sharping what the All-Star Game is to baseball, bringing together at the same kidney-shaped baize table the best poker players in the world. It’s about the only time when more than a couple of them can be found in the same game because, as Slim puts it, “Why, it’d be like us takin’ in each other’s wash fer a livin’. Us fellers got a livin’ to make and we surely ain’t gonna make much just offen each other.”

Nor, though individual pots may go as high as 50 or 60 grand, is it the highest stakes poker game in town; those are saved for more private places where the IRS can’t see them.

All it is, says Slim, “is the goddamnest best poker game in the knowed world.”

Jack Binion and Jimmy the Greek are scurrying around, getting the tables in place, counting out chips, adjusting lights, deciding who gets passes to cross the rail. Bobby Brazil comes in, longhaired and 25 years old, a last-minute entry. He admits to losing $300,000 in six months and allows as how his parents are fronting him the $10,000 buy-in price. The reporters put him down as a ringer and snicker. Jimmy the Greek, who’s seen him play (who’s seen them all play) calls him a “helluva little poker player” and puts him down at ten to one.

Slim comes in, hat thrown back on his head and coat over his shoulder (“Le’s go, Ah’m ray-deee!”), with a fistful of black $100 chips. “Y’all want some?” he calls to the crowd and, thus prompted, gives his best Juan Marichal high-kicker windup and flings into the greedy cavern of Binion’s…dollar chips. The black ones are still in his hand.

“I wish’t he’d athrowed them black ‘uns,” mutters one of the other players, a little annoyed. “Woulda served ‘im rahght.” Poker is a game of silent courage and sublimated paranoia, where one’s “cool” is as important in itself as it is a determinant of success, and Slim’s showboating does not go down well with many of the others.

Walter “Pug” (for Puggy-Wuggy) Pearson saunters in, fat cigar in fat mouth, looking like he’s between acts as a circus clown. A native Tennesseean, Pug is rated with Straus and Moss as one of the best three all around card players alive, and is the only non-Texan counted as a contender to win the tournament. He’s come in second for the last two years (“just like the Dallas Cowboys,” says Jimmy the Greek).

There are, in all, 13 players. Each has bought in at $10,000 apiece and the game will go on until one of them has all $130,000 in front of him. Of the 13, eight are Texans.

The game they are playing is Hold ‘Em, a variation on seven card stud that has become the big money poker game. Crandall Addington, a San Antonian who is flashy and urbane in the style of the old riverboat gamblers, says “Hold ‘Em is to other kinds of poker what chess is to checkers.”

Slim, a little less analytical calls it “a real ball-cracker of a game.”

There are to be two tables to start off, and the players draw for seats; after three are eliminated, the 10 survivors will redraw and consolidate at one table. The tables break somewhat unevenly. At the smaller one off to the corner, the one with six players, are all three top-ranked (by Jimmy the Greek) favorites, Straus, Moss, and Texas Dolly Doyle, plus Slim, Crandall Addington and Bobby Brazil. Slim offers seven to five that the winner comes from his table and gets no takers.

Jimmy the Greek is giving three to two that the first man out is Sherman Lanier, a quiet, bookish-looking pawn-broker from New Orleans. Lanier’s a comparative stranger at Binion’s and there are no takers here either.

The game gets started slow and easy, players feeling each other out, the ante set at a paltry $25. It moves through the first evening of what everyone knows will be at least a few days of poker (last year it took five) and they’re loose, relaxed, joshing each other. Slim takes the first biggish pot, calling a bluff by Straus with a weak pair of Queens for $5,000.

The kibbitzers who have rail passes, most of them big-stakes players themselves, have finished laying their side bets and are discussing the finer points of poker and the Poker Stars. “Johnny (Moss) ain’t gonna do too good early on,” says one,” “but if he’s still there when it gets short-handed, he’ll be hell.” “Jack’s (Straus) an aggressive player,” opines another. “He won’t be able to take this sittin’ for long; he’ll start movin’ them chips pretty soon.”

