Charlie Randolph walked away from the table sooner than he would have liked to.
"You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em," he mouthed to himself in the second round of the Texas Hold 'Em tournament.
But, alas, Randolph didn't know when to fold Wednesday night. He got up from the table after losing all his chips, but he still had a smile on his face.
"I love it, I do," he said.
Cassidy's at the Holiday Inn of Craig is now the place for poker action every Sunday and Wednesday nights. The first tournament starts at 7 p.m., and the second picks up at 9:30 p.m.
"I originally just wanted to make Sunday night and this bar better," bar supervisor Jeannine Griffin said. "It's basically designed to boost business."
And it's been working. There have been four tournaments there, and between 20 and 34 people show up each time, buying dinner and drinks while they are competing.
"As far as Craig goes, I'm not a big fan of the bar scene," Jason Herod said.
So, Texas Hold 'Em is a nightlife alternative for him. The tournaments are free to enter, and each player starts with $5,000 worth of chips. When the chips run out, the player is eliminated.
Players take turns serving as the dealer. Each person at the table receives two cards face down.
The player immediately to the left of the dealer pays a blind before seeing his or her cards, as does the next player to the left, who puts in double the first blind. As the number of hands increases, so does the cost of the blinds.
"The purpose of blinds is to see action on the table," Herod said. "Otherwise these guys would be playing all night long."
The rest of the players may see their cards, then fold or place a bet.
"Knowing when to fold is the hard part," he said.
The dealer turns three cards face up on the table, called the flop. Again, players fold or bet, as they do after the turn card and last face-up card, the river.
Players use the community cards along with two private cards they are holding to make the best poker hand possible. Whoever has the best hand takes the pot.
Tournament participants earn points for placing, bringing new players and purchasing drinks from the bar. At the end of the season, in February, players can use their points for prizes on a Web site or a chance to compete in the big leagues.
"The ultimate goal is to win a seat in the tournament of the World Poker tournament," Griffin said. "The people with the most points get to play in the tournament to play for the seat."
Randolph has made it to the final table four times and has gone away three times with a second-place finish, and once with an overall win. Last week, Herod won both Wednesday night tournaments.
"Ever since then, I've been getting stepped on," he said.
He thinks the key to winning is strategy.
"If you watch Texas Hold 'Em on TV, the World Series, you see the same faces," he said, "which suggests the game has an element of skill.
"You have to keep track of the bets and keep track of the faces. The rest is just luck. Just knowing that makes it fun to play."
The publicity the game has gotten on TV is why the game is so popular nationwide, Ran--dolph said. He thinks the game has been around for more than 50 years but people are just getting excited about it because of pop culture.
"Everybody likes to watch it on TV," added Jeff Schmidt. "People see it played on TV and want to try it themselves."
Staff members at the Boys & Girls Club of Craig felt the same way, so they organized Texas Hold 'Em tournaments as part of the organization's Teen Nights, held monthly. They said the game is easy to pick up, and most of the 13- to 18-year-olds who attend already know how to play.
"It's easier to play than other forms of poker," said Boys & Girls Club AmeriCorps volunteer Mike Fraher.
The cost is $5, which includes drinks and snacks. The winners take home Spree Bucks, certificates that can be used at downtown Craig businesses. In the future, Fraher said, the club hopes to offer discounted entry for club members and an open gym at the same time as the tournaments.
It's a game youths and adults can get into because of the intensity and scheming.
"It's a lot of luck and a lot of skill," Randolph said with his poker face on. "It's all about bluffing."
For more information about organized tournaments, call the Holiday Inn at 824-4000 or the Boys & Girls Club of Craig at 826-0411.
Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.