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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
How to play poker on the Internet
Screen grab of PartyPoker.com
Players choose an avatar to represent them at the table
An English chef has won almost $1m (567,419) in an amateur poker tournament in Costa Rica, after qualifying by playing the game online.

About 3,900 gamers had entered the internet poker competition.

BBC News looks at how to play online:

Potential players can enter a growing number of online casinos.

To sign up for an account, they need to provide details such as their e-mail address then choose a playing name and password to receive an activation code.

Recent research has shown many players "switch sex" when selecting their playing name. Women often choose a daring masculine name thinking it makes them appear more experienced and men adopt a "softer" feminine persona thinking it may dupe opponents into believing they will be a pushover on the poker table.

Many sites allow poker enthusiasts to compete in games with "virtual" cash, whether just for fun or to build up their experience of the game.

But once players wish to play with real money they then need to send through payment details. A range of payment options are available including credit cards, money transfers and even posted cheques and bank orders.

Online poker companies make their money through either taking a percentage of the pot - a "rake", or by earning interest on the money deposited with them for playing.

Deal

Once registered, players can select an avatar - an animated character - to represent them and then choose an animated room and table. They are able to see those already seated and the chips those players have.

I know it's hard for people to believe but people die from compulsive gambling

Once the minimum number of players are seated, the game can commence. If no table is available, players can join a waiting list.

Players can choose whether they want to be able to chat with others at the table. Some sites also allow them to play at more than one "table" at a time.

Software is used to ensure the random distribution of cards. Poker guide Gaminggurus.com says they are audited by independent sources but it is in the interest of online casinos to maintain an honest reputation, so that players return.

A button appears to prompt players when it is their turn to make a move.

'Poker face'

Whilst not being in a position to read players' "poker faces", online gamers can assess their opponents by seeing how long they take to play and how often they check their hand.

They can also see each player's "ping" time - the speed with which their computer and internet equipment can process their move.

Players are able to record notes about other online gamers, so that they can remind themselves of previous encounters with them. They can also view statistics on their own playing.

Disconnection

One of the risks with playing on the internet is that a connection can drop out. Sites can take that as meaning the player has folded or allow players to continue playing if they reconnect within a certain time.

Other sites offer protection for longer disconnections. If chosen, this allows players to be considered still in the game - and financially linked to the pot of money that had been created before they were disconnected.

In other instances, disconnection may cause the player to fold. Sites often limit how many times players can stay in games after disconnection, or do not offer disconnection protection at all.

Gamers also have the option to sit out a hand and still watch the game but may be removed after a certain length of idle time.

If players end up in credit and wish to access their winnings, the online casinos can transfer the money into their bank account or send out a cheque.


SEE ALSO
Poker-playing UK chef $1m richer
29 Sep 05 |  Lancashire
The youthful lure of online poker
11 Sep 05 |  Technology
Partygaming joins Footsie index
07 Sep 05 |  Business
Mind games tournament under way
19 Aug 05 |  Manchester
Leaving Las Vegas with $1.1m
26 May 02 |  England



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