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Penguins' Talbot hopes to call a few bluffs at poker World Series

| Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Maxime Talbot loves playing hockey and, perhaps even more, talking about it. The enjoyment he gets from playing the sport is difficult to disguise.

Starting Friday, Talbot will enter a new arena in which the passion and personality he brings to hockey must hide behind a poker face.

Talbot isn't a star yet — he had 13 goals and 24 points in 75 games last season — but he was good enough to beat Martin Brodeur, Bryan McCabe, Sheldon Souray, Simon Gagne and 11 others in a televised charity poker tournament for current or former NHL players.

By winning a tournament that was taped for Canadian television last summer, Talbot won a free trip to the World Series of Poker that starts Friday in Las Vegas.

Most of the estimated 9,000 World Series of Poker contestants pay a $10,000 fee to enter a tournament in which the winner collects about $15 million.

"Actually, I'm pretty bad," said Talbot, who won $20,000 for a designated charity for winning the NHL players tournament. "I guess I got lucky to win that position out there when I won that tournament."

Poker is one sport where strategy, technique and an ability to bluff can outweigh a lack of experience. Some previous World Series of Poker contestants, such as Anna Benson, the wife of major league pitcher Kris Benson, played for only a few weeks before entering. Almost every tournament features a previously unknown player who advances deep into the event.

As Talbot is fast learning, luck often plays a big role in poker — much like an NHL game can be decided by a puck that accidentally deflects off a skate or takes a tricky bounce.

"I don't know how well it's going to go or how bad it's going to go, but I'm excited about that," Talbot said. "I don't want to expect too much because I can be really disappointed, but I'm sure I'll enjoy it."

That's why Talbot is hoping his experience as a pro athlete might compensate in part for his lack of experience in play-for-money poker events.

"I'm pretty good at bluffing. I don't know, maybe it's because I don't care that much," he said. "I'm not a liar, but I guess I can play with people's minds and I'm pretty excited to do that."

Talbot has known for nearly a year he would be competing in Las Vegas, but he did nothing special over that time to prepare. Most of his poker experience comes from playing on Penguins road trips or with his family.

"I don't want to lose in the first hand — everybody's going to laugh at me if I do — so hopefully I'll make it out of the first day," he said. "That's my objective, but after that it's only luck."

He has a game plan, too.

"I'm going to be really aggressive. All these players are paying $10,000 to play, so I can be a little bit more loose, there's no pressure," he said.

Should he defy all odds and win a ton of money, might the 23-year-old forward from Lemoyne, Quebec, give up playing hockey and turn poker pro?

"Definitely not," he said. "I'd be signing here for the minimum salary and just be happy to play. I love it too much."

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