Eleven million people play online poker; 10,999,999 of ’em win, usually $2,000 each. No doubt you know one of the 10,999,999 — Uncle Bob’s strange friend who wears a topcoat in the summer, the nerdy college kid down the street, the librarian with the darting eyes. The only problem these folks have is how to declare the $2,000 on their income tax, because they’re honest and online poker is illegal. I, on the other hand, have no tax problem because I lose — $100 each year. How my $100 loss generates the $21 billion necessary to pay off all the winners escapes me. Obviously I don’t understand simple math — one reason, I suppose, that I lose. You can learn from my mistakes. Each January I weigh the same question: Spend $100 on poker or $100 for a few months in a health club? Shuffle up and deal! You win! Download the software, and let’s begin your triumphant journey. Your first challenge is to select a screen name, always known as your “moniker” in poker parlance; it’s the name you’ll take to the table with you. A proper moniker is key to success; it declares your poker prowess, strikes fear into the hearts of your opponents, authenticates your raw intelligence, and lets everyone know that you are one powerful poker dude or dudess. Two categories of monikers are acceptable. The geographic moniker is preferred: Amarillo Slim, Montana Fats, Georgia Slim, Dakota Fats, Brooklyn Slim, Chicago Fats, Melbourne Slim, England Fats, Amazon Slim, South Auckland Fats. Unfortunately, all geography, with the exception of Lake Titicaca, is already taken, so unless you’re a 10-year-boy with time for all-day giggling, you’ll probably want to use the power-moniker convention. The power moniker must always be preceded by “the” — for example, the Mongoose, the Matador, the Professor, the Surgeon, the Terminator, the Hammer, the Liposuction, the Patriot Act, the Shoe, the Top Hat, the Flatiron, the Racecar, the Wheelbarrow, the Thimble. I made my mistake by defying both conventions and using Man with Very Large Head. It strikes no fear; it garners no respect. Step 2: Practice and learn. All sites offer a just-for-fun option during which you will win $4 million in play money in 10 minutes, even if you turn the keyboard over to a meatloaf while you read a how-to book on card values explaining the relative worth of the ace of hearts, the 10 of diamonds, the laminated business card, and the card catalog. Step 3: Master poker talk. Gotta know the talk. All sites allow players to text banter back and forth. These will get you started: “I got a hand like a foot” — after you fold a hand. “Let’s get the clerks out” — after you raise the bet. “Go fish” — after you win a hand. “This $#*!%@ game is nothing but dumb luck” — only applicable to me after I lose my $100. Step 4: Time to send money (make a deposit) to the poker site. This step requires inserting a long thin tube in your left ear to drain all your brains, because you are about to send real live money to an illegal, unmonitored offshore enterprise run by unnamed people. All poker sites offer countless ways for you to make your deposit, and although they highly recommend that you give ’em unencumbered access to all your bank accounts or send compromising photos that they can use to blackmail Bill Gates, I use Western Union. I have a buffer between absolute insanity and the absolute of my money. Western Union requires you send your money to a specific person — poker sites have it covered. I wire $100 to a Sir Wallace Peabody-Bilk in Gibraltar. Another mistake on my part: I don’t trust ’em, and they get even. Step 5: Win. You now have 10 minutes of poker experience — that’s enough. I have 60 years’ experience, and it does me no good. My brothers, sisters, cousins, and I learned to count by playing penny-ante poker with Grandpa Slim. I can still hear his sweet words of poker wisdom: “You! Big-head boy! Never draw one to the flush if ya have ta put in more than one-fourth the pot. One-fifth or less only!” “You! Giant noggin! Always deal draw poker in dealer’s choice so you can see all the other players’ action before you make your decision.” Those, plus 1,000 other rules and —“Grandma Fats, check the size of that boy’s bean! It’s damn near as big as this here poker table.” Eventually I refined the 1,000 rules down to one: Only play poker with drunks — a rule that has served me well enough over the years to break even when I’m in Las Vegas, first by letting me steal the drunk money at poker and then by losing it all betting on football. Final advice: Hurry to it — because next year, if I can find a health club with a three-drink minimum, mandatory cigar smoking, and no tipping the dealer, I’m done with online poker, and the whole monetary foundation of the industry will collapse.