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Best of John Grochowski

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On the Tournament Circuit

28 September 2004

When Harrah's East Chicago held its celebrity poker tournament for charity on July 20, all eyes were on Tom McEvoy.

At least both of mine were. The collection of celebs and media creatures that filled the tables in Harrah's poker room included one ringer. McEvoy is a big name in professional poker circles, with a resume of tournament victories that includes four World Series of Poker titles, including the 1983 no-limit Texas Hold'em championship.

But in the end, the cards rung up the ringer as McEvoy went all in against Bonnie DeShong of WSRB-FM (106.3). On the river - the last card in Texas Hold'em - DeShong caught the Queen that filled out a Queens over Aces full house, sending her to the final table and McEvoy out of the tournament.

"I did it?" she asked excitedly as she was told she'd won the big pot. "What did I do?"

What she did was to outlast everyone and become the day's big winner. That was worth a $5,000 donation from Harrah's to be split between her two designated charities, South Central Community Services Inc. and PLCCA-Act Inc. Harrah's donated another $1,000 to Friends of Michael Williams, the charity designated by runner-up John Jurcovic of ESPN Radio, and $500 to Sheridan Carroll Charitable Works, designated by third-place Ben Ponzio of WKQX-FM (101.1).

As for me, I was never really in the running. The hand that eliminated me narrowed the field to two tables, but the handwriting was on the wall long before that at a table filled with familiar faces - McEvoy among them. Others included Norm Van Lier, the former star Chicago Bulls guard and current Fox Sports Chicago analyst; Neil Flynn of the NBC sitcom "Scrubs"; Jesse Rogers of WSCR-AM (670); Jurcovic; Gus Rose, the "Reluctant Gambler" columnist at Star Publications, and others.

Friends had joked that I'd wind up at a table full of pros, but I had to do a double-take when I saw McEvoy two seats to my left. I turned to Rose. "I guess we know who's taking us out," I said, nodding toward McEvoy.

Gus did his own double-take.

As it turned out, McEvoy didn't need to take me out. The antes and blinds did a nice job of that all on their own. We started with $2,000 worth of non-negotiable chips, and mine dwindled as I tossed away hand after hand, with no cards worth playing.

Down to my last $300, I went all in on an unsuited Ace-Jack. I paired the Ace, and that turned out to be enough to claim the antes and a portion of a much larger pot. Suddenly, I had $1,800 sitting in front of me.

Back in the game? Not really. On the next hand, I found myself on the big blind with a forced bet of $1,600 and an unsuited 5 and 3 to show for it. So much for my moment of glory. My last few measly chips enabled me to watch the next hand and hope for a miracle, but that was that.

While the survivors finished up play, a band was playing outside on the top deck while waitresses were bringing around beverages and appetizers, all part of Harrah's celebration of its recently completed remodeling. Van Lier, who also had been eliminated, approached.

"I guess they've kicked us both out here," he said, grinning.

Yep. Not a bad consolation prize at all.

***

Just six days earlier, I'd been at Harrah's East Chicago for a tournament shuffle of a different kind.

On July 14, it was video poker. Harrah's has been holding video poker tournaments over the last couple of months, but until this one they'd been restricted to Total Diamond members - a tier above my Total Platinum card.

This time, at least some Total Platinum members received invitations in the mail. I enjoy video poker tournaments, have finished in the money in a couple in Las Vegas and won one during the brief period they were held at Empress in Joliet.

In this one, I spent far longer in line to register than I did actually playing. With 150 players and just a few hours of play from start to finish, sessions were only five minutes each. The top 10 scorers from each of the first-round sessions, along with one randomly drawn also-ran, advanced to the finals for a further five minutes of play.

My session wasn't exactly the most productive five minutes of video poker I've ever played. Tournament play was on Double Double Bonus Poker machines, with a clock counting down the seconds at the center of the screen, one credit meter showing available credits on the right, and a separate meter tallying credits won on the left.

One important part of tournament play is to play fast and give yourself as many chances to hit a big hand as possible. I played 118 hands, but the big ones never came. I never drew anything better than three of a kind, and at the end my credits won stood at 330. The average seemed to be in the 500s, and only those with 900-plus could be reasonably confident of advancing.

Would I do it again? Certainly, if the tournament fell at a convenient time. It was fun despite the low score, but the format needs a little work to be worth a special trip.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski