Alan Riquelmy: It’s all in the cards | TheUnion.com

Alan Riquelmy: It’s all in the cards

From left, 'Silent Al,' 'Jon Smith,' Chris Moneymaker and Patrick Harbison, of Patrick Harbison Public Relations, who promoted the poker tournament.

I'd been dealt some lousy cards, and Chris Moneymaker wasn't making it any easier.

The professional poker player, the winner of the 2003 World Series of Poker, sat two seats to my left in a media-night, money-free tournament at Stones Gambling Hall. He had a stack of fake money in front of him and a grin asking for a punch.

I felt compelled to take the former and deliver the latter.

Moneymaker kept pulling chips toward him as I mucked cards. He was jawing with the others at the table, laughing as he pushed us amateurs around.

He made up nicknames for us. Not good ones, mind you. The man immediately to my left was "John Smith." Not the most creative, this Moneymaker guy.

I called myself "Silent Al." Like my namesake — President Calvin Coolidge, known as "Silent Cal" — I tend to remain quiet and favor iffy financial beliefs. I kept my chips close, waiting for the perfect moment to strike down a professional.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the game, Texas hold 'em is the most popular variant of poker. Every player gets two cards, face down, which they use with the community cards that lay face up on the table. Players make their best five-card hand using the face-up cards and their own.

Like chess, it's a game that's easy to learn and takes a lifetime to master. Unlike chess, you can lose your house playing poker. Or at least the rent money.

That last bit tends to be Silent Al's problem.

This tournament was a different beast. We were playing for bragging rights. For the fun of it. For the chance to bring down a giant of professional poker.

My first chance came a few minutes after starting. I'd been religiously folding my cards, waiting for a good hand. When it came, I pushed in all my chips.

Everyone folded, including Moneymaker. The dealer pushed the pot toward me, bright colored chips with the sad phrase "no cash value" printed on them. I'd won.

"Who gave you that name, Moneymaker? Your German ancestors?" I shouted, to myself, inside my head, so no one could hear. It wasn't the best trash talk. I know that.

The table was starting to give me a grudging respect. Or the other players were two drinks in. Either way, I felt pretty good about my chances.

Then came the big hand: Ace queen suited. Moneymaker didn't expect a thing. Again I pushed all my chips in.

And Moneymaker called.

Everyone else ran from the hand like scared children. It was just me and Moneymaker — a guy with a bad nickname against a man who won $2.5 million playing this game.

We flipped over our cards, revealing the exact same hand. The dealer begin splitting the chips. We'd each get half the pot.

"That's a great hand," Moneymaker told me.

Moments later, at the final table, I was booted from the game after going all-in for a third time. My luck, and brush with poker celebrities, was over.

I've got another shot at taking on Moneymaker. We all do. Stones Gambling Hall is hosting a poker tournament this weekend, advertising it as a celebration of the 15th anniversary of Moneymaker's historic win.

Unfortunately for me, previously scheduled plans interfere with a potential rematch. Looks like my luck disappeared when I lost that tournament.

What can I say? It just wasn't in the cards.

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.