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My Annual Reno Excursion Jennifer Harman’s annual charity tournament

My Annual Reno Excursion Jennifer Harman’s annual charity tournament

by Matt Lessinger |  Published: Jul 13, 2011


Matt LessingerFor the third year in a row, I headed to Reno with a team from the Oaks Card Club in Emeryville, California, to participate in Jennifer Harman’s annual charity tournament. As it turned out, there were many things that ended up being different from past years. They weren’t necessarily better or worse, just different:

• This tournament was supporting the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA). In the past, we had played for the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). Of course, both are very worthwhile causes, so we were onboard either way. When we walked into the tournament area, we were surprised to see that the NSPCA had brought some animals to be included in the team pictures. Dogs, cats, goats, you name it. As it turned out, various tournament participants ended up adopting every one of them! I must say, that was pretty cool, not to mention pretty savvy on the part of the NSPCA.

• The tournament got a record 568 players, including many famous faces. I couldn’t name all of them, but Jennifer, Daniel Negreanu, and Men “The Master” Nguyen headlined the poker pros, while Mekhi Phifer and Lou Diamond Phillips were among the celebrity notables. There were unlimited $50 rebuys, 100 percent of which went to charity, so the shouts of “Rebuy!” were loud and frequent.

Thankfully, the tournament staff did a great job of hustling among the tables, making sure that the rebuys were processed quickly. They even accommodated rebuys done by credit card. Their efficiency helped ensure that as much money as possible could be collected for the charity. Between the tournament and a silent auction, more than $100,000 was raised altogether. Both Jennifer and the NSPCA were pleased with the turnout and results.

• The tournament was held on the same day as the Preakness Stakes. There were large television screens around the room, which for most of the tournament were showing videos of animals in various shelters. But then a clamor went up to put the Preakness on, and the players got their wish. So, for two minutes, while playing to raise money for the NSPCA, we got to watch horses running around a track, being whipped to run faster. I think more than a few hard-core gamblers failed to see the irony.

• The Oaks team, which finished in second place two years in a row, was nowhere to be found among the leaders. We were determined to make the third time a charm, but the cards conspired against us. The best chance that I could give myself was going all in preflop with 2-2, but when it failed to hold up against A-Q, I was on the rail. Congratulations go out to the all-female team of LIPS Lord Griffon Two, led by JJ Liu, for winning the team title, and to Matt Vinks of Martinez, California, for winning the tournament.

• As usual, the Nevada State Poker Championship (NSPC) took place on the following day. Unlike previous years, this time it was hosted by the Heartland Poker Tour (HPT). Given that combination, I had tremendously high hopes for myself. Two years ago, I finished fifth in the NSPC; last year, I finished second. Meanwhile, out of four HPT events that I’ve entered, I won one and finished fifth in another. Given that I’d be starting a new job the following week, with not much time to enter many major events, I really felt that this was my last shot for a while at tournament glory.

As you can probably guess, I fell short of glory. We started with 220 players putting up $1,650 apiece. When we were down to 60 players, I had a slightly below-average stack, and the blinds were climbing too fast to play cautiously. I made a standard raise with A-K, and when a deep-stacked opponent shoved on me, laying down my hand really wasn’t an option. He showed Q-Q, and immediately flopped a set. Just like that, my Reno/NSPC/HPT hot streak had come to an end … at least for now.

• On the bright side, this was by far the smoothest return trip home in three years. Two years ago, several friends drove up from the Bay Area to celebrate my NSPC success. After a rowdy night of drinking, gambling, and Johnny Rockets burgers (oh so good), we had to head home early the next day. Let’s just say that a couple of my friends did not handle the three-hour drive too well. It became more like a six-hour drive, given how many times we had to pull over. If you saw something along the road from Reno to Oakland that looked like it didn’t belong, it probably came from one of us.

You would think that last year’s return trip could not have been any worse. Guess again. We got stuck in a snowstorm at Donner Pass in the middle of May! Traffic was held up for four hours while the roads were cleared. Jokes were made about the Donner Party, and that if we were stuck there for too long, we’d be forced to eat each other. Luckily for me, there’s not much meat on my bones! In reality, the four hours passed pretty quickly. I had brought a deck of cards and was even able to make a little Chinese Poker money, so the time wasn’t completely wasted.

Once the storm had passed, they threw chains on my tires and sent us on our way. It turned out that a Mini Cooper is not the ideal car to drive with chains through snow. We hadn’t even gone a mile before the car spun completely out of control across lanes. By some miracle, everyone behind us made it around our car, and we escaped unharmed. Apparently, my luck in Reno last year extended beyond the city limits.
This year, we learned our lesson. A nice, relaxing, hour-long flight home is the way to go. After we returned home, we already were looking forward to next year. ♠

Matt Lessinger is the author of The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker, available everywhere. You can find other articles of his at