Rob only needs a few minutes to wipe that stupid grin off your face in a game of online poker.
It's not just that he has more experience than you and uses tools you've never heard of to see real-time statistical analysis of your play. He's also a better card player than you are.
In Amsterdam, Rob gave us a tour of the Palace, where he and some of Europe's top poker players live. It's a beautiful five-storey 1880s building complete with tower, minaret and closed-circuit TV.
Rob doesn't play much in live tournaments yet because he's still cutting his teeth playing online. He plays two or three tables of sit-and-go tournaments, $10 to $20 shorthanded or $100 heads-up (two-player), at a time for eight hours a day, six days a week. He typically makes a few thousand dollars a week, but that varies.
Rob also manages the training floor in the Palace. This is where a few college-age kids earn nine euros an hour playing $100 sit-and-go's. As long as they turn a profit (winning more than 52 per cent of their games), they keep their jobs but none of their winnings. Rob reviews their hand histories, questions them on their play and helps them become better players. The pros upstairs sometimes offer tips, too.
The environment breeds success through pressure, encouragement and a high attrition rate. The kids who survive become great players. When they're good enough, the Palace will bankroll them in live tournaments where they get to keep a small piece of their winnings.
Rob is a nice guy from Vancouver, someone who used to play in indie bands and hang out on Commercial Drive. He helps run a business that eats aspiring poker players for breakfast. He's that nameless, faceless guy silently waiting for you to sit down at his table and challenge him to a game.
There are a few other things you should know before placing bets online.
First of all - and most importantly - the game itself is fair. You always play against other people (not robots with artificial intelligence), and the sites make their rake no matter who wins. The deck isn't stacked in favour of new players or losing players, and the odds of getting good cards or bad cards are virtually the same as they are in Vegas. People who complain about bad RNGs (random number generators) or sites being "fixed" are just angry about their own loose play or bad luck.
While the online poker table is level, the players certainly aren't equally equipped.
Some players use tools like Poker Tracker ( www.pokertracker.com ) to study the hand histories of everyone they've ever played against. Using the GameTime+ add-on program, these stats can be overlayed on their screen in real time. If you're playing against someone using these tools, over time (as the inconsistent value of good luck diminishes) they will understand your play better than you do and empty your wallet.
Subscription service PokerEdge ( www.poker-edge.com ) takes the Poker Tracker idea to the next level. It tracks the play of everyone using the software and - providing exponentially greater data than Poker Tracker - everyone they've ever played against. At last count, 560,685 players on one poker network were being tracked with this software (possibly including you).
When you sit at a table and instantly know the stats for the fish (prey) and the sharks (predators), you become a veritable T. rex eating munchkins in the land of Oz.
Businesses like the Palace all use these tools.
If you don't want to be a munchkin or a T. rex, get off the yellow brick road.
Poker Tracker only supports about 10 sites now, so you have 271 alternatives if you don't want to take or give that advantage ( www.action.pokerpulse.com/rooms.htm offers a complete list of all available online poker rooms).
When selecting a poker site, do your research. Read policies on information privacy, security, collusion prevention and earning deposit bonuses. As well, ensure you protect yourself. Choose a site that allows you to set your own daily, weekly or monthly limits, if you think you can't stay within them. Be responsible, and remember it's supposed to be about entertainment and having fun.
However, if you're going to take playing poker online seriously, keep track of your wins and losses, like all the pros do. Use a notebook or Excel spreadsheet to track sessions, and keep good notes. See how well you're doing over time and whether or not you're actually winning.
People who tell you they never lose are lying, and ought to ask themselves a question or 20 ( www.gamblersanonymous.org/20questions.html ).
Even Rob, charming, impressive and fascinating as he is, nearly bored us to death with his bad beat stories.
But he's certainly given many more than he's received.