With the hockey season officially unofficially cancelled again, Canadians have been forced to turn to a new sport to give meaning to their empty lives. Thankfully, poker has surfaced to fill that void, and thanks to the recent influx of poker shows on TV, more and more Canadians are following their dreams of becoming international poker superstars like Chris Moneymaker or those other portly, middle-aged, graying white men you've never heard of. How can you join in on this hysteria? Here's what happened:

Study the Game

It's true what they say, poker is a lot like sex. Everybody thinks they're the best at it, but only a very select few have any idea what they're doing. Many novice players think poker is all about luck, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. The way Texas Hold ‘Em works is like this: Every player is dealt two private cards, and then five cards are shared among all the players at the table. The person with the best hand wins money. Everybody else loses money. All skill, baby. All skill.

Play With Other Psychotics Online

Now that you have a complete understanding of poker thanks to the previous paragraph, you possess all the skills you need to “get your feet wet,” as they say at poker tables around the world. Here they are speaking metaphorically, I believe, because it wouldn't really make sense to play poker with wet feet. You might get pneumonia or at the very least smelly socks. Online poker is huge these days, and there are hundreds of websites that allow you to play with a limitless number of people who I find very scary myself. These people sit at online poker rooms for dozens of hours at a time, surviving entirely on beef jerky and Dr. Pepper. Now's your chance to be one of them! Nobody said becoming an international poker phenom that nobody's ever heard of was going to be easy.

Practice Chip Tricks

After approximately 800,000 hours of online play, you might be ready to play a real live game of poker. But before you can be deemed worthy to touch real cards by the poker god Pokey III, you must learn the most important poker skill of all: Chip tricks. If you watch poker on TV, and I really hope you don't, you'll see that all the greats like… um… that fat bald guy with the handlebar moustache, or the Chinese guy who doesn't look Chinese at all, ALL these guys are expert at chip tricks. They can do the chip shuffle, the chip spin, the chip Macarena, the amazing incredible disappearing chip stack, the works. These guys are masters of playing with their chips, and you should be too. You've got to have something to keep yourself occupied if you're going to be sitting at a table full of ugly people for hours on end.

Learn to Bluff

Bluffing, also known as lying, is something people practice every day, often without knowing it. When you tell that girl at the bar that you're an astronaut, you're not actually lying to her. You're practicing your poker skills. When you're sitting at a poker table, everything you say and do will be quietly judged by the other players, so you should make sure never to tell the truth about anything, no matter how small or insignificant. The best way to get good at bluffing is to practice on your friends and colleagues even while you're not playing poker. Some good bluffs to pull on your friends are: “My parents were just killed and/or dismembered in a car crash. Will you have sex with me?”, “I need twenty thousand dollars for bail money, how quickly could you sell a kidney?” and “I just got my AIDS test back and I'm feeling pretty depressed. Will you have sex with me?” If you get away with any or all of these you've got what it takes to master a card game less complex than Crazy Eights. Can I have your autograph?

Scam Your Friends

This step may be omitted by the majority of my readers, due to an obvious lack of friends to scam. This is because market research and focus group testing has indicated that a whopping 98% of Text-Heavy fans believe that tin foil hats will prevent the government from broadcasting signals into their head. The remaining two percent belong to NAMBLA. But if you DON'T read this column then now's your chance to trick your friends out of very small amounts of money. You'd be amazed how far a few chip tricks and over 1 million hours logged online will take you. Perhaps you could arrange a “poker night” at your house or your mom's house, where you invite ten or so people over and quickly relieve them of twenty dollars each. That ought to sustain the coke and whores habit a few more months.

Perfect the Lingo

One of the hardest things to learn about poker is all the jargon that is associated with the game. Although it's possible to play poker expertly without knowing a word of terminology, you wouldn't want Chris Moneymaker making fun of you because you went “all-in” with “Big Slick” on “the pre-flop,” would you? WOULD YOU? Because I sure wouldn't, boy howdy. The best way to learn all this confusing, arbitrary and mostly made-up terminology is to increase your time logged online above 3 million hours. That way you'll absorb the lingo through osmosis, which as far as you know is another word I just made up.

Know Your Tells

You ever see professional poker players wearing sunglasses and wonder why they would do that in a dark, smoke filled casino? It's because poker players “in the know” want to avoid giving away any “tells,” which let the other players know what the heck you're hiding. The eyes are one of the biggest tells in poker, hence the glasses, and I can totally understand this. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've stared into the eyes of a loved one, you know, really gaze deep inside them, maybe on a date, and it was just totally obvious they were protecting pocket aces with a flush draw. If you can't afford an expensive pair of sunglasses the alternative is to gouge your eyes out with a Phillips-head screwdriver. It's a small price to pay to cover your tells.

Enter a Live Tournament

Ok, you've logged sixteen trillion hours at the online poker rooms, and driven your friends and their friends into a life of poverty and squalor. Now you're ready for the real deal: a casino poker tournament. The big tournaments usually have an entry fee between 5 and 10 thousand dollars, plus the cost of a plane ticket and hotel room in Las Vegas ($8). Bear in mind thousands of people enter these tournaments, and only 10 or so come away with any money at all, so you'd better be sure you know what you're doing. Even still, you will get a run of bad cards and be ousted from the tournament within 12 minutes, and the play-by-play man will blame it on your lack of experience and immaturity. I don't get it either.

Start Rebuilding your Life Savings

Well, that was fun, wasn't it? Now that you've been eliminated from the tournament, your poker journey is over. It's been a good run, but it's time to return to your normal life back home, assuming you didn't have to sell your home in order to pay the entry fee for the tournament. In any event, you're probably going to need a few months to get your life back in order, and maybe write a letter to your attorney explaining how you just spent your inheritance on gambling (it's gambling, remember?). You should probably also attend some meetings to get yourself off the wagon.

Take Up an Easier Sport

Now that poker has been accepted as a legitimate sport, despite the fact that it takes less physical and brain prowess to play than it does to operate a McDonald's cash register, it's only a matter of time before other common day-to-day activities become legitimized. This is good news for you, the washed-up poker player, because even if you don't have the skills for Hold ‘Em you could still become world champion at an equally demanding sport, like taking out the garbage, watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman Marathons (harder than it sounds) or writing weekly “comedy” newsletters for the Internet (way easier than it sounds). The most important thing to remember is to never give up, follow your dreams, and someday you too might accomplish something irrelevant yet impressive. See you at the tables!