of the best kept secrets going through the bars and clubs in recent
years has been local poker tournaments. Giving people the opportunity
to play in an actual competitive environment without wasting time and
gas to get to Nevada, all while being able to give local venues a
chance to do something else on nights when little is happening.
One of the more successful of these tournaments is the Salt Lake Poker Tour. I got a chance to talk to tour owner and operator Chuck Hudgins about having this kind of a competition here in Utah, as well as how the tournament works and it's success to date. I also got to take some photos of the event that was held this past Wednesday at The Woodshed.
Gavin: Hey Chuck, tell us a little about yourself?
Chuck: I’m an east coast transplant. I moved to Utah about 5 years ago to get my PhD in Philosophy, and hopefully will finish up next year. I have been playing poker for about three years.
Gavin: For those unaware, what is the Salt Lake Poker Tour?
Chuck: Salt Lake Poker Tour is basically a series of weekly tournaments held at local bars. We run free No Limit Texas Hold’em tournaments at Johnny’s on Second, The Woodshed, The Point After, The Cell Block, Oscars and Piper Down (all private clubs for members… of course).
Gavin: How did the idea come about for the Tour, how did it get started and how long has it been going?
Chuck: The tour started at Piper Down several years ago. Originally they would have a couple of tables (meaning twenty or so players in the tournament) once or twice a week. Since then it has grown to 12 tournaments a week with some of the tournaments having as many as 80 players.
Gavin: Now does the tournament play with a pot or with whatever cash is on hand. And why that way?
Chuck: Our tournaments are free to play, so the bars put up the prizes. Since the dealers do not get paid by the bar, the players will usually tip $5 or so. Otherwise, it’s a standard last player standing tournament structure with blinds (the Hold’em version of an ante) being raised every twenty minutes or so.
Gavin: I'm sure you get this all the time... but why Utah? Why not go do this in a state with more relaxed gambling mentality?
Chuck: Actually, the laws in Utah are fairly typical in terms of the sorts of activities that are allowed in bars. People are kind of surprised when I say that, but most states are pretty strict about what you can and cannot do when it comes to gambling like activities, and rightly so. The important thing for us is that we are not offering gambling of any kind because all of our tournaments are free to play. While the concept of gambling has been notoriously difficult to define in a legal context, one thing that is generally agreed upon is that it involves risking something of value. So since there is no buy-in, there is no gambling.
Gavin: Does the negativity some people push onto the game ever bother you?
Chuck: Over the years we have gotten pretty good at keeping things fun for the players. As I see it, having fun is the whole point to begin with. We just want people to come down and play a game with their friends in an atmosphere that is comfortable and enjoyable. If someone goes out of their way to disrupt the game or upset another player, we just send them packing.
Gavin: Have you had any trouble from the city or state over having this kind of tournament?
Chuck: I have never had any trouble from any of the authorities, mostly because I make an ongoing effort to stay within what the laws allow. I understand that they are keeping an eye on us so to speak, but I have nothing to hide.
Gavin: How often do you tour over the city, and do you ever get out of the Salt Lake Valley?
Chuck: We have tournaments just about every day of the week, ranging from downtown Salt Lake to Midvale. And of course we are always looking to expand the tour.
Gavin: Are there any big tournaments, or is it just kept to small private events?
Chuck: We have a points system for our players. The way it works now is, if you finish in the top nine places of any of our tournaments you get points. After a 10 week period, the top 80 players get to compete in a final tournament with a bigger prize payout. Our next big tournament will be this Saturday at The Woodshed. We basically just turn it in to a big party complete with band and fun contests. This time the tournament will have an 80’s theme with prizes for the best 80’s outfits. It’s really just a way for me to say thanks to all of my regular players.
Gavin: What's the reaction been like with the players and crowds who come to watch?
Chuck: Most people are surprised to see a poker tournament in a bar. They usually say something like “Isn’t this illegal?” But then they usually follow that up with “What’s the buy-in?” Then of course we have to explain how everything works and that there is no buy-in. Generally speaking, people get pretty excited about it. The other thing is that people tend not to realize, until they play once or twice, how much fun it is and what a great way it is to socialize in a bar. Most people spend their time in a bar sitting in their booth or table and don’t socialize that much with new people, which is pretty ironic. Playing poker makes it so easy to chat with new people, get to know them and then crack their pocket pair 6-8 off-suit.
Gavin: How have the venues been treating you, and what's their take on having it?
Chuck: The venues have been great to us. The bottom line for them of course is that they want people to have a reason to come to their bar. In that sense, Salt Lake Poker Tour is no different than a band or a karaoke company.
Gavin: Have you ever considered getting bigger sponsorship than just the venues you play at?
Chuck: Sponsorships are tricky for us. A lot of companies are a bit wary of being associated with poker in Utah. While I can understand their reluctance, it’s a bit frustrating. That said, I am always looking for local businesses that might want to get involved and make use of the tour as an advertising opportunity. We have hundreds of players, so it’s a great fit for companies that want to target the local twenty-something crowd.
Gavin: Have you tried to do anything with the college scene, or is the poker community still taking a step back after the issue with Big SLC Poker Club?
Chuck: Not really. I feel much more comfortable with the bar scene and a strictly 21 and up crowd.
Gavin: I also understand you do private parties. How have those been working for you?
Chuck: We do private parties and charitable events. That is basically Chris’ side of the business. Over the last couple of years, for example, we have raised a pretty good chunk of change for the Utah Arts Festival, which is a great cause.
Gavin: What events have you got coming up for people who are interested?
Chuck: We have a dozen weekly tournaments, so the best thing to do is to check out the schedule on our website. Our points system is going to start back up in about a week, so now is a great time to jump in.