The game of poker has evolved from the dimly-lit, smoke-filled back rooms to a mainstream status that has founds its way to Wayne in the form of a weekly poker league held at the Wayne Eagles Club.
Every Wednesday evening, a group of locals and a handful of people from out of two gather to have a little fun and play some cards, with the chance to possibly earn a trip to play in the biggest tournament of them all – the Main Event of the World Series of Poker.
The Free Poker Network, a North Dakota-based business, has started up poker leagues all over the country. Several are in place now in northeast Nebraska, including the weekly league at the Eagles Club that has been running for about three years.
Scott Brummond, an Eagles Club member, said he started playing when the league was held at The Max and decided to bring the league to the club after play discontinued at the sports bar down the street.
“After The Max quit doing it, I thought it would be an opportunity for the Eagles Club to generate some income and have some fun playing poker, so I approached the club about it and we started doing it,” he said.
Because playing poker for money is considered an illegal gambling activity in the state of Nebraska, the Free Poker Network poker league is a points-based league. Players register for free and get points every time they play, earning bonus points depending on how well they finish and how many players compete each week.
The Eagles Club was initially drawing about 15-20 players, but those numbers have gone up in the last year as more local poker players, including some Wayne State College students, have stopped by to take their shot at the cards and chips.
Brummond said that the group of regulars who come to the Eagles Club are a fun bunch to play with.
“I know there are some leagues where people get upset and yell at each other, but this is a pretty close-knit group of people,” he said. “We all like to give each other a hard time, but it’s all in fun and everybody here gets along well and we have a lot of fun for 2-3 hours ever week.”
No-limit hold ‘em is the game that is played in the Free Poker Network league. Each player starts with two cards and bets on the strength of their hand. A “small blind” and “big blind” – chips that are always put in at the start of play by the first two players sitting to the left of the dealer – assures that somebody will win a certain amount of chips with each hand.
Once the first round of betting is completed, three community cards are dealt that each player can use to make a hand. Betting occurs, and then the “turn” card is dealt, which leads to a third round of betting. The final card, called “the river,” is dealt with one final round of betting to follow before cards are shown and the winner determined. Play continues until one player is holding all of the chips, with the value of blinds going up every 20 minutes.
Players receive a certain number of points just for playing, and earn bonus points based on their finish. The top 20 percent of the average number of players at each league site in the Free Poker Network earns a chance to compete in a regional tournament, and those who do well enough at the regional level qualify for a state tournament. A certain number of state tournament players then qualify for a national tournament held in Las Vegas, where the winner earns a free seat in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker, which is valued at $10,000.
Because players don’t pay to play, Free Poker Network charges a weekly fee for businesses that sponsor the league. Brummond said the Eagles Club pays for their league fee through food and beverage sales the players make when they come to play each week.
“The players come and support the clubs and businesses who sponsor it, so we hope people will come here and eat and drink and just come out and have some fun,” he said.
The poker league is a lot of fun for some of the regular players, including Glenn Nichols, a local businessman who has earned three trips to the national tournament through his play in the Free Poker Network.
“You like to win, but the highs and lows you experience each week is fun,” he said. “I started playing when they first had leagues here a number of years ago, and it’s a lot of fun playing with these people.”
Newcomers don’t have to feel intimidated, Brummond said, as the regular players are always helpful for those who have never played the game before.
“It’s really a friendly league and it’s a good learning experience if you haven’t played before,” he said. “We have a good group of people who enjoy the game, and the more people we get here the more we can send to regionals, so it’s in everybody’s best interests to help new people learn the game.”
And you wouldn’t be learning from any donkeys (poker term for a bad player) – the Wayne league has had more than its share of players who have competed at the state and national level. In fact, the reigning state champion is Dusty Baker, a regular at the Wayne league who earned a free trip to Las Vegas by winning the state title recently.
“I’d say we probably have the best bunch of players in Nebraska here,” Nichols said. “We always seem to get 4-5 people (to nationals) and we play pretty well, and that makes you a better player.”
The close-knit feel and the quality play make playing poker at the Wayne Eagles Club a fun experience, Brummond said.
“We’ve had a lot of people from this league go to Las Vegas, so we’ve had some success and we have a lot of fun playing with each other,” he said.
For more information about the poker league, call the Wayne Eagles Club at (402) 375-9956.