Poker craze shuffles into Summit |

Poker craze shuffles into Summit

Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk Danielle McDonald playing Texas Hold 'Em Monday evening at Chill.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Ever since the first steely-eyed cowboy sauntered into Old West saloons to drink whiskey and try his hand at cards, Coloradans have been perfecting their poker faces.These days, the centuries-old practice of bluffing is building momentum in local bars. Knit hats have replaced cowboy hats; fleece replaces leather; microbrews replace Jack Daniel’s. But the poker faces remain the same – some more convincing than others.Some of the tell-tale signs of a weak poker face? Looking away from the cards – if you’re that relaxed, chances are you’re holding good cards; and showing your girlfriend your cards as she stands behind you – never, never do that. It’s a dead giveaway you’re boasting.”Poker is all about reading the other people,” said Les Kennedy, a regular at poker night at Chill in Frisco. “You have to pay attention to what they do and say.”The key to a poker face: Do the exact same thing every hand. Silverthorne resident Chad Hershberger keeps his eyes on the cards constantly. And he tries not to move.Hershberger knows better than to fall for the common bluff of head shaking, as if to indicate the cards are bad. Kennedy knows better than to fall for players who bet big after a winning hand; unless they’re really lucky, they’re bluffing.

Poker has caused men to cheat, lie and fight for centuries. The game dates back to the 1550s in Italy and alleges as many theories for its name origin as there are winning strategies. Some say it’s from a slang word, “poke,” used by pickpockets and card sharks who suckered men out of money. Some believe “poke” came from magicians’ favorite word, “hocus-pocus.”Whatever the origin, it’s obvious card games have staying power. And since television networks began airing high-stake games, interest in poker – and in Texas Hold ‘Em specifically – has turned up in spades.Every time Doug Westenskow, another regular at Chill, watches the televised tournaments he thinks, “I could be that guy. I could do that.” He watches to pick up strategies. Then he goes to Chill to practice.He thinks poker involves 70 percent luck and 30 percent strategy, while Hershberger believes it’s about 20 percent luck and 80 percent strategy. Though the men disagree on proportions, they agree on one thing: Good poker playing takes practice.Westenskow plays conservatively at bars because he wants to log in practice hands for the times it really counts – when he’s playing for money.Hershberger dedicated 20-30 hours a week to learning poker four years ago. Another regular poker player, Carlos Villalobos, spends 10-15 hours a week playing at the Maggie, Chill and online. But Monday night he was one of the first players – out of 56 – to lose his chips.

“It’s an adrenaline rush – when you make a bet and you win, and on the other side when you lose – because they only give you x amount of chips,” Kennedy said. “Men need more adrenaline rushes then women do. If you look around here (Chill Monday night) that pretty much holds true.”So what about women’s poker face?Out of seven tournament tables at Chill Monday night, hardly enough women held cards to represent their gender at each table.Meanwhile at the craps table, nine men crowded around to place bets as Lynn Torisky rolled the dice for the first time. A man wearing a black shirt with hot red dice emitting cool blue flames from the bottom explained the game to new players. Torisky has played Texas Hold ‘Em at the Maggie in Breckenridge and won fifth place after learning to play poker three months ago. The relaxed atmosphere at Chill keeps her from feeling intimated as a beginner.Hershberger thinks a lot of women shy away from poker tournaments because they’re intimidated.”But women have an advantage,” he said. “A lot of men will take it easy on them or flirt. Men automatically think women can’t play as well. They’ll check instead of raising them.”

But don’t tell Sarah Schenck that, because she’ll respond, “That’s crap.” She doesn’t notice any preferential treatment.The one element most women agree on though is the relaxed atmosphere, which seems to come from the fact that people sit at a table and focus on a game rather than milling about, trying to get drinks.”There’s less drinking because people are more into the game,” said Dillon local Jessica Goldberg.And the fact that people are more focused on card strategies than pick-up strategies seems to create a more “chill” atmosphere.”There’s less pressure on women,” said Brandon Scott of Breckenridge. “The object here is not to pick up a chick and take her home. It’s to play poker. It leads to a more comfortable environment.”The tournament trend”Everybody wants to play poker these days,” said Paul Sperb, who runs Chill’s poker tournament.

About 120 people show up to play poker weekly at Chill.”That’s an average plus night for Summit County, but if you’re talking a Monday night for Summit County, that’s big,” he said.Last Monday, Dillon Valley resident Mickey Hill came for the first time to play, after watching poker tournaments on television. He got lucky and ended up in the top 20, so he came back this week. In a room full of 20-, 30- and a few 40-somethings, Hill represents the older generation at age 73.”Most of the people here aren’t as old as my grandchildren, so that’s good,” he said Monday night. “I follow my son’s advice: If you keep your mind and body active, then you don’t grow old.”Even much younger players seem to intuitively know the secret to staying young involves keeping your mind sharp.”Poker makes you think a little bit while you drink,” Frisco resident Jeff Scargall said, practicing his best, steely-eyed poker face.Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at

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