I caught the tail end of the first run of the 2003 World Series of Poker on ESPN, when Chris Moneymaker won 2.5M in a spirited battle with the word's best poker players. He was an amateur, an online poker player, someone who won a tournament to qualify for the WSOP.
The story was so compelling, the games so interesting, the players so unique, I couldn't help myself. I was hooked.
At some point along the way, I learned the rules, and I was off and running. I play the game plenty, too, but I don't play for money. If I ever do, it'll be for pocket change. In that spirit, here are my rules for playing poker without losing your shirt.
1. Never play for cash online.
Let me simply put it this way: if you think you might become an alcoholic, you don't order up an unlimited supply of beer. Internet gambling is essentially the same thing. You can wager money, from $0.02 a bet to thousands, any time of day. You can play the tables 24/7. As for me and my house, I'm not even willing to dip my little toe in that pool.
2. When you have friends over, play for low stakes.
Even better, play a tournament. Whatever you play, make it a $5 limit. If you'll allow me to use the same analogy I used for rule #1, this is more like social drinking. Safer, and still a lot of fun.
3. If you ever play in a casino of any kind, play a tournament.
There are plenty of inexpensive tournaments, and the competition is fierce. It's good poker, and though you probably won't win a lot to begin with (you may never win, really) you'll learn a lot and you won't lose any more than the cost of the tournament.
These rules certainly don't apply to everyone out there. Especially not professional poker players, for whom online gambling is a major boon. (Work from home! Make your own hours! So much dead money, you don't know what to do with yourself!) But they apply to me, and I intend to keep them as best I can.
In the meantime, if you feel like a little poker, I'm always game!