19-year-old Annette Obrestad of Norway shook the poker-playing world last September when she won $2 million in the World Series of Poker's first tournament held outside the U.S. Annette_15, as she is known in the poker press, had already won more than $800 grand in internet tournaments.

Her accomplishment is noteworthy in several ways. It demonstrates the international scope of the poker boom, the fact that poker is no longer the pastime only of older men, and that internet play has become an enticing avenue for those who dream of quick riches.

According to The Economist, poker is hot among young people, bolstered by internet "training" and "practice" sites. As evidence of the game's popularity, it points out that poker is surpassed only by football and NASCAR in television viewership. With an estimated 160-180 million players worldwide, the industry may break $20 billion this year. While women are under-represented in this crowd, Annette_15's win will certainly convince more to give the game a try.

Before you jump in to make your millions, though, a few cautions. Not every game is honest, be it on-line or live. Not every site offering to teach you about gambling for free is devoid of interest in your wallet. Most troubling, to me, is the progress being made by programmers in developing poker-playing programs that are now sophisticated enough to beat the average player. In the online poker world, you don't know if the player across the table is real or virtual.

My suggestion? If you want to have fun with poker, get some friends together, set low table stakes, and forget about striking it rich. And never draw three to fill a straight.

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