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Heartland Poker Tour, leave the puppies on the porch


Worm: You know what always cheers me up?

Mike McDermott: No, what’s that?

Worm:Rolled up aces over kings. Check-raising stupid tourists and taking huge pots off of them. Playing all-night high-limit Hold’em at the Taj, where the sand turns to gold. Stacks and towers of checks I can’t even see over.

Screw it. Let’s play some cards.

Those unfamiliar with the rapport of Worm and Mike McDermott, should rent the movie “Rounders,” starring Edward Norton and Matt Damon. The film was made 15 years ago with the then-preposterous goal to introduce complex characters — emotionally and psychologically — while ultimately making a movie about playing poker.

Heartland Poker Tour winner Greg Raymer.

Heartland Poker Tour winner Greg Raymer.

These days poker is everywhere from film and television to online play and has skyrocketed in popularity over the past decade, thanks in large part to ESPN televising the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and a then-unknown accountant from Tennessee with a fitting name.

“The two biggest factors to poker’s growth were the exposing of hole cards on TV and the explosion of online poker,” said Jen Mastrud, Heartland Poker Tour (HPT) director of operations. “The industry caught lightning in a bottle when Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 WSOP main event. It showed the world that anyone can win. This was particularly important for HPT, as we try to appeal to the more common player.”

Heartland Poker Tour has been at Prairie Meadows since Oct. 18, as the tournament looks to crown its first Heartland MVP — the player who racks up the most points over 10 days. The honor comes with a host of perks, including national exposure, a qualifier buy-in for HPT’s 2013 Championship Open with a three-night hotel stay and a custom-designed, handmade trophy from the House of Mulciber. The main event will be held from Oct. 26, with the televised final table (of just nine competitors) on Oct. 28.

While it’s typical to see players representing more than 30 states at each tournament, the majority of them reside within a four-hour radius. This gives local players a chance to compete on a larger scale and develop their skills further. For those who can’t enjoy the endorphin-induced high that gambling stirs up, spectating is an interesting experience on its own. It’s true that exposing the hole cards (the cards in players’ hands) changed the way the sport was seen. Now viewers could see what it’s like to bluff with a horrible hand — which is arguably where players turn to skill as opposed to chance or luck — or position-raising to show strength. Fans could now see inside the players’ psyche.

“The psychology of the game has always been as important as the cards and the chips,” Mastrud said. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen a number of the top pros seek life coaches or other results-driven practices to improve their mental acuity.

“Poker is definitely ‘sporting’ if not a sport, it requires mental endurance that almost no other sport requires.” CV

David Rowley is an Iowa native with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa and a master’s in film journalism from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

Heartland Poker Tournament MVP Series
Where: Prairie Meadows (21+)
When: Oct. 18-27, main event Saturday, Oct. 26 ($1,650) before 6 p.m.; final table Monday, Oct. 28 at 2 p.m.
Prize: The amount of the prize is determined by the number of entrants. At most HTP events, first-place is six figures. The champ also wins a $3,000 prize package to attend HTP’s year-end Championship Open. Players are allowed to re-enter a main event flight if they are eliminated before the end of late registration (space permitting) and are allowed to re-enter additional main event flights only if they bust from a previous flight.

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