Poker fever

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So I’ve been watching a lot of the Travel Channel lately, and I’m not planning a trip to the beautiful beaches of Rio de Janeiro.

I watch the Travel Channel because it has The World Poker Tour, the third-best show on television behind ESPN’s World Series of Poker and Joe Millionaire.


I watch these shows because I, like many others around the nation, have Poker Fever. My doctor is 2003 World Series champ Chris Moneymaker (yes, that’s his real name). My pills are straight flushes and full houses. My hospital is somewhere between “the turn” and “the river.”


Poker is one of the fastest-growing games in America. The grand prize at the World Series, which is determined by the number of people entered in the tournament, started at $30,000 in 1971 and now sits at $2.5 million. Moneymaker made more money (ah! the alliteration!) for his victory in April than some baseball players will make for their roles in the piddling “real” World Series.


For many college students, the transition from drinking games to money games is as easy as a pair of jacks. It makes sense. We’re making our own cash for the first time, we’re smart enough not to spend it all and the allure of risking money is fresh and new. We don’t go to casinos to blow tons of cash, we go to make $10 on the tables and $30 in free drinks. Where’s the harm in that?


On Monday nights, a few friends and I live out the Unique Casino World Series of Poker in our living rooms. We play No Limit Hold ‘Em and Omaha, Good-Bad and Chicago.


Johnny Law, if you’re reading this, we don’t play for money. We play for pats on the back. We’re all about supporting one another.


Just like any regular poker game, we have our characters around the table. We call one guy “Casino” because he drives to Seven Feathers every Friday, by himself, to play in an almost-free Hold ‘Em tournament. Another guy is “The Face” because his countenance is concrete for four hours on Mondays.


We’re playing t-ball in a land of baseball players, but we don’t mind. We know there’s not a whole lot of bluffing going on. We don’t check-raise or figure out the percentages of our down cards like they do on the World Series. We play a lot of “free poker,” when everybody checks and nobody bets (pats on the back, that is). If they did this at the World Series, the dealer would slap everyone across the face three times.


We keep “Rounders,” the only true poker movie out there, on “repeat” in the DVD player. We adopt our best Russian accents to mimic John Malkovich’s character, Teddy KGB. We say “Take eeet dowwn” and “Paaay that man his moo-nee.” We eat Oreos and twist them around just like the KGB.


But even “Rounders” defers to the World Series in the end. One of the best scenes in the movie comes when Matt Damon is watching an old World Series on tape and rejecting Famke Janssen’s advances. Johnny Chan, the greatest poker player of the current generation, is on the screen, and nothing will derail the Damon train off its World Series tracks. Good stuff.


The World Series is the thing. It gives every poker player in the nation, a group that’s growing by the month, a chance to win the biggest pot at the end of the biggest rainbow. Moneymaker is a prime example. He bought into an online tournament for $40 and ended up with a stack of cash that would make Donald Trump blush.


And while the Monday night lights of my living room might be worlds away from the clockless land of Las Vegas, we don’t care. When you’re staring down three queens and two aces, both places are one.




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