Arts and Entertainment

Clearwater Casino will send one player to World Series of Poker in Las Vegas

The Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort will hold World Series of Poker satellite match this weekend. The winner nabs a spot in the No-limit Hold
The Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort will hold World Series of Poker satellite match this weekend. The winner nabs a spot in the No-limit Hold'em Championship in Vegas.
— image credit: File photo

The World Series of Poker is already underway in Sin City, but at least one spot in the No-limit Hold’em Championship is still up for grabs, and a game at North Kitsap’s Clearwater Casino is about to decide who gets it.

Next weekend, Judy Vigoren can be found shooting daggers across the felt, eyeing the competition at Las Vegas’ World Series of Poker.

“People say it’s scary. I stare them down, I threaten them with my eyes,” said Vigoren, 67, a Snohomish resident who nabbed the No. 2 slot at Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort’s recent World Series of Poker satellite event. She plays poker sans the typical eyewear to better “play the players.”

Of the 153-seat field at Clearwater, which was designated for seniors and held May 23, three, including Vigoren, earned bids to the big game in Vegas, a Seniors No-limit Hold’em Championship that begins June 18. They also walked away with a handful of cash. Clearwater will hold another satellite game, this one for a spot at the World Series’ main event, the No-limit Hold’em Championship, this Sunday, June 13. The winner of that event receives a $10,000 buy-in to the July 3, 13-day game in Sin City.

The satellite events are the first of their kind at Clearwater, the Suquamish casino that hosts several hundred regular poker players every week, said Poker Manager Steven Buechler. He applied to Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment Inc. earlier this year and secured licensee rights for the casino, which is now eligible to hold competitions that award series event buy-ins to winners. The senior event packed a full house; it was the largest poker event the casino has held.

The World Series of Poker is a massive occurrence, a May to July string of poker games at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Vegas, many of which last for hours and hours — or days and days. It’s the zenith of attractions on The Strip, where the world’s elite poker players come together for marathon matches, as do thousands of others who love to weigh the risks and play the game.

“It’s almost impossible to describe,” said Buechler, 55, who has played in a previous World Series event in Vegas. “It is nothing but poker: Every famous poker player you’ve ever heard of, every poker book author, every vendor imaginable is there. It’s really something to see.”

The World Series of Poker began with a handful of players around a poker table in 1970. Its popularity multiplied with television coverage and the uprising of various online games, and it rocketed in 2003, the year a then-unknown Chris Moneymaker won the World Series No-limit Texas Hold’em championship.

“The world realized that anyone could win,” said Buechler.

In 2009, the main event prize pool alone clocked in at $61 million. More than 60,000 players from 115 different countries entered the tournament last year, according to the event’s website. Nearly 60 different versions of the game are played, said Buechler, and buy-ins range from $500 to $50,000.

Next year Buechler expects Clearwater to host more satellite events and more players. The May 23 senior event drew a large and determined crowd: The players were there to win.

“It’s never quiet in the poker room. Sometimes the sound of people shuffling their chips is deafening,” Buechler said. “[The senior event] was actually very quiet. These were people who were seriously playing some poker.”

Vigoren only started playing competitively four years ago, in a free poker league in Snohomish. By her second year with the league, she came in at No. 1 in the rankings. It was the first time a woman had taken the honor. Vigoren said she’s made plenty of friends around the table, but she’s not there for a vis-à-vis.

“I love the challenge, and I love to win,” she said. “I don’t play just to play, I play to win.”

Vigoren plays nearly every day, often in Snohomish County or Mill Creek, and keeps a balance of her wins and losses. So far, she’s well in the black.

In fact, Vigoren won two seats to the World Series in two different satellite tournaments this year. Both are for the senior event, but she plans to play in the main event one day. She’s played a senior event before, and went out at No. 171 (out of 2,200) with $1,800.

“As old as I am, I’ve done a lot of things: Been married and divorced three times, two children born,” Vigoren said. “But this was one of the most exciting days of my life when I was playing.”

She and Buechler agree it’s a different kind of play in Vegas; more folding, waiting out so-so hands. Still, part of the beauty of the game, said Buechler, is that it’s the same everywhere.

“I’m playing against people instead of the house, that’s a huge attraction for me,” he said. “No matter where I go I can play poker and essentially it’s the same game everywhere. In poker, a straight flush always beats four of a kind, four of a kind always beats a full house and a royal flush always beats everything.”

Buechler said he’s played poker for nearly two dozen years, and just once in that time has he had a royal flush. But no matter. He once won with a 10 five off-suit.

“You don’t have to have the best hand to win, you only have to convince everyone else you have the best hand,” he said. “Generally when you hear a poker player say something you can assume the exact opposite. ‘Call me, I dare you’ means they don’t want to be called.”

And the game is continuing to grow: At Clearwater, Buechler is seeing more young players joining the table, and more women, like Vigoren, playing for money for the first time. Many of Clearwater’s ‘home’ players spend a handful of hours or more in the poker room several days a week.

“It’s a very intimate game. The money won from your best friend is a little sweeter than the money won with a stranger,” Buechler said.

And being a student of the game, he would know: “It takes 10 minutes to learn and a lifetime to master.” WU

Learn more about the Clearwater Casino poker room and its various events at www.clearwatercasino.com/games/poker.html. Learn more about the World Series of Poker at www.wsop.com.

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