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Fame, riches in the cards for the best poker players

| Monday, Jan. 17, 2011

Bob Gartz's three kings weren't enough to keep his dream of poker millions alive yesterday.

The Robinson man was one of many Texas Hold 'Em players who were sent home early from Pennsylvania's first World Series of Poker tournament.

A field of 230 players signed up to play in the day-long tournament in Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane. Play continued late into the night, with the winner due to receive $12,000 in cash and a spot in the $10,000-per-seat World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas this summer. The Las Vegas tournament draws thousands of players vying for a multimillion-dollar prize pool and the fame from advancing in the nationally televised event.

Gartz, a retired Verizon employee, said he stays sharp playing poker at least once a week at a casino or free gaming sites online. He was confident he'd go deep in the tournament, but was eliminated in the first hour of play.

On the decisive hand, he held two kings and a third one was among the community cards available to all players, Gartz bet all his chips. He was beaten by a player who hit a straight.

"With three kings ... I'm going all in. You can count on that," said Gartz, 60. "But that's life. It just didn't work this time."

Players had to pay a $100 buy-in and a $25 entry fee to play in the tournament. In 2009, Darvin Moon of Oakland, Md., a self-described amateur poker player, won a comparable $130 play-in tournament at Wheeling Island Casino in West Virginia, then went on to finish second at the Main Event and win $5.2 million.

Sunday's tournament was the first such qualifier in the state since table games became legal in Pennsylvania in the summer. The Meadows tournament was one of about 300 authorized satellite locations for Main Event qualifiers. Players could qualify through any number of online gaming sites.

The next qualifier tournament at Meadows will be Feb. 13.

Lee Sutch, 70, will be there.

Dressed in a Steelers jacket and scarf with thick black and gold shades, the White Oak man won a similar tournament in Wheeling, W.Va., in 2008 and competed in the Main Event that year.

This time, he fell victim to another player's pocket aces.

"Sometimes (the cards are) right, sometimes they're wrong," Sutch said. "You have to play how you feel."

Jackie Wilson learned poker as a child, peering over her parents' shoulders as they played her aunts and uncles during family get-togethers. She was among the few women players in the tournament.

Expressions are dead giveaways in poker, so she didn't flinch when she won a hand with only one face card showing. There was no a trash talking either; she has to come to know many of her opponents after three years of playing in tournaments.

"It's fun, but we can take it serious sometimes," said Wilson, 48, of Monongahela. "Money's on the line."

The World Series of Poker is the game's longest-running tournament, dating to 1970.

Jonathan Duhamel of Boucherville, Quebec, won last year's Main Event and took home $8.9 million.

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