It's All About the Players

Poker Stars Share Secrets Of Winning With <B>Dan Rather</B>

Even if you don't know Texas Hold 'em from Five Card Stud, you've probably noticed that poker is everywhere these days.

Millions of viewers watch it on television, and there are now thousands of professional players on the tournament circuit. Chances are, your kids may even be playing poker in the basement right now. It's a serious craze among teenagers.

Some of the best poker players in the world show how they win at the game -- not by having the best cards, but by being the best readers of people, and being the best liars.

For 23 years, Robin Galloway has made her living outsmarting and out-deceiving her opponents.

"It's all about deception," says Galloway, who calls herself a grinder. She's not looking for the big kill; she's looking for a steady income.

Her office is the casino. Her goal? To make $5,000 a night. And her strategy? Whatever works.

"It's all about lying," says Galloway. "I mean, poker is a game of lies."

What separates the men from the boys on this battlefield is knowing your enemy. "That guy that has the Gulf ball cap on? I can tell he is new by the way he handles his chips, the way he bets his chips, the amount of money he pushes into a small pot," says Galloway, who's sizing up the players.

"The guy in the blue shirt, when he has a hand, he immediately puts his glasses on. It is a sign of weakness. It tells me that he is afraid that something he does is going to give his hand away."

Galloway read Rather like a dime-store novel. "Show me how you would look at your cards," says Galloway to Rather. She says this is one way for her to spot a beginner at the game.

"Well, I tend to look at mine this way," says Rather.

"OK. OK, now, the guy sitting next to you, he just saw your cards. Believe it or not," says Galloway, laughing. "He just saw your cards."

"Isn't that cheating?" asks Rather.

"Well, that's the part of cheating. It's like if you're gonna show me your cards. It's your responsibility to protect your cards," says Galloway. "So, you want to take the cards and put them out in front of your chips. And you want to cover and be very careful and just look at the corners -- just the corners of the cards. Now, nobody can see your cards."

When you watch one of those big time, big money poker tournaments on TV, Galloway is likely to be there -- but not up on stage. Instead, she plays at tables out on the periphery, trying to take money from guys who've just lost.

"They're mad and they've got to try to get even," says Galloway. "I just wait there for them to come in. I'm so bad. I am so bad."

She's bad … and good. On this night's take, she wins almost $5,000.

At the center table, under the TV lights, the stakes are higher. Here, winners are transformed from backroom card sharks into big-time celebrities.

Daniel Negreanu, a high school dropout, became the 2004 Poker Player of the Year after winning nearly $4.5 million.

"If I come to a table where I'm sitting with eight people that I've never seen before, I think within 15 to 20 minutes, I can have a rough idea how they play poker, based on what they're wearing, based on things they say," says Negreanu.

Jennifer Harman is one of the few female super stars. Harman went to college to become a doctor until she figured gambling was more lucrative. She has won more than a million dollars at tournaments, plus millions more in casino poker rooms.

Does she study the cards, or the people?

"I study the people," says Harman. "Poker is very psychological. You try to get into people's heads. Try to figure out what they're thinking. Try to figure out what they're thinking about you. It's a very complex game."

Chris Ferguson, better known as "Jesus," is one of the brainiest players. He has a Ph.D. in computer science, but dropped studying technical books for analyzing poker players.

"If someone's bluffing, they might throw their chips in very slowly. Whereas, if they have a monster hand, they might naturally go something like this [noise]," says Ferguson. "You might interpret this like, 'Oh, the guy shrugs his shoulders. Oh, he's weak. No, but that's actually a sign of strength. And people wouldn't even be aware that they are doing that."

"That's where poker really gets interesting," adds Negreanu. "When you get to the level of like level one, like what do I have? Level two, what does he have? Level three, like what does he think I have? And then, what does he think I think he thinks I have? There's so much cat and mouse psychology."