Greetings from lovely Tunica, Miss. The more I travel on these poker adventures, the more these things feel like reunions. The dealer Connie from Arkansas, the “father figure” Ted from Oregon. Local Al Williams. Birmingham resident Hunter, a money finisher in the WSOP main event. Those are just a few of the familiar faces I’ve encountered since I drove over on Wednesday. There’s even the poker babe that has all the young turks swooning a la Ann of Foxwoods – Delaney from Jackson, Miss. – a brunette and professional online player for two years. She’s agreed to let me interview her, so more to come on her undoubtedly interesting story.
Most of the action is at the Grand Casino now, until the World Poker Open begins at the Gold Strike next week. Since Harrah’s purchased Caesars Entertainment, whose properties included all of the Grand casinos in Mississippi, they have started a World Series of Poker circuit event here and it has proven to be a big hit. There were 940 entrants in the first $550+$50 NLHE event Thursday, including me, thanks to a satellite win the previous day. I was never a factor, falling behind early on an ill-timed bluff and finally hanging myself later after betting the rest of my paltry stack into a 3-5-3 board after raising pre-flop with K-J. I was called by A-Q and dispatched from the affair.
I haven’t seen many big shots about yet, nor did I expect to. The big money tournaments don’t begin until next week. Chris Grigorian, the Armenian Express (it says so on his jacket) is here, as is Men Nguyen. Tournament director Johnny Grooms introduced “The Master” to the crowd not once, but twice, on both Wednesday and Thursday, as the Card Player Player of the Year. Nguyen took the microphone and spoke before the start of Thursday’s tournament, playing to the crowd and drawing hearty cheers when he talked about making his life in this country after fleeing Vietnam many years ago.
“America has been very good to me,” he said. “God bless America.”
Before the tournament began, Grooms said a new rule had been instituted.
“There will be no bluffing allowed today,” he joked.
I should have heeded his words.