Poker back on the table at Millville fire hall

Herb Dulin remembers when poker was “taboo.” Groups of friends would gather in side rooms or basements to play the game, but it was not plastered on television screens worldwide or popular in the mainstream. A lot has changed.

“Professional” pokerites now play for millions on ESPN, online poker has become a craze and Texas Hold’em is even an acceptable fundraising vehicle. After drawing nearly 140 participants for an August tournament — with others left standing — Millville Fire Company plans to hold its second fundraising tournament on March 3.

“It was taboo,” recalled Dulin, head of Go All In poker, the tournament vendor running the March 3 tournament. “Everybody is playing poker nowadays.”

A bill approved by the Delaware General Assembly in the summer of 2005 allowed non-profit organizations — such as fire companies — to begin hosting Texas Hold’em tournaments as fundraisers.

Dulin said Go All In have organized about 95 tournaments since November of 2005 and the non-profits usually clear roughly $2,000 to $2,500. The MVFC made about $8,000 on its Aug. 26 tournament and expects to bring more in this year by making room for more participants.

Players must pay $100 to buy in to the tournament, which officials expect to offer $8,000 in prizes, with $2,000 of that going to the night’s top player. Prospective participants can register and buy in now at the MVFC station on Route 26.

Michael Gichner, a truck driver from Ocean View, has already registered.

“It’s a fun, relaxing, get-together-type thing,” Gichner said. “I play poker once a month with a group. It’s just an enjoyable game.

Gichner credited the exposure Texas Hold’em has received, mostly on ESPN, with its still-booming popularity.

“A lot of people watch it on TV,” he said. “It’s big. The money these guys are winning on TV is astronomical.” (The winner of the 2006 World Series of Poker walked with a $12 million prize.)

In Texas Hold’em, easily the most popular poker game at the present, each player is dealt two cards. After a round of betting, the dealer turns over three cards in what experienced players call the “flop.” Those three cards serve as a community cards every player uses to make up their hand. Five cards in all serve as community cards — a sharp contrast to a game such as five-card stud, where the player is dealt five cards he keeps hidden from his opponents. The last two community cards, flipped individually after more betting, are referred to as the “turn” and the “river.”

The player with the best hand — a straight flush, in which a player has five consecutive cards of the same suit, is the only hand that beats four of a kind — or the one who lasts if the others give up their hand, or “fold,” wins. Then it starts all over again, until only one player remains.

Professionals on ESPN and amateurs playing worldwide have come to play the game habitually, wearing sunglasses to try to fool their opponents, pondering what two cards the guy next to them has.

“You have to know how to read people,” said Gichner, who admitted that he does not expect to win the upcoming tourney. “That’s the whole game. If you can’t do that, you don’t go far.”

The March 3 game — and that game within the game — will not feature last year’s winner, though, who was pre-committed to a Maryland tournament.

Nathan Mitchell, a Dagsboro resident who drove home $2,000 richer after winning the Aug. 26 tournament, recently attempted to explain why the backroom tournament finally hit the mainstream.

“It’s a get-together,” Mitchell said, acknowledging, too, that television exposure has played a big role. “(You) get people together and have some fun. I play once a week, somewhere in that neighborhood. You more or less get to [mess] around.”