Winning Hands

Baltimore gets into the action of Texas Hold 'Em poker, with tournaments dealing players in around town.

August 12, 2004|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Las Vegas it's not. But on Thursday nights, Sliders Bar and Grill across from Camden Yards has karaoke downstairs and No Limit Texas Hold 'Em upstairs, with $2 beer for the players.

Texas Hold 'Em has swept into Baltimore and you can play somewhere every day of the week, including the occasional Sunday at the 5th Regiment Armory, and outdoors on Fridays and Saturdays at the yuppie block party on Water Street.

"I love it. It's out of the world," says Darin Loveland, 30, a dealer at Sliders. "It's the Cadillac of poker. The world champion of poker is decided by this game."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Thursday's Today section misstated how the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation benefits from Texas Hold 'Em poker charity tournaments in Baltimore. Mid Atlantic receives proceeds from the tournaments held on Water Street, but not from the tournaments at Sliders Bar and Grill.
The Sun regrets the error.

Texas Hold 'Em has been booming nationwide for a couple of years now. The World Poker Tour blows out everything else when it airs on the Travel Channel. ESPN's World Series of Poker scores 1.9 million viewers per broadcast. Fox Sports' Late Night Poker keeps college guys awake when they should be studying. And Celebrity Poker Showdown on Bravo features such players as Ben Affleck, who supposedly dumped J. Lo for poker and has won as much as $356,400 in a casino tournament.

Affleck's pal Damon's movie Rounders, where he plays a gambler who wins the World Series of Gambling, helped bring a whole generation of new young players to Texas Hold 'Em. In real life, Damon put up $10,000 to play it at the 1998 World Series of Poker and lost on the first day.

Internet poker has brought younger players into the game and hones their skills to championship levels. Chris Moneymaker, 23, a Tennessee accountant with an appropriate name, won the World Series of Poker and $2.5 million on his first try in 2003 after a couple years of Internet play. Even swimmer Michael Phelps plays Texas Hold 'Em, but not for money.

The basics are easy to learn. Loveland gave Jeremy Behringer, 30, a manager at Hooters, the flash card course recently and he came in third in the Sliders tournament.

"This is my first time and I had a great time," Behringer says, after he goes all-in and taps out, meaning he bets everything he has and loses.

Hold 'Em is sort of a variation on seven-card stud poker. You get two cards face down, the "pocket." Pocket aces, a pair of aces in the hole, are much desired. Although a professional deals, a player is designated as the dealer, with a white button on the table. The person next to the button is the "little blind" who must bet no matter what his pocket cards are. The next player is the "big blind," who bets with hole cards unseen, usually twice as much as the little blind. Everybody else has to match or raise the big blind bet. The blinds go up rapidly at the end of the game and have an important effect on player strategy.

The next three cards dealt face up in the middle of the table are called "the flop." They're common cards any players can use. There's another round of betting. Then a fourth card, "fourth street," is dealt face up and bet on. The fifth and last card dealt face up is called "the river." Final bets are made and the best five-card poker hand wins. And bluffing, of course, is an integral part of the game.

A good Hold 'Em player needs skill, luck and nerve. As the old Kenny Rogers song puts it, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." Although perhaps at the Sliders level luck is paramount.

"A novice can sit down and win," says Marsha Coe, a sales rep for Fund Raisers Unlimited which runs the Sliders tournaments for charities, which makes them legal. "You don't have to be a professional poker player to finish in the finals at these tournaments. It's just the nature of tournament play. Anybody can win it. Just the luck of the draw."

The tournament at Sliders benefits the Shock Trauma Center at University of Maryland hospital and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundations, which among other things has funded a Clay- works project in East Baltimore. The independent tournament at the armory benefits the Military Order of Foreign Wars, one of the nation's oldest veterans' organizations. Both tournaments bookmark what's called "re-buy" money for charity.

First, a `buy-in'

You "buy-in" for $50 to get a seat at a table at Sliders. That gets you $1,000 in chips. Re-buys after you lose your first $1,000 are $1,000 worth of chips for $25. You can re-buy as much as you want until half-time. Then there's an "add-on" of $2,000 in chips for $25. After that if you go "all in" -- bet all your chips - and lose, you're out of the game. Last player standing, so to speak, wins the tournament. First, second and third place finishers get all the buy-in money. The re-buys go to charity.

At the Sunday armory tournament, the buy-in is $200, which gets you $10,000 worth of chips. with $100 buy-ins for each additional $10,000 in chips and at half-time there's $10,000 add-on for $75. More than 50 gamblers played at six tables in the William Donald Schaefer Dining Room at the armory, a handsome room with old U.S. flags and lithos of famous Maryland battles. At Sliders, about 30 players filled three tables in the second-floor bar.

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