The poker chips were divvied out, $4,000 in play money to each player, and a stack of cards sat in the middle of each of the seven green felt tables.
With the starting call, ÒMay the flop be with you.Ó by host Doug Evans, the games were off and a three-hour Texas HoldÕem tournament, with more than 50 players competing, ensued.
Such was the scene Sunday night at Eight Ball, a popular bar and pool hall in Regal Plaza, Cascades. Part of a poker series organized by Stars and Bars Inc., the local pool hall is one of many venues for these free events. With two back-to-back games held twice a week, all types of players show up at the bar for a chance to qualify in the bi-regional tournament.
ÒWe took an existing idea and asked how we can take what theyÕre doing and make it the best possible experience.Ó said John Strycharskie, president of Stars and Bars Inc.
Although the chips used in the tournament series are not backed with real money, a high level of friendly competition still exists. At tournaments players compete to win a seat at the bi-monthly tournament. The top prize for winning the bi-monthly is a free trip to Las Vegas, where the lucky player can test his/her acquired skills with real money. Second place is awarded a free trip to Atlantic City, N.J., and third place wins a $100 Best Buy gift certificate.
ÒTexas HoldÕem is exploding right now.Ó said Strycharskie. ÒIt's AmericaÕs new past time.Ó
Flipping through the television channels, itÕs hard not to find some truth in StrycharskieÕs claim. With the relatively new game reaching worldwide popularity through Internet poker sites, celebrity poker shows and the very popular World Series of Poker the Ònew past-timeÓ is experiencing a level of immediate popularity reminiscent to the dawn of the hula hoop.
Jason Farmer, who has been playing the game for roughly a year said that the best part was Òtrying to figure people out. ItÕs a challenge to figure out tells.Ó In a game that is comprised partially of luck and part bluff, composure is key. A ÒtellÓ is a habit players develop that can give away the quality of their cards. Being able to read players and figure out the strength of their hand based on body language is almost as important as being dealt good cards. Like most players who show up, Farmer claims that the tournament Òis definitely good practice.Ó
An activity that usually requires some amount of money to participate, it can be hard for a new player to get acquainted with the subtleties of the game. But the tournaments held at Eight Ball and other participating bars act as a free hands-on classroom for some.
ÒI came to get the experience,Ó said James Burke, who has been playing the game for two years. ÒItÕs great to play against different people who have different styles.Ó
Burke went on to explain that while most players learn the game playing with their friends, the Stars and Bars tournament series offers a more eclectic experience to learn your own strengths and weaknesses. ÒPeople will call you out on your tell and itÕs for free,Ó he said.
As the hours flew by and people were knocked out of the tournament, a hand shake and condolences were always exchanged amongst players. Both before and after the tournament, the scene was that of old friends and new acquaintances sharing their love for the game. Those who Òbusted outÓ early either shared a spot at the bar or moved on to a game of pool while swapping stories of exciting HoldÕem moments.
ÒItÕs pretty much for fun, but really designed just to learn the game.Ó Strycharskie said of the series. ÒPeople who play have even started to become regulars at the bar.Ó