Leo Sanchez Sr., left, Ed Dillon, standing, and Tony Crawford prepare for a game of Texas Hold 'Em poker Jan. 16 at the Rainbow Bar in Kenai.
Photos by John Hult
Shannon Olson checks her two cards then looks across the octagonal, felt-topped table at Ed Dillon with a “bring it on” smirk.
“All right, its time to play hard ball,” she says.
With one fluid motion, Olson grabs a pile of chips in each hand, slams them down on the table, puts her chin in her palm and raises her eyebrows in Dillon’s direction. Her husband, Kiven, sitting to her right, counts the chips, meticulously and quickly.
“That’s 1,500 in,” he says in a authoritative dealer’s cadence.
Olson calls Dillon. She wins with a pair of tens.
Ten years ago, only hard-core poker fans could tell you what Texas Hold ’Em was. With the advent of the Internet’s always-on poker room and a never-ending parade of Texas Hold ’Em television programs, the term indeed, the game has become a part of the national identity.
There are three venues for Texas Hold ’Em in the Kenai area the Rainbow Bar in Kenai, where the above scenario played out Monday night, George’s Casino in Kenai and The Place Bar and Grill in North Kenai.
According to Dillon, who runs the Rainbow’s “Kenai Poker Challenge,” the games have been a long time coming. In Anchorage, there is always a tournament going on somewhere.
“In Anchorage, they have it at almost every bar,” Dillon said.
The Rainbow Bar actually is a late arrival to Texas Hold ’Em on the peninsula, as its first tournament started in late December. The Place and George’s hold four games a week Mondays and Sundays at the Place; Wednesday and Saturdays at George’s and this has been the case since August.
All the venues play for chips and give away prizes at the end of tournaments to the winners no one loses real money. The venues also hand out $1,500 worth of chips to anyone who walks in the door, and players get more chips for the next game for finishing near the top on a given night.
“It’s really friendly, a lot of joking around,” said Jason Miller, who organizes the action at George’s and The Place. “It’s a good learning environment, because the experienced players are willing to help out.”
So far in George’s and Place tournaments (two are complete, and the third finishes this weekend), the venues have given away trips to Las Vegas and Hawaii.
The winner of the current tournament will win a $1,500 seat in a national satellite tournament. According to Miller, a partner in the Casino who goes half on the prizes with The Place’s John “Grizz” Young, the trips seem like big investments, but in the end it makes for good business.
“You get 60 people a night,” Miller said of the tournaments, which run for several months. “It ends up being cheaper than hiring a band.”
At the Rainbow, the winner in the final round on Feb. 13 will win a flat-screen television. That is also the day a new tournament starts.
In Texas Hold ’Em, there are only two unknown cards, and five end up on the table throughout the hand. The fact that everyone at the table is using the same hand to build on and they only have two cards to build their hand with makes it a simpler game to master, too.
“I think it’s easier to play than most other poker, and it’s a blast,” Dillon said. “I was always a seven-card stud guy until I learned this.”
There are other factors, as well.
“The biggest money and the biggest purses on TV are given away with that game,” Miller said. “More than other games, too, you have to be lucky. Being good isn’t enough.”
Luck is a big part of the game, but any poker player will tell you how important it is to read the other players. As cards are turned over, a raise of the eyebrow, a roll of the eyes or a creeping smile can give a player away. Faking it bluffing or pretending to bluff can pad a player’s chip collection as well as a good hand, sometimes even better. Calling the bluff of another can do the same thing.
According to Shannon Olson, who has played the game in Vegas with husband (they’ve both been there more than once), reading people and feeling lucky are the most important parts of Texas Hold ’Em strategy, and everyone has a different style to read. One style is particularly popular, she said.
“Most often, it’s bulls-ing,” Olson said. “Everybody has their little giveaways. If you watch well enough, you can learn to figure those things out.”
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