Straus raises two grand to Texas Dolly and takes the pot with a pair of Jacks. Slim is playing to the crowd and the cameras, allowing as how these movie fellers has been talkin’ to’m about this here show called Amarillo Tarzan. At the other table, Bobby “The Wizard” Hoff, of Houston, is running hot, draws to a spade flush and fills it, taking $2,000 from Pug. (“We call him The Wizard,” yells Doyle, “’cause he can make whole mountains of black checks just disappear.”)

Slim, again to the crowd: “y’all know why this game’s a-goin’ so slow. It’s ‘cuz these peckerwoods done read mah book.” Slim, needless to say, has written a book about poker (“Six-ninety-five, or 50 dollars fer an autograph’t one.”). His son Bunky, a West Texas State senior, is hawking them outside.

Jack Straus is the first player to “tap in,” to move all his chips into the pot, betting everything on one hand. There’s nothing showing on the board but there are no takers; Straus rakes in about 10 grand. “Prob’ly bluffin’,” muses a bystander, who had nothing to lose to find out.

Bobby Hoff takes another big pot and sips a Heineken’s. His one beer makes him the only player who will drink alcohol for the duration, the rest taking only coffee, iced and hot, orange juice, coke, and mineral water. Slim calls for coffee, “jes’ a little sugar an’ a dirty cup.”

The first break, for 15 minutes, comes at 8 a.m. They’re all still in there, though Sherman Lanier is down to $1900. When they return, the ante and minimum bet are doubled (for the second time) and Slim remarks as how “we started in playin’ cattleman’s poker but this un’s get tin’ up to an oilman’s game now.”

Straus, who’s down three grand, spent the break grousing about the uneven way the tables broke. “They ought to figure up a way to seed ’em, like in tennis or somethin’. That table o’mine’s about twice as tough as that other one.”

Virgie Moss, Johnny’s wife, a friendly but tough-looking West Texas Lady who wears a gargantuan diamond on one hand, says she “won’t let Johnny play poker at all in the house. They just get so nasty when they’re playin’, droppin’ cigarette butts on the rugs and ever’thing.…”

At the first table, Hoff and Pug are beginning a running battle. Hoff is betting and Pug sees him, raises another $2500. There’s an Ace showing on the table, otherwise nothing. A stone cold bluff. Pug had an Ace for a pair and pot. Pug swallows, rolls his cigar in his mouth, spins and flips his chips with the practiced hands of the expert gambler. He calls. Hoff shows his card, a 7 and a 4, nothing. A stone cold bluff. Pug had an Ace for a pair pulls down $32,000 while the crowd cheers. Hoff goes again to the ginger ale.

Next hand, Bobby Hoff is right back again, tapping in with only three cards turned up, a 7, an 8, and a 10. Pug calls him, waits through two more cards and turns up a King and a 10, for a pair. Hoff shows two 8’s in the hole, for three, and the rail gives him three cheers. Two hands later, Hoff fills a full house, 8’s and 4’s, to take $23,000 and more cheers.

It’s moving along into the night and the game is starting to quicken. Lanier is first man out. The second man out is…what’s this…Amarillo Slim, when Jack Straus draws down on a heart flush. Croons Slim, “Oh, them cold, cold hearts,” looking, if not sounding, every bit like Hank Williams.

An underpaid journalist, who’s trying to make it in Vegas with 60 cents in his pocket and feels a little, well, unnerved around all that cash, chances on an old friend: Jack Straus’ secretary, Carol. They chat for a while about how she came to know Straus (“The first time I met him, he came over to the house with two bottles of champagne and said we had to watch the football game. He said he had a lot of money on it and if he won we were ‘going to New Orleans tonight.’ Well, he lost it, and then he was just super depressed and I thought that was pretty rude and I wouldn’t speak with him for a long time.…”) and then talk about what’s doin’ in Vegas. B. B. King, as it happens, is at the Hilton and Dean Scott, a dynamite Houston band in which both have friends, is at the Flamingo.…

Down Fremont Street the line at the Las Vegas Western Union office looks like the soup lines on old Depression photographs. In more ways than one.

