Small town, BIG Poker

by , Feb 23, 2007 | 10:44 pm

Full HouseAs a Texan, I’ve seen more than a couple large and promising poker tournaments fail to break the buzzosphere, leaving countless hopeful players on the rail. Not to mention the would-be recipients of the charitable breed of such events. Knowing the disappointment first-hand, I can’t begin to tell you how rejuvenating it is to know that poker is not only alive and well in one small Texas town… It’s becoming a King Kong, the likes of which this state has never seen.

About this time last year I received a call from Kyle, a recent poker acquaintance who has since become a good friend. Kyle was inviting me to drive a couple of hours out of my beloved city of Fort Worth to join him and “some friends” for their annual poker tournament. I am almost immediately disinterested. See, I’m a city boy and clearly lack the pick-up truck and most certainly the accompanying gun-rack which I believe might be required to even step foot inside this tournament. But Kyle assures me that I won’t be the only urbanite in the house and so I move on to more important matters.

“What’s the buy-in?”, I ask.


“Wow”. I am impressed. “Okay, so how many do you have so far?”

“Almost 200 players as of right now”.

“…No shit.”

“No shit.”

We talk a little more about the tournament in general and I am pleased to learn that these guys really have it figured out. They started with a small annual tournament which, like all good tournaments, grew extensively each year. I attribute this to what I would find to be a comfortable and inviting good-ol’-boy setting, meshed perfectly with an attentive and knowledgeable floor. And to top it off, each of the 225 players would start with T$10,000, to help us through a great structure, affording us an entire day of poker. At least I hoped.

T.J. Cloutier is in town and a quick call confirms that he has nothing going on this Saturday. We decide that while the stakes are much lower than what he would normally drive out to play in, that this sounds like a good time and worth a look. Saturday rolls around and we are in T.J.’s Tahoe headed west. I had worked on TrueTexasPoker stuff all night and am equipped with about 100 branded glossies and a couple sharpies. Having spent the night at the office working, I’m exhausted and starving. Guys, you haven’t lived until you’ve gotten pre-tournament advice from a poker legend between greasy breakfast bites at the Wafflehouse. I couldn’t help but look around to see if there were any alert poker fans in the place. I find one and he finds T.J.. Which I should say isn’t hard, since he is the biggest guy in most rooms he enters. We finish our meals and I am wondering if the trip back will be as enjoyable.

The closer we get to the ranch, the more and more cars we notice taking the same winding course. One seems to be driving with noticeable intent.

“That’s the driving of a poker player headed to a game.”, TJ says with a short chuckle.

We figure it’s safe to fire Mapquest and do some drafting instead. A short while later we find ourselves at the end of the half-mile long line of nothing but pickups. So noticeably so that even our Tahoe sticks out like Dan Michalski in a straight bar. As the trucks enter the private ranch, players pull to each side of the long dirt road. Tailgates are down and poker stories are being exchanged as T.J. and I make the long walk.

I learned earlier, due to a couple of concerned calls from Joy, that T.J. had left the house without his heart medication. In recent years T.J. has overcome a heart attack as well as a brain aneurism. He reminded me of each, requesting that I slow my pace. Maybe I was excited about what was looking to be the makings of a great turnout indeed. Or maybe I was just uncomfortable from all of the stares as we passed the many players that lined the road. A few cowboys piped up saying, “Will ya look here. Somebody brought himself a ringer”.

“Ehh… Bullshit”, T.J. says with a laugh, fitting right in much better than I ever could. There is no doubt that a Hellmuth or Matusow showing would have warranted a much different greeting. Probably none at all. T.J.’s welcomes, however, were befitting of one of Texas’ Prodigal Sons of Poker. An old and often ornery son, mind you.

Twenty five hand-made poker tables lined the interior of the chilly building which doubled as a dance hall on non-poker weekends. Operator’s nieces and sisters-turned-waitresses busied about making sure all the players were settled and accommodated. T.J. and I found a seat at an empty table and I watched T.J. turn into the epitome of a people-watcher. I could tell that he appreciated the honesty of the environment, yet was already hard at work sizing up the field with his legendary observation skills. An older woman asked for an autograph, which he was obliged to provide. Then came another and another. Pretty soon there was a line clear across the room. T.J. signed hats, shirts, and pretty much anything else they put in front of him. Cell phones snapped photos as I really began to appreciate what he was able to do for the players of this small town tournament.

There was a delay in the start of the tournament, due to a data loss on the laptop that was running the software. So while Kyle and Doc were hard at work re-entering the 225 players, T.J. was busy putting on an impromptu Chinese Poker clinic at table fourteen. Not long after that we heard the brief feedback of the house mic, a welcomed sign that we would soon be underway.

“Doc”, as he’s called, is a charming straight shooter and the esteemed organizer of the event. I watch and am quite impressed at the simple, casual, and matter-of-fact manner in which he addresses the crowd. He thanks everybody for coming and goes over a few house rules, advising players to keep it fun and friendly. He then goes on to say that should anybody get out of line that he’ll be the one to handle them. Doc isn’t a large man, but something about the assuredness of his declaration made me believed that he would have no problem keeping his word. T.J. is then invited to greet the players and seems to genuinely appreciate the honor. And with that, it’s time to shuffle up and deal.

Okay, at this point I am terribly concerned that I am boring the shit out of you. I didn’t intend to write a book when I set down to make this post, but find myself wanted to share every bit of this tournament’s charm, as well as a glimpse into a very memorable day. I may decide to complete this article and welcome your comments/feedback.

I absolutely love this tournament and am looking forward to this year’s event. The field of players has again grown nicely. This time I will look to topple over 300 opponents for my share of the $90,000+ prize pool. I must compliment my friends on what looks to be another great year. Not bad for a couple of country boys. It truly is people like this that earned the great game such a great name.

12 Comments to “Small town, BIG Poker”

  1. SitNGo Steve

    Karridy – please continue the story – I feel like you left us hanging there by stopping right as the action was about to start! And, since I’m playing in the mentioned tournament this year (thank you for the invite and thanks to the wife for giving her blessing on the buy-in without me even having to ask again!) – will T.J. be coming back? If so, how much ass-kissing must I do to hitch a ride with the two of you? 🙂

  2. Karridy

    Thanks Steve. I will most likely post the rest in a part 2. But what I’m really looking forward to is posting about how I took first and you took second in this year’s event!

    T.J. is going to be out of the country and won’t make it this year. 🙁

    See you at tomorrow at the PI ’07!

  3. bundas

    What is the date of the tourny this year? Maybe if I do some name droping I could get an invite . And by the way the Dan sticking out in a striaght bar comment is greatness. I love the way even in a serious post you folks find a way of digging each other

  4. Karridy

    Bundas,.. They have restricted entries to 330 and are full. (300 + 10% for no-shows). I will see that you get an invite next year for sure! Sorry I didn’t mention it earlier.

  5. Bundas

    No issues at all thet just gives me another year to sharpen my skills. and since the big run at the beginning of the year ended I have taken a beating at the tables.

    From December 20th thru Jan 26th including a vegas Trip I was up 10 large.
    since then I have given a large part back.
    but plan on putting a stop to the slide hopfully starting today!!

  6. BenMatlock

    Please finish. Or continue. It’s a great story so far.

  7. Marcus

    Part II needs to be up before the close of business today. Great story so far.

  8. Karridy

    Thanks, Marcus. Coming soon.

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  12. James

    Any entries left brother. Im jonesen for a real down home Texas poker tourney. Thanks Karridy