Caitlin Fox

Johannesburg - She’s beautiful and expressive, so it seems paradoxical that 25-year-old Caitlin Fox has to do the “poker face” thing when she adopts the role of dealer in the legendary World Poker Tournament.

The tournament took place at Emperors Palace at the end of October.

But Fox, a model and former presenter of Craz-e,’s popular kids TV show, also happens to be a poker nut.

She is the female ambassador for the Emperors Palace Poker Classic, the first time a high-powered WPT event was held in South Africa, and part of her job was to host the contestants, flown in from all over the world.

I talked to her to satisfy my curiosity about how someone as unlikely as this beautiful model-cum-TV presenter got into the world of poker.

It turns out I’m a tad prejudiced.

“Because it takes place in casinos, people have this notion of poker being seedy and underworld, but actually poker has a massive following worldwide,” says Fox. “It gets huge TV and press coverage and the WPT holds several international events every year.”

Fox started playing poker at 19, with friends.

“I got bored with just playing, so I started dealing. When you’re dealing, you’re controlling a whole table and you need to be very attentive and perceptive, watching that no one is breaking the rules,” she says.

Being a TV celebrity, it wasn’t long before she was dealing at big poker tournaments, but the WPT is by far the biggest she’s ever been involved in.

The tournament consists of seven world-class poker competitions, with entry fees from $550 (R4 805) right up to the high-roller’s $10 500 entry.

The stakes are high and the pressure to perform is intense. As a dealer, Fox has to remain silent and “poker-faced”, but computer sharp with the rules.

One of the hottest debates in the poker community revolves around the ratio of skill to chance, with many aficionados arguing it is 80 percent skill and 20 percent chance.

“Poker is the only game in a casino where you’re playing other people, not the house, so a lot of it is skill,” she says. “Much of your game relies on how you’re reading the other players’ intentions, which is where the expression ‘poker face’ comes from, and why hats and sunglasses are associated with the game. The aim is to try to bluff the other players. As a dealer, you can have no influence at all.”

Many poker pros, of course, are feverishly working out poker hand percentages and odds.

“Some players stick rigidly to a formula, and others play by instinct. Poker players come in every variety of personalities. But there is no failsafe way to win,” says Fox, who adds that the more you play and observe, the better you get at working out the percentages and stats.

Getting your head around the rules is another steep learning curve. “The rule book is complex and hard to understand, so the best way is to practise, practise, practise. You never stop learning in poker.”

Fox says she spends a lot of time in casinos, but aside from poker doesn’t gamble at all – another debate rages over whether it is gambling or sport. Yet Las Vegas is where she’d love to visit, ideally for the WPT tournament, where the players’ skill levels are the most admirable, and the biggest names in poker will be in attendance.

Fox says poker remains a male-dominated game, but that profile is gradually changing. “It can be intimidating for a woman to be surrounded by male players, but actually the women pros are just as good as the men.”

She encourages women with an interest in Texas Hold ’Em poker, the style played almost universally in competition poker, to get involved. “It’s no picnic, but you’ll learn a lot and it’s good fun,” she says. - The Star