Across the street from Binion’s, in the Golden Nugget Saloon, a cluster of ten-gallon hats are playing Hold’Em in the card room. The sign says “No Limit” but pots are ranging between $300 and $500. Small potatoes.

Next to the card room, a man is taking baseball scores off a tickertape and chalking them onto a blackboard. He’s including complete box scores like you can’t even find in the papers any more.

The same tickertape clatters out quotations from the New York Stock Exchange. Only in Las Vegas would men bet, actually bet, on the stock market (odds today are six to five on Armco splitting three for two, ten to one against U.S. Steel closing up, the line on the Dow-Jones is.…) thus fixing with precision the relationship between Las Vegas’ and the rest of America’s economy. Jimmy the Greek used to give odds on plane losses in Indochina. The Justice Department says illicit gambling is the number one industry in the nation.

Puggy-Wuggy Pearson, who doesn’t look at all like a captain of industry, is out front as the second day of the World Series of Poker nears its end. It’s down to him, Straus, Moss and Bobby Brazil. When high-stakes poker is played this short-handed, its played fast and mean; it’s psychology now, like one of the dealers says: “These men don’t playoff of the cards so much as off each other.” Pug is wearing his straw Panama boater today, adding to the psyche a little bit, and Johnny Moss’ face is transparently blank, the practiced result of 50 years of self- induced rigor mortis.

Bobby Brazil goes out when Pug has three Jacks to his two, and the stakes are raised again and they’re playing now with $500 chips. (Says Slim: “Woweee! Now that’s real poker. It ain’t even a oilman’s game no mo’, you gotta be a South American dictator to play them kinda stakes.”) It’s Straus, Moss and Pug, the three recognized greatest poker players in the world, head-to-head.

The vibe is tense. At midnight break Pug is way ahead with 90 grand to 22 for Straus and 18 for Moss. Jimmy the Greek, wearing blue suede shoes with solid gold buckles, is looking tired. Jack Binion, balding, wearing dull plaid suits that look like custom-tailored imitations of Robert Hall’s, is getting edgy.

There’s a 4 of Clubs and 8, Jack of Hearts showing and Johnny Moss pushes in $5000. Jack Straus raises another $10,000. Moss raises again and Straus taps in, moving the pot past $75,000. Straus is boxed; if he was going to tap in he would have wanted to pick his own time to do it, but Moss forced him; he stands up and reaches for his coat, Moss shows his hole cards: two 8’s, for three. Straus has two Hearts in the hole, for four, The next card up is a Diamond. Straus needs another Heart to win. Johnny Moss says he wants to buy insurance out of his pocket to cover his possible losses; he wants two to one but Jack Binion only offers three to two. Crandall Addington covers at two-to-one, bystanders are laying down money furiously, The last card is turned up, a Club. Straus misses the 9 of Hearts by one card. One too many. It’s the second year in a row that Moss has knocked Straus out of the finals and it’s down to him and Pug. A year ago this time, it was Pug and Slim.

Slim’s press agent—or, more accurately, Slim’s publisher’s press agent (” Ah ain’t responsible fer that feller,” cautions Slim. “He belongs to mah publisher.”)—is being thoroughly obnoxious, bouncing off the walls to tell everyone how important Slim’s press conference is going to be. Slim is issuing a challenge this afternoon to Bobby Riggs, the ex-tennis pro and All-Star Vegas Hustler who beat Margaret Court in challenge tennis and now fancies himself the scourge of Women’s Lib. Slim is teaching a woman how to play poker and wants to put her up against Riggs. The notion sounds intriguing but Slim’s agent is such a nuisance that nobody wants to hear about it. (“Thet feller’s almost enuff to make ya stop writing books,” moans Slim.)

