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Play against real players with real or play chips.

Who are these people? Better yet, who cares? Why are they on my TV screen for poker online today? Why are they in my paper? What does it say when poker ratings on ESPN are almost as high at 3 a.m. as they are during waking hours? That's right, poker is watched by the thousands across America in the dead of night.

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Moneymaker, you see, turned a $40 online poker tournament entry fee into a $2.5 million payday when he prevailed over more than 800 players.

Modern-day court jesters are being elevated alongside the Miguel Tejadas of the world by the likes of The New York Times, which, on Friday, described poker players this way: "Among the game's breakout stars are Men "The Master" Nguyen, who often sips beer at the table in a pose of nonchalance; and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, whose long locks and dark beard help him resemble the popular depiction of Christ." Boy, is that this week's sign of the coming online poker games or what?

Initially, news.com.au quoted Hachem's wife as saying he was a professional online poker gambler, while Hachem himself said poker is "a real serious hobby of mine." But by the time Channel Nine news went to air, Hachem seemed persistent in saying poker was an occasional interest, and that he was just a mortgage broker who had got lucky. Why the change of heart? The answer is simple: what would the Australian Tax Office think? A professional "sportsman" wins US$7.5 million in a legitimately organised "sporting" contest. Is this taxable? If so, Hachem will have to pay a whopping $4.85 million to the ATO. The standard rule in business is that if you're doing any activity with sole intent to profit, then your net income is usually taxable. However, if to play poker online is a hobby, then the income is not taxable. The fact that the income was sourced overseas would not invalidate these rules.

Go ahead and fast forward to 2005. More than 5,600 players signed up for the main event. I was absolutely shocked to check the second day leader board and see Raymer up there. Not discrediting his ability, but what were the chances of him repeating? I emailed a poker buddy and we got a nice chuckle out of that. Then by Day 3, Raymer had a big lead! Could he really do it again? The formula was adding up. Raymer was still bullying other players around with his big chip stack, something he does really well. He was also getting his online poker chips in during race situations and winning most of them. Guess itís not all just luck, huh?

The wheels finally did come off and Raymer finished in 25th place. Thatís 24 spots higher than he was looking for, obviously. But itís also a monumental event in poker history. Many, including ESPNís Norman Chad, said Dan Harrington reaching final tables in 2003 and 2004 was the greatest achievement ever in poker. Sorry Dan, youíre one of my favorite players to study and watch...but your achievement has been passed up. You have to tip your hat to Greg Raymer to play poker online

Matusow, long known as one of the game's most outspoken and aggressive players, bested 5610 players in the record field of 5,619 before finally running out of chips at the final table of online poker. Matusow's performance earned him a total of $1 million, and continued the string of dominating performances turned in by representatives of standing in the largest poker tournament in history" said Raymond Bitar, CEO of TiltWare, LLC.

Since the first online casino was launched in 1995, Internet gambling has grown exponentially, with estimated revenue of more than $6 billion a year and nearly 2,000 Web sites offering everything from sports betting, lotteries and blackjack to bingo. According to one industry study, 53 percent of those who play poker online rather than in online poker rooms in the United States were female, and the numbers ó like those of women gamblers generally ó are growing.

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