All In — Poker is big with Cache Valley's next generation

Cache Valley Magazine — March/April 2005

Across from each other at a card table in the basement of a North Logan home, Aaron DeTienne and Cory Boehme sit waiting. The two Logan High School seniors check their cell phones every few minutes, humor DeTienne's younger sister, and lean back in their folding chairs so the front legs come off the carpet, without a hint of impatience to get started on the evening's plan.

It's ten o'clock on a Sunday night, and there isn't a book in sight.

"If people don't have anything to do," says classmate Paul Doucette, 17, when he shows up and settles into a chair between the two, "it's poker."

So stacks of chips are passed out, another player arrives, cards get dealt, and it becomes obvious that to these guys, more often than not it's poker regardless of what else there is to do.

Doucette, DeTienne and Boehme play weekly now, but proudly admit they were on a nightly schedule last fall. They've played outdoors when the weather was nice; they've bet macaroni and Cheerios when they didn't have cash; they've even dealt impromptu hands over lunch at Beto's and Fredrico's Pizza. What's one more late night on a day before school when you're 17?

The explosion in popularity over the past few years of Texas Hold 'Em poker nationwide has caught on in Cache Valley; and as with most trends, the youth of Cache Valley have anteed up to the table as well. Boys, or girls, college or high school, for free or for lunch money, there's probably a game out there. Locally, you could say, the video game generation has a new hobby.

"It's actually becoming very popular at USU," says Nate Dutson, 22, a returned Mormon missionary who now plays a low-stakes biweekly (and sometimes more often than that, he admits) game with a group that varies between five and 15 guys.

Start asking, and games aren't hard to find. Texas Hold 'Em tournaments with a $1 buy-in were widespread on the Logan High football team last fall, neighbors in university apartment complexes like Kampus Korner or Old Farm know which apartments host poker nights, and everyone seems to have a story of a friend who is hooked playing on-line. There isn't even a stereotypical player anymore.

"We just got stuck on it," said Jessica Farrer, a 20-year-old USU student who learned Hold 'Em last month with six other girls. "It's something new. Better than studying."

Matt Coulter was hooked last August. Although he says his play is down recently, buddies still describe Coulter as a poker "fiend" and the "instigator" of many late-night poker sessions. It may not have been his intention to get the Hold 'Em habit started among friends — Coulter originally taught his buddies the game "pitch" — but the social pressure of a fad gaining momentum took over.

"There were tons of people into Hold 'Em," said Coulter, 22. "There were more people willing to play."

When Coulter and friends were at their peak last fall, some nights his small off-campus apartment would have enough players to support two tables. Fellow players admit there have been all-night sessions. A ledger that Coulter kept to track winnings and losses — regulars pay up or collect at the end of the month — had over a dozen names. And Coulter quickly offers to introduce you to a handful of other groups at USU with similar stories.

"It's huge on campus," says Coulter, and mentions a recent Mardi Gras event on campus where students couldn't even sit down at a Hold 'Em table because of it's popularity — and that was a game where chips were free. "It's more than just gambling, it's like a sport."

At the teenaged game in North Logan, the television in a corner is turned off. Surprisingly so, it turns out, because the four amateurs admit that the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour, Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown, or ESPN's World Series of Poker programs are, in fact, where learned Hold 'Em from less than a year ago.

"TV, that's what got it started," says Aaron Detienne, the 17-year-old host tonight, and admittedly the kid with the least luck in the group of six or seven that has been playing regularly the past few months.

On the surface, however, the boys have little in common with their card shark heroes. There's little semblance of a poker face at the table — "I can't bluff," Detienne admits, and Boehme often announces his hand before the bets get started. House rules don't allow blinds or limits, $2 gets you back in the game, and cell phone calls are handled simultaneously with betting rounds. And Chris Moneymaker's mom never shows up at his table to see how everything is going.

But these amateurs, despite pots that never go higher than $20 due to a lack of cash — or jobs to fix that problem, some lament — have picked up plenty from the television programs, gaming web sites and media that hype the current craze.

"It's kind of the image," says Coulter of the Hold 'Em craze, mentioning that even trendy clothier American Eagle now uses poker themes in clothing lines. "Even when you read Sports Illustrated, they'll have ads of people in Vegas. I can kind of see it as a trend now, whether that's good or bad."

In a small Logan apartment on a chilly Wednesday in February, five 22-year-olds have gathered for another round of Hold 'Em. B.B. King is playing on the stereo, dirty dishes are left in the sink behind the kitchen table, and folding chairs take up nearly all of a black and white linoleum floor. Although the game's regularity has waned since fall semester — "This semester we're all broke," says one player — the enthusiasm hasn't.

Marcus Pratt has been up since 5 a.m., has six chapters of Spanish to read, and has already bought back into the $5 game after being drained of chips in the first half hour by his friends. It's 11 p.m.

Another player mentions he has a 7:30 a.m. class, one guy has to take his girlfriend home, but none have moved in the past hour — and it isn't time to change that.

"This is my sixth or seventh time," says Dave Bethers, who joined the game late but, not surprisingly, buys back in after he's out of chips to push the game on. "But it's kind of addicting, you know?"

Nearing midnight, the 22-year-old with five stacks of red, white, green and blue chips is bullying bets around to finish off the game. They might all be bluffs, but it's working as he slowly drains the last two players at the table of the $5 they started with a few hours ago.

"I gotta start studying soon," he says, resigned even as he fingers his row of chips. "Don't we all?" says another, who has stayed up just to watch how the action plays out, and the laughter continues, and the light stays on.


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