By Dianne McFarland
I’ve enjoyed playing the game of poker for years. In addition to a semi-regular game with friends, I’ve played in cash games and tournaments in casinos and in charity tournaments. So, when my mother-in-law, who is a docent at the Sacramento Zoo, told us about the Zoo’s First Annual Poker Tournament to benefit the Reptile House, of course I had to play. My husband and I both signed up, along with some of our friends from our regular poker game (which coincidentally includes a couple celebrity players recruited by the Zoo to participate).
The tournament was very professionally run, and set against the beautiful backdrop of the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg. The mood was set by the Sacramento Historical Society dressed in period clothes and providing demonstrations of old-time gambling games. In addition the appetizers, we really enjoyed the delicious catered meal from Sac City Eats. The raffle prizes were all amazing, and we used our tickets to try for all of them. The open bar helped loosen up any pre-game nerves, until it was finally time to begin.
|Sacramento Historical Society|
My husband and I, along with two of our home game poker friends started at the same table together. We had a nice group of people at our table, including the dealer who was especially helpful to those with less experience. I was getting good cards, winning multiple pots, sometimes good-sized ones. When players were eliminated, tables were consolidated. I was moved to another table where TV personality and Super Bowl Champ, Del Rodgers, was playing with a ginormous stack of chips. He was playing well, exerting pressure on the smaller stacks, of which I apparently was one at this table. I managed to hang in there until it was time to change tables again.
|First Round of Poker Play|
At that time I noticed my poker friends were out of the tournament, watching me play and rooting me on. Ladies were too. One lady said “We’re rooting for you! You’re the only girl left!” On my last hand at that table, I went in against someone I had just lost to. For this last hand I had top pair, but there was potential on the board for him to beat me. He made a huge bet, as if he had the best hand. I stared him down and called him. I had him beat! Even the dealer was impressed that I made the call, and shook my hand. At this time, we consolidated again. I had so many chips, I needed two gentlemen to help me to my seat at the final table.
Del Rodgers was at the final table. Remembering his chip stack and play from before, I thought I didn’t have a chance. But, I had outlasted all 5 of my male poker friends, so I already had bragging rights amongst my group. Then, when it was down to the final four, I couldn’t help think about the dreaded “bubble.” I could see the finish line, and thought, “how great would it be to finish in the top three!”
At that time, a man in a hoodie and sunglasses kitty-corner from me went all in. Everyone else folded. I had a pair of 9’s in the hole. It was a big hand considering the circumstances. It was risky though. If I lost, I’d end in fourth place, winning nothing; but I was already in for the big blind, which was huge. I verbally declared that I called his bet. There was some confusion, and they thought I was asking for a chip count. I began to worry that they were misunderstanding me, that somehow the hand would be fouled, and that I might be losing this awesome opportunity. I reiterated, more loudly, “I call,” and then again, “I CALL.” Finally, they understood and we turned our cards over… He had a pair of fours. At that point in time I had no idea what came up on the board. I just know it wasn’t another four, and I won!
|Dianne after winning a big hand|
Throughout that time I was mostly in a zone. From time to time I would look up and see my poker friends smiling and rooting me on, which was comforting and unnerving at the same time, and now it was all over. I beat 70 other poker players. Next thing I knew, I was posing for pictures with the second and third place finishers (including Del Rodgers who placed second), and celebrities (including my celebrity poker friends, Radio and TV personalities, an Olympian, a Super Bowl Champ, and some top Zoo personnel, without whom the tournament would not have happened). That… was… priceless.
The Zoo invited me and the other top three winners back to defend our spots for the Second Annual Tournament and my friends joked that my name should be on a perpetual trophy. But the best part of it was picking first of the top 3 grand prizes, which included 50 burritos from Chipotle (which my husband probably secretly wished I’d selected), a private dinner for 8 at Mulvaney’s B&L, and a trip for four to Safari West, including an overnight stay in a luxury safari tent, a jeep tour, a behind the scenes tour, and dinner for four. Well, it was a ZOO fundraiser. Which one do you think I would choose?
|Dianne with her grand prize!|