Poker has never been bigger in Vegas than right now | Texas Hold'Em World Series of Poker

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Had I inadvertently plunked down into some sort of conspiracy? Was I the designated sucker of the day? Was the whole world against me?

Yes to all the above. Only after an hour and a half of this galling abuse did it dawn on me that most of the players knew one another. Sure, I had tried to cut an intimidating table image by donning a baseball cap, dark Maui Jim shades and stuffing my ears with an iPod, just like the champs do on TV. Big deal. I was still a one-man all-you-can-eat buffet for my ravenous tablemates.

It's springtime, and that means millions of us regulars are casting a greedy eye on the World Series of Poker. Starting June 1, thousands will compete for six weeks in Vegas for mind-boggling prizes. Last year's top winner -- Malibu producer Jamie Gold, a good but not great player -- took home $12 million. There are only two ways to get into the World Series: Buy a seat for the full-freight price of $10,000 or win a seat by clinching a preliminary "satellite" tournament for as little as $100 or less. And the only way to prepare for one of those tourneys, I figured, was to practice in low-stakes cash games, like the one at the Nugget.

"No, not there!" said Max Ruhlmann, a skilled gambler who has made a solid profit at the poker tables for the last decade. "In a place like that, you're sure to run right into a pro or two

Poker has never been bigger in Vegas than right now. It was almost extinct five years ago, but there are now more than 100 poker rooms in Sin City, and probably two or three new ones added each month. The boom reflects the national poker craze touched off in 2003 by the Travel channel's World Poker Tour, which popularized the use of the "pocket cam," the hidden camera that lets the audience see the hole cards of each player. Overnight, one of the most boring activities to watch on TV became high drama. Throw in the no-limit betting rule in Texas Hold 'Em and you have nothing less than sweet music to Vegas casinos








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