It was difficult for Molly Blakeley-Poland to push her pile of chips toward the center of the table, especially the sparkling gold chips with $10,000 stamped on the sides.
"I'm too scared to bluff, so I only play good hands," she said.
Blakeley-Poland is the co-owner and general manager of Hooligans Saloon and Lodging in Soldotna, but this was no casual game of bar room cards. This was a game of Texas Hold 'Em at the World Tavern Poker Open 2009 National Championships, held Nov. 2 in Las Vegas.
The tour consists of a three-tiered Tavern Championship, Regional Championship, and National Championship structure, so Blakeley-Poland had already played a lot of hands, and beaten a lot of people, to be playing in Sin City. However, she would have to push herself past her normal comfort zone if she was to take the pot.
"The blinds were up to $100,000 and $200,000," she said, referring to the bets players are required to make before seeing any cards.
In her hand she has an unsuited 7 and 2, but she didn't let that stop her.
"I went all-in on a bluff," she said.
The tactic worked. The other players, believing she had the dominant hand, all folded. Blakeley-Poland won the pot.
"It was really cool," she said.
This wasn't the end-game though, just one tense hand of many she played during the competition to take home a ranking, rather than real cash in the amounts they were playing with in chips.
"I played for seven straight hours," she said. "I didn't realize how well I was doing until the first break. I looked around and saw 20 empty tables. I asked someone where the players went, and they said they were all out already."
In the end, Blakeley-Poland bested nearly all of the 188 regional champions.
"I finished in second place," she said." I was the only woman and the only Alaskan to make it to the finals."
While traveling to Las Vegas to compete in a national gaming tournament may seem like a once in a lifetime event, Blakeley-Poland said this is actually the second time it has happened to her.
"About 10 years ago there was a local Monopoly tournament," she said. "I ended up winning that and representing Alaska at the national tournament in Las Vegas. I was the only woman to ever make it that far, and I ended up coming in second there, too."
Blakeley-Poland said she could hardly believe her poker success, since she really doesn't approach playing as seriously as some of her competitors.
"I started doing it to have fun with the patrons in the bar," she said, referring to Hooligans.
"I think having fun is the main thing," she said. "I talk to the other players and the dealers. I don't take it too seriously because if you're not having fun, what's the point."
That being said, Blakeley-Poland hasn't lost sight of the prize that is possible if she wins the next level of tournaments play.
" Everyone who made the final table at the National Championships -- eight of us -- receives a seat at the World Series of Poker, held in May down in Vegas," she said. "Down there, I'll be competing against roughly 300 people, and could possibly win over a million dollars in real cash."
Blakeley-Poland said she could think of a lot of things to do with that kind of cash.
"I'd pay off my house, my mom's house and invest in my kid's college fund, and the rest I'd put into Hooligan to make it an even better place," she said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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