Attracting the world's best poker players to a tournament outside Nevada or Atlantic City, N.J., would have been unheard of a decade ago.
Now, with the prominence of the Southland's card casinos, some of the nation's best card sharks convened last week at the Bicycle Club Casino for California's largest poker tournament.
"We get the cream of the crop in here," Robert Turner, 46, one of the Bicycle Club's house pros, said of this year's poker talent. "Poker tourneys like this one just keep on expanding within the overall gaming business."
This month 300 seasoned poker veterans and some newcomers will pay $500 entry fees to compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money and a luxury automobile.
Buy-ins, or the amount of money required to play in each day's event, range from $300 to $5,000. The tournament winner will be determined Aug. 31 by a tally of playoff points given to the winners of lowball, limit hold 'em and seven-card stud.
"If the poker god wills it, I'll win," said Men (The Master) Nguyen, a tournament favorite. Nguyen, 39, said he usually sticks to the professional circuit in Las Vegas, but made sure to enter the 10-year-old Bicycle Club tournament.
One of the flashier professionals on the circuit, Nguyen said he spent $200,000 in prize money last year to rebuild a Buddhist temple in his native Vietnam.
His secret to consistent winning: "You create a game in your mind and use your own technique. It's all concentration, mind over matter."
Some participants said their concentration was ruined by the tournament's new ban on smoking. For those wishing to take a smoking break, the casino made a smoking lounge available.
Last year's tournament winner, Todd Brunson of Las Vegas, pocketed $110,800.