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LAS VEGAS -- Poker's unrelenting popularity growth over the past 18 months has created an army of new players, encouraged casinos to reopen once shuttered poker rooms, spawned an overabundance of poker-related television programs and given birth to countless online poker Web sites.
Now, budding players have a Las Vegas-based school dedicated to Texas hold 'em.
With a professional poker player as the instructor and a curriculum structured much like a college classroom, the Leonard Benson Co.'s Poker Boot Camp has hosted more than 200 students since mid-February.
"We attract new players who want to learn the game, and experienced players who are looking to improve their play," said Jim Sherwood, marketing director for the Poker Boot Camp, which is owned by the Leonard Benson Co., a gaming products supplier.
"A very small percentage of the attendees have expressed a true desire to make poker playing a full-time career, but many are interested in supplementing their income," Sherwood said.
The object of the poker school is to help players either gain the necessary skills -- or the courage -- to feel comfortable sitting at a casino poker table, or to help experienced players "repair the leaks" in their game.
"Poker is hot right now, there's no question about that," Sherwood said. "We researched this market thoroughly and believe our structured training curriculum is the best poker training program."
Angel Largay, a 15-year professional poker player, developed the curriculum, which includes techniques to help players understand their opponents as well as various mathematical formulas on betting strategies throughout the game, bluffing and chip management.
The idea, Largay said, is to give his students an edge in a game that has grown in size and interest. About 90 percent of the players sitting at any given Las Vegas casino poker table don't have much experience.
"The entire preparation for the typical new poker player before sitting down at a table is watching three episodes of the World Poker Tour and buying a pair of cool sunglasses," Largay said. "They're hoping to catch a miracle."
Largay, who is originally from Alaska, splits his time between Las Vegas casinos and California card rooms. He doesn't like to play tournaments, saying more money can be earned at regular games in the poker rooms.
"The longtime players love all these new players because that's more money to be made," Largay said. "Think about it, a tourist coming to Las Vegas to play poker isn't going to sit at a table to fold all the time. They're going to play hands, and that's a great turn of events for experienced players."
Novice players can enroll in a four-hour course that explains the fundamentals of the game.
Players can choose between a series of three 15-hour workshops for both limit Texas hold 'em, in which the size of wagers are capped; and no-limit Texas hold 'em, the game made famous during the championship event in the World Series of Poker.
While various discounts and early registration incentives can reduce the cost, attendees regularly pay $99 for the introductory course, and between $395 and $595 for each of the 15-hour workshops that run over a weekend or on five consecutive weeknights.
The classes are taught out of a storefront dealer's school near Tropicana Avenue and Mountain Vista Street, but additional locations are being sought.
During a recent Workshop 201, in which advanced strategies for limit Texas hold 'em play were offered, a high-level discussion on when to raise or call during a certain time with a full table during a Texas hold 'em game hit home with one student.
"That tip right there was worth the price of the class," said Frank Gorrell, a retired gaming employee and self-described poker fanatic who has read some 30 books on the game and debated the strategies of several name poker players with Largay during the class session.
"I have a degree in mathematics, so some of the strategies he offered made a lot of sense," he said. "The courses help me better my skills."
The Poker Boot Camp's first seminars took place in November and tested the market's interest. The full program was launched in February.
The school has been advertised in gaming publications, Las Vegas newspapers, and through local television.
Sherwood said the company hopes to market the school nationally by the end of the year.
Al Clemett, a mechanical engineer from Dallas participating in his second of the three limit workshops, took some of the knowledge he picked up in the workshop and turned it into a profit during an outing at Binion's. Bluffing and wagering to increase the size of a large pot, he won $500 on one hand on the river -- the last of five community cards in a Texas hold 'em game.
"I've always liked blackjack, but I've built up an interest in poker," Clemett said. "I'm planning on taking all the courses because maybe the game might help supplement my income when I retire."
Las Vegan Chris Salum, 34, was one of the youngest students in the workshop. After learning the game online, decided he wanted to venture to the casinos.
"The classes have given me a better perspective about the game," Salum said. "I'm more comfortable and I think I've gained a bit of an edge."
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