Let the chips fall where they may

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 3, 2006

COLUMBUS — When the chips are down for A.J. McKnight and Chris Collins, that’s good news.

The chips were down for the bet and both came up big winners in a World Series of Poker online qualifier that earned the two Ironton natives a spot in the World Series of Poker for July in Las Vegas.

The total package is valued at $12,000. A seat in the tournament is $10,000 and each will receive a free air flight and hotel accommodations, provided they wear Poker Stars.com T-shirts which is the web site for the qualifying tournaments.

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“If we wear the shirts, we get our hotel free. I think I’ll choose to wear the shirt,” Collins said.

The World Series of Poker is televised by ESPN and ESPN2. Popularity in the event has skyrocketed in the past few years.

In 2003, there were 850 participants. Today, PokerStars.com sends nearly 2,000 players with a total of nearly 9,000 projected to participate in the tournament.

McKnight and Collins admit they have the fever.

“I started playing right after I graduated in 2004,” McKnight said.

Collins, who like McKnight played football for Ironton, said playing poker began in the fall during the football season.

“We played on Thursdays before a football game. We’d talk about the game and just take it easy,” Collins said.

Although they share a love of the game, neither wants to make it a career.

Collins, a business major at Ohio State University, said playing there is a greater percentage of poker players who will be broke than hit a lucrative pot.

“To make it, you’ve got to be extremely lucky,” Collins said. “Guys who do it play at a level that far exceeds what we do.You have to play a lot of big tournaments.”

McKnight, a student at the University of Tennessee, agreed.

“You might think it’s a great living, but it’s a constant grind and you never know when that paycheck is coming,” McKnight said.

The two bought into the online poker tournament for $50. They admitted that they don’t like higher priced tournaments with buy-ins that range from $2,500 up to as much as $50,000.

“Normally, I don’t play for actual money,” McKnight said. “In a tournament, you pay a $50 buy-in and once you lose that, you’re out.”

Collins said he and McKnight don’t play online poker on a regular basis.

“There are months where we don’t play at all. The winter is a great time to play because there’s not a lot to do but stay inside,” Collins said. “This time of year, the weather is nice and there’s more to do.”

Both players said it will be a new experience playing in a live tournament as opposed to online.

“The first day I’ll be nervous, then I’ll be OK. If the stakes get higher, I’ll probably get nervous again,” McKnight said.

“Poker is a very skilled game, but luck is a factor. Sometimes the person who wins is who gets lucky,” Collins said.

The two poker players will leave July 27 and be in Las Vegas from July 28 to Aug. 12. They will be playing for a winning purse of more than $7 million.

McKnight said they two have a pact to share some of the winnings provided it’s a minimum amount.

“We’ll give the other guy five percent. That’s pretty common among poker players,” McKnight said.