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Poker players tackle the odds at White Ram

DAWSON CITYA three has just come on the river, which gives the all-in-big-blind a pair to go with his deuce while my A7 remained a wretched…


A three has just come on the river, which gives the all-in-big-blind a pair to go with his deuce while my A7 remained a wretched bachelor.

Are you following me?

Bottom line, with my short stack broken, I had to settle for fifth spot and a $1, 375 payout in the first ever Diamond Tooth Gerties White Ram International Poker Tournament in Dawson City.

Played on the Labour Day weekend, the $125 limit on Saturday and $225 no-limit on Sunday were filled to 80 per cent capacity.

“When you’re running a tournament for the first time, you don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” said Bill Holmes, the marketing and promotions manager for the Klondike Visitor’s Association, which runs the oldest operating casino in the country.

“But we were thrilled by the response by the players about how the tournament ran and the prize pool it generated.”

Saturday’s first-place limit tournament winner Jim Conklin, a bona fide gold miner in Dawson City, took home just over $8,000 while Sunday’s no-limit winner Andy Skerlic, of Toronto, carted away $14,525.

“I walked into Gerties casino and looked around and it had a good feel,” said hold’em player Linda Briemon of Whitehorse.

“It had the presentation like it was the World Series of poker. It wasn’t, but it made me feel like I was there.”

Texas Hold’em poker has become the most popular card game in the world due to the surge in online gaming as well as the television coverage of the World Poker Tour and The World Series of Poker in Vegas.

Most White Ram tournament players came from the Yukon, but a few came from the Northwest Territories, Alaska and other parts of Canada as well.

Players are dealt two cards, which they hold in their hand, while five community cards are turned up in the middle.

Players then use any combination of the seven cards to make their best poker hand.

Although the tournament was in Diamond Tooth Gerties for the first time, the tournament has been an underground event in Dawson the previous 20 years.

“Last year, the prize pool was $72,000 and it was getting too big,” said tournament founder, John Hendley of Dawson City. “So I said to Gerties, ‘It’s time for you guys to have the tournament.”

Hendley says it wasn’t an illegal tournament, but that it just wasn’t sanctioned by the gaming branch.

The first year the tournament was held in 1986, “the gaming commission came to me and said, ‘We can tell you not to do this, but we know you’ll set it up somewhere, so here’s the criteria we’d like you to follow,” said Hendley.

He says they were not allowed to charge money, skim off the top or allow the tournament to get too big.

With Dawson City’s unique gold rush history as well as it’s gambling — with the likes of (Silent) Sam Bonnifield who was Dawson’s best known gambler during the gold rush, and who once bet $72,000 and his hotel on the turn of a card (he lost) — Gerties holding the most northern poker tournament in North America was a logical fit.

“It’s beautiful up here. You come to in September and you get all these fantastic fall colours as well as the northern lights,” said tournament marshal Derrick Bilodeau. “And then you play cards and you have a chance to walk away with $15,000

“What more does a player want?”

Two players who have cut their card playing teeth in the White Ram and who have recently distinguished themselves in the poker world are World Poker Tour ace (Yukon) Brad Booth and James Lopushinsky, who won $250,000 in the Head’s Up Canadian Open Poker Championship in Calgary last March.

Lopushinsky finished second in the Sunday’s no-limit event with a $9,127 payday while Booth last played and won the White Ram limit event in 2004, putting on a virtual clinic when he was in heads up action.

“I saw Brad play in the White Ram and the way he talked at and picked up information from the other players was incredible,” said poker player Bob van Rees of Whitehorse, another winner of the White Ram in previous years.

“He won it that year and I learned a lot just by watching him.”

Upon paying their entry fee, tournament players received a complimentary drink and were treated to a catered buffet from Klondike Kate’s Restaurant.

Gerties also had to transform itself to accommodate the 10 poker tables that spread out in the casino for the 86 players in the Saturday limit event and the 84 who played in the Sunday no-limit.

“We hope to fill the event next year,” said Holmes. “But we have a cap on the number of players we can let play each tournament day at 110 because of the logistics of managing that many players and the space we have in Gerties.”

Johnny Caribou is a freelance writer and poker player who lives in Dawson City.