Poker is making its way out of smoky back rooms and private casino dens and is hitting the travel circuit in a big-money way. And it's not just Vegas anymore, baby. Try Connecticut, Paris, a Caribbean cruise -- and with TV coverage, fat bags of cash and Angie Dickinson. If you know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, then you can join any number of poker competitions while vacationing (or make it a destination unto itself). But if you don't know your jack from your ace, you can still watch the pros up close without risking a cent. -- Andrea Sachs

* POKER EVENTS. You've seen the poker players weep or win on TV, now you can join them at the table. In addition, poker tournaments are held around the globe and are open to anyone with some bucks to throw in (no experience necessary). Here are some events you can watch live or play during your travels.

{scheck} The PokerSchool Online Live Tour holds invitational tournaments worldwide year-round, often overlapping with major competitions. You can play along with a buy-in or view from a safe, non-money-sucking distance. Upcoming events include the Mid-America Poker Classic, July 29-Aug. 9, at the Horseshoe in Tunica, Miss.; Legends of Poker at Los Angeles's Bicycle Casino (July 28-Sept. 5); London's European Poker Classic in October; and the West Caribbean/Panama CardPlayer Cruise on Nov. 11-19. Even if you lose your lunch money, you won't walk away broke: PSO reps hand out free hats.

Info: www.pokerpages.com. Contact the individual casinos for details on lodging and game info.

{scheck} The World Poker Tour, with 15 international events, will be capped by the April 18-24, 2005, championship at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The series began in Paris in mid-July; upcoming contests include the Borgata Poker Open in Atlantic City (Sept. 19-22), the Ultimate Poker Classic (Sept. 28-Oct. 1) in Aruba, and the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut (Nov. 14-17). The tour is open to players and spectators.

Gamblers can enter one of the satellite competitions for $100 or so and win their way up to a WPT tourney (check the tour's Web site for participating casinos), or they can buy-in at the casino for $5,000 to $10,000. A cheaper way (free!) is to just watch. Events can fit 150 to 500 people, depending on the venue. It's first come, first serve; however, as the games can last up to six hours, there is a high turnover, and it's a safe bet you'll get a seat.

Info: 323-850-2888, www.worldpokertour.com.

{scheck} Start planning now to see the 2005 World Series of Poker, as this year's seven-day event recently concluded at Binion's Horseshoe Casino in Vegas. Unlike past years, the next event will be held June 3-July 15 at the Rio casino, with the final two days at Binion's. Details will be available in October.

Info: 877-367-9767, www.harrahs.com/wsop.

{scheck} Watch such stars as Dickinson, Hank Azaria and Mimi Rogers go for broke on the Bravo network's popular "Celebrity Poker Showdown" at Vegas's Palms casino. The casino gives away free tickets a couple of hours to a couple of days before showtime (the next match is set Aug. 15; check www.bravotv.com/Celebrity_Poker_Showdown for upcoming dates, celebs and air times). Simply inquire in the poker room or Club Palms (where you collect your club card). It's first come, first serve, but even if you don't snag the first seating (there are about 200 spots), you'll eventually get in. An hour's wait is normal.

Info: 866-942-7770, www.palms.com.

* PLAYING IN VEGAS AND ATLANTIC CITY. In addition to the satellite games and special events, the casinos in these two gamblin' towns have daily tournaments, often featuring Texas Hold 'Em (buy-ins range from $20 to more than a grand, plus entry fees from $10). At the Bellagio (702-693-7290, www.bellagio.com), for example, Wednesdays and Fridays are tourney days, while the neighboring Mirage (800-777-6537, www.themirage.com) has competitions Thursday through Sunday.

On this coast, try your luck Monday through Friday at Borgata (609-317-1000, www.theborgata.com) and the Trump Taj Mahal (800-825-8888, www.trumptaj.com).

* LEARNING THE TRADE. Spend part of your vacation in class: Many casinos give free lessons, including the Palms (Monday-Friday at noon) and Trump Taj Mahal (see the poker seating controller for daily times). There are no formal classes in the D.C. area, but such online gambling sites as HomePokerGames.com inform poker players of upcoming local games, including times and house rules.

If you're not ready to play for real, tune into the action on TV. Bravo, ESPN and the Travel Channel air some of the high-stakes tourneys -- and you'll have prime viewing from your seat on the sofa.