Saturday, April 13, 2013

Travel Report: 2012-13 WSOP-C Harrah’s Cherokee Main Event, Day 1a -- Southern Hospitality

Hello from the Carolina mountains, where I write on a brisk Saturday morning from Cherokee, NC. My home-away-from-home for the next few days isn’t that far away, in fact, as I only had to travel a few hours west in order to help cover the World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event at Harrah’s Cherokee for PokerNews.

Hopped in the car and drove over to Asheville first in order to pick up my blogging partner, Rich, who has ties to the region as well as a graduate of Elon University. Teeny airport that I can’t remember ever having visited before, and we joked about trying to find the car in the parking lot which is only slightly bigger than the Food Lion one where Kung Fu Grandpa sometimes practices his nunchucks.

Rich and I took the winding path to Cherokee, found our hotel just up the road from Harrah’s, then went to explore a bit and have what turned out to be a nice dinner at the Brio Tuscan Grille. Also enjoyed a kind of hilarious conversation with our waitress there who spontaneously engaged us with her thoughts about poker players and gambling culture, generally speaking.

“Don’t they know their chances are SLIM to NONE?” she explained, and we nodded amiably. “It’s a game of chance,” she continued, then shared further thoughts about the folly of wearing sunglasses indoors and being overly preoccupied by smartphones and iPads.

We stopped by the handsome-looking poker room briefly to see 20-plus tables, many occupied by players, then hoofed it up to the Event Center where the tournaments are being played. It’s a great space for it, with the surrounding balcony up above -- from which people looked down on the action throughout the day -- adding positively to the atmosphere and making it all seem like more of an “event” than might be the case in nondescript ballrooms.

Seemed like Rich and I kept encountering lots of characters on Thursday, folks opening up and joking around with us constantly as the waitress had, and we found ourselves laughing a lot after some of the exchanges. We’re both used to the whole “southern hospitality” thing having spent time in NC, but we still found ourselves enjoying all of the friendly banter at seemingly every turn.

We got back to the hotel and settled into our adjacent rooms, then a little later the lights tantalizingly flickered on and off before shutting off altogether. We sat in silent darkness for a short while, then ventured out into the hall, realizing we were in fact the only inhabitants of our entire floor.

Was starting to feel a little like a horror movie. Weren’t those original Evil Dead movies filmed in North Carolina? We found our way down to the lobby.

Soon we discovered it wasn’t just our hotel, but all of Cherokee that had suffered a power outage thanks to a passing storm. We gazed out the front windows up Paint Town Road to discover the large Harrah’s complex had gone dark, too. The lady at the front desk gave us candles, and we hung around for a while before heading back up in the darkness.

Power did return a couple of hours later, and by morning the bright sun filled the little valley in which Harrah’s Cherokee sits as we rode in for the first day of play. Have to confess I was feeling a little added anticipation heading in. As I’ve mentioned before, having been born here and lived most of my life in the state, I have added curiosity about this event and harbor hope that it goes well and will encourage more events here in the future.

Ken “Teach” Aldridge delivered the “shuffle up and deal” yesterday, and he prefaced the call with a few remarks about poker’s popularity in the state and region. Aldridge won a WSOP bracelet in 2009 in a $1,500 six-handed NLH event and has cashed every year since, including making a H.O.R.S.E. final table in 2010 where he finished fourth in an event won by Phil Ivey.

Aldridge actually owns a car dealership in Burlington (Ken’s Cars), and I grew up in nearby Elon. I’ve had a conversation with my Pop about him and I believe they either know each other or have mutual acquaintances. He busted in the afternoon yesterday, but I imagine we’ll be seeing his signature bright yellow jacket and cap sometime today as players who have been eliminated can re-enter for Day 1b.

Ended up running into and talking to other players from Elon, Burlington, and the surrounding area yesterday as well, which made the day more interesting. Just glancing at an early, incomplete list of yesterday’s entrants, it looked like around a third of those who came out were from North Carolina, a little less than a third were from Georgia, and around 10% each were from Tennessee and South Carolina.

The field probably skews a little older than the typical WSOP-C crowd, although I haven’t sorted through the DOBs. I say that both because of my general impression walking through the tables yesterday and because of how things played out in other events prior to our arrival, including a largest ever field for a seniors event here. A total of 648 played in the non-ring $250 buy-in event, won by 62-year-old Tennessean David Moersdorf who then went on to win one of the ring events, too (a $365 NLH one).

The day went well and we were out by midnight, with 83 players making it through to Sunday’s Day 2. Again we encountered several characters at the tables, many engaging us throughout the day as we passed to and for with our notepads. Probably the most interesting hand of the day came relatively late when I happened on a table where all nine players limped in to see a flop. Couldn’t resist calling the post describing the hand “Southern Hospitality.”

A few names standing out among those making it through thus far. The leader at the moment, David Nicholson, is a three-time Circuit ring winner. Claudia Crawford (“Roll Tide!”), Kyle Cartwright, and Greg Raymer all bagged up big stacks, too.

There were a total of 354 who played yesterday, which I think undershot some expectations a bit as folks had been thinking the tourney would draw as many as 1,000 entries. That seems a little out of reach after Friday’s number, although the current buzz is suggesting we’ll see a bigger field today. At least that is what Stewie thinks.

Click over to PokerNews today if you are curious to follow how things are playing out in Cherokee.

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Blogger NT said...

I do hope you'll stop over in Asheville on the way home. It would be lovely to see you!

~ NT (aka Cardgrrl)

4/13/2013 11:05 AM  

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