Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2004 | Features

Poker: House of Cards

By Kathryn Howe

Michael Callahan clutches his cards. His eyes flicker to the other colorful cards lying face-up on the green felt, circular table. He studies the body language of his opponent, Ben Larsen, who places all his chips in the pot. Callahan matches the bet, and the excited crowd leans in for a closer look as both men flip over their hands.

As the dealer reveals the final card, Callahan’s stony poker face breaks into an uncontrollable grin. Thanks to a pair of twos, he’s the World Series poker champion.

But this isn’t Vegas; this is Iowa City. Instead of a glittering casino, the men are at the UI Field House, competing in the UI’s first annual intramural poker tournament. The game of choice: No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em, a phenomenon currently captivating the nation, thanks to televised tournaments starring professional players and celebrities.

The UI’s competition is one of many taking place these days on college campuses. And on this fall Thursday, it’s a full house at the Field House. More than three hours before the tourney kicks off, eager poker players form a line. Some wear hooded sweatshirts, sunglasses, and hats pulled down over their eyes—common practice among aficionados who want to conceal any giveaway facial “tells.” Over the next four hours, a combination of skill and luck of the draw whittles the 161 original players down to the final two.

Players in the real World Series can walk away with a million dollars or more. Grand champion Callahan takes home a deluxe poker set. Still, he’s flushed with victory, and perhaps he’ll be back next year to try his hand again. Staffers at the UI’s Division of Recreational Services, which hosted the tournament, consider it a perfect way to provide students alcohol-free entertainment.

For new players just catching onto the craze, Callahan offers some advice. “Always pay attention, don’t try to bluff more than two players, and never, ever, slow play your aces,” he says. “You’re not out until your last chip is gone.”