If you're feeling game, pull up a chair


November 16, 2006|By SAM SESSA

Years after the World Series of Poker sparked nationwide Texas Hold'em fever, the game is still going strong in bars across Baltimore.

One of the larger leagues, World Tavern Poker, sponsors the free tournaments at more than 250 bars around the country -- about 15 in the Baltimore area.

Every Monday night, Maggie Moore's holds World Tavern Poker Texas Hold'em tournaments at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. I went a couple weeks ago and had a blast.

There's no charge to buy in -- you get a mock $5,000 in chips just for signing up. Blinds (the money two people each turn automatically have to bet) start at $100 and $200 and go up every 20 minutes, which makes the game go fast.

The people who finish first, second and third receive $40, $20 and $10 gift certificates to Maggie Moore's, respectively. If they register at worldtavernpoker.com, they can also earn points toward seats at regional and national tournaments. While they suggest you register online, it's not required.

When I went, about 40 people -- almost all men -- signed up and were seated randomly at about a half dozen tables near the bar. My girlfriend Amie, whom I mistakenly identified as pre-med two weeks ago (she's in medical school), and I arrived just after 7 p.m. I entered the first tournament and sat at my table.

Things got intense from the start. On the first hand, the guy sitting just to my right went all in against the guy just to my left. I kept looking left and right like someone watching a game of tennis, until the river card came and the guy on my right lost. In one swift motion, he stood up, snatched the jacket from the back of his chair and stormed off, defeated.

It happened so quickly, the rest of the table and I were in a daze. The gentleman on my left was like: "Did he leave? I was going to buy him a drink and wish him a good game."

Oh, well. I don't know if a sore loser like that would have accepted it.

Soon after Mr. Attitude left, another player from a crowded adjacent table walked over and took his place. The game picked back up again, but I never really caught a break.

My best hand all night was an unsuited ace and five. I anted up, someone raised, and I met it. I wanted to see some cards. The flop (where they turn over three communal cards) had a five, which gave me something, but not much. People started betting like crazy, and I decided to fold. Of course, the next card was an ace, and once I saw the other hands that stayed in, I realized I would have won with two pair. But I was wary of getting too aggressive with such a poor flop.

My hands got worse as the night progressed, and I went out in a blaze of mediocrity after 45 minutes at the table. A little while later, enough people had been knocked out of the tournament that the remaining four or five people at my table combined with one nearby.

I stood up and hung out by the bar for a few minutes to get my bearings.

We were about to leave when three other dudes offered me a seat at a pick-up game they were starting. I agreed, and one more guy joined us to make it a five-man table. After we'd played for a good 45 minutes, Amie started to get restless. I decided to bet fiercely on wimpy hands -- just so I could speed up the game and get knocked out. But nobody would take the bait, and I kept winning pots. I ended up with a streak of strong hands and eventually won the table.

While the tournament was OK, I had more fun with the impromptu game, because nobody was really playing to win. Granted, we all had our game faces on, but we joked around a whole lot more, and there was no tension. I'll bet if I go back there, we'll hit it off again. That's what it's all about, according to World Tavern Poker owner Mike Matsinger.

"Probably the most interesting thing I've learned from starting this company: I thought I was in the poker business," Matsinger said. "Very quickly we realized we were in the community business. When you go out there I think one of the things you're going to find is how many new friendships, relationships, have been created through World Tavern Poker."

The fact that I won definitely gave my night a boost, but I would have enjoyed myself regardless. Give World Tavern Poker a try -- you've got nothing to lose.

Maggie Moore's hosts World Series Poker at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Mondays. The restaurant and bar is at 21 N. Eutaw St. Call 410-837-2100 or go to maggiemoores.com. For a list of other participating bars in Greater Baltimore, go to worldtavernpoker.com.


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