Pug has moved into High Psyche and is winning pot after pot, steadily nibbling away at Johnny Moss’ stash of chips. It’s, well, brutal. Moss is doing a Boris Spassky, so thoroughly zonkered that he’s making amateur mistakes, letting Pug take four hands out of every five without even calling, raising only when the cards are all out and it’s obvious what he’s doing. Pug’s grinding him steadily down.

There’s a King showing in the middle of the table and Pug calls over to Slim: “This reminds me of last year when you beat me with two pair, Kings and sixes.” Another card comes up and Moss bets tamely, Pug raises. Another card up, Moss holding tight. He shows his cards, two Queens. Pug shows his: two pair, Kings and sixes. “Called thet one, didn’t ya, Puggy,” howls Slim. The psyche is now Total and it’s only a matter of time.

The last hand is anti-climactic. With three cards up the betting goes until Moss taps in and both players show their hole cards. Neither has anything but they still have two cards coming to fill their hands. Pug is drawing to a Spade flush, Moss to the inside of a nine-to-King straight. Neither one makes it and Pug wins on the strength of a high hole card, an Ace. The crowd cheers and the reporters rush up and Jack Binion comes running in with a giant silver trophy filled with thirteen $100 bills.

Upstairs, Jack Straus is taking a shower, “gettin’ ready to play some poker.” Amarillo Slim and Crandall Addington are at the cashier’s, buying tall stacks of black checks. Johnny Moss is talking to one of his backers. The real high-stakes poker is just getting started.

Hold’Em: The Big Money Game

“HOLD’EM IS A TEXAS GAME,” says Jack Straus, “we wrote the book on it and anyone who knows how to play it learned it from us.”

High stakes poker is a subtle combination of wits, psychology and card sense, with Lady Luck (riverboat folklore to the contrary) being only a marginal ingredient. Hold’Em is designed to catalyze that card-shark chemistry, to make it a game of players rather than cards.

Since it is, essentially, a game for professionals (or almost-professionals) it is nearly always played with a house dealer. A red chip is passed around the table to simulate the position of the dealer, thus requiring each player in turn to open the betting in successive hands. In addition, a set number of players (depending on the number in the game) to the left of the red check “dealer” are required to ante double what the other players ante. Called a “force,” it’s intended, like the other little quirks in Hold’Em, to prevent the “tight” non-bluffing brand of poker that all the textbooks advise as the best way to play. A player who plays close to the belt, or “safe,” betting only when he holds good cards, will be gradually worn down (and out) by the simple momentum of the game.

After the ante, each player is dealt two cards, face down, and a round of betting ensues. Next, a card is “burned,” or discarded a precaution against cheating and three cards are dealt simultaneously face up in the middle of the table, the community cards.

Then comes what is, in high-stakes poker, the crucial round of betting. With two cards stilI to come, the player wilI figure the odds on filIing his best five-card hand based on what he can see at the time (the three community cards and his two hole cards) and bet accordingly. A lot of players fold at this point, figuring the odds to be too long; a decision to stay is generally a commitment to wager some pretty big money whether the cards come or not.

After the betting, another card is burned and another community card dealt face up in the middle. Then another round of betting. At this point, the gambler has a pretty solid notion of what kind of hand he’ll wind up with. More important, the real gambler has a pretty good idea what the other players might have. It’s at this stage that the chips start to move and the stakes climb past five digits; it’s also, for those with the nerve for it, the time when big-money bluffs are made.

Next another card is burned and the last card is dealt, face up in the middle, and the last round of betting takes place. By this time, the professional usually knows, or thinks he knows, what most everyone’s got, and the bets get pretty stiff. If you’ve stayed in to this point on the chance of drawing a card (say, to fill a flush or a full house) and haven’t drawn in, you’re in trouble. You’re already in for a lot of money but it’s going to cost you still more to stay in. Professional poker players never show their cards unless they’re called, and you’ll never know when you’ve been stone bluffed.

Best five card hand wins.