TJ Cloutier shares tales from the poker trail.
Last year right around this time, a couple of my poker buddies in Dallas asked me if I was willing to play in the $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold'em tournament at Winstar Casino, which is about 80 miles from Dallas. "I've never heard of that tournament," I told them, but they persuaded me to give it a try with them as my backers. So, we drove north to Oklahoma for a new adventure that Thursday night.
About six people each had a little piece of me and I wound up playing for a third of the action. Actually, I thought the whole thing would just be a little fun trip out of town that would make my friends happy. It turned out to be a whole lot than that!
When we got to the Winstar, the tournament was so big they had three starting days with over 300 players in each one of them. On the first two start-days, they played down to the last 33 players and on the third start-day they played down to the last 34 people. So, 100 of us made it to the money and came back for the finals on Sunday with Greg Raymer as tournament host.
I even made it to the final table, where I got drawn out on or I'd have won it. In heads-up play, my opponent needed a 3 on the river to beat me and he caught it. But finishing second for $120,000-which we chopped up three ways, of course-was a nice outcome for a weekend when I wasn't going to be doing anything of importance anyway.
Winstar is on Highway 35 going north out of Dallas right about on the Texas-Oklahoma border. The Chickasaw Nation runs the casino, which has a huge poker room just filled with players from Dallas. I'm on the road all the time, so I hadn't been paying much attention to the action close to home. The marketing guys at the casino asked me to return this year, with my entry fee and expenses paid by the house. Of course I took them up on their offer.
The prize pool has been raised this year to $3 million, three times what it was last year, with 5 starting days and 150 people getting into the money. Every weekend the Winstar has a mega-satellite for the tournament. So last Saturday I drove up there to enter a satellite in the hope of winning one of the seats, which are transferable. There were 382 of us playing for one of 76 seats they were giving away.
We got down to the final 77 players. And there I sat with only $2300 in chips left, which wouldn't have been awful except that I had to take the big blind on the very next hand-and it cost $3000! I figured I was gonna finish on the bubble and lose my $440 entry fee. But I got lucky. Somebody misplayed a hand right about then (I heard he slowplayed two kings and lost about $80,000 on them) and I won a seat, which I sold for the $2100 it costs to enter the tournament this year. So, my little trip north netted me a little over $1600, which was beautiful for me.
The people at Winstar are really nice folks, and it feels good when I walk through the poker room, and so many players say hello and want to shake hands with me. And here's something that I think is really fantastic: Although they upped the entry fee this year to $2,000 with a $2 million guaranteed prize pool, they did not raise the juice! Last year they charged $100 and this year they're still charging $100 entry fee. I wish some of the other casinos across the nation would follow suit.
I owned Oklahoma last year: I played in two tournaments, and finished second at Winstar and first at Scotty Nguyen's tournament at the Cherokee casino. I'll be going back to Winstar on Sunday, August 17, to play my first start-day. I'm hoping to finish in the top 30, of course, because then I can return for the finals the following weekend. This year Annie Duke is coming in to co-host it with Greg Raymer.
That's it for now. My 12-year-old grandson C.J. is visiting Joy and me for a week. Yesterday we saw the new Batman movie, and we're going out to hit some golf balls now. He's big into go-carts, travels all over Texas for races. And his golf swing's not too bad either! Till next week, this is TJ signing off from Texas to the world.
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