By Tom Price Jr.
Playing poker was like riding a bike for Ron Turner.
For six years the 49-year-old nursery owner was so engulfed in his work that he barely had time to play a friendly game of cards. But on April 18 he jumped back on his bike, playing in and winning a World Series of Poker Satellite Tournament at the Palace Indian Gaming Center in Lemoore. The win earned him an automatic bid to the May 22-28 World Series of Poker at the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas.
"I have played more poker in the last four months than I have in my whole life," said Turner who only entered the tournament in Lemoore after some cajoling from a friend. "I have wanted to play in the World Series for about 10 years, but never really pursued it that much."
Turner beat out nearly 300 players for the automatic bid to the World Series. Along with the $10,000 buy-in for the World Series he was also given $2,500 and a room at the Rio for the week of the tournament. The World Series of Poker is a seven-day tournament of no-limit Texas Hold 'em.
"It's like a free ride scholarship to play football for a major college," Turner said. "The Palace is taking care of me, all they want me to do is play poker."
And for the past three weeks Turner has done just that, playing the game on the internet, with friends and last weekend he went to Vegas to play with the professionals. Showing little rust from his extended absence from the game he has impressed not only his peers but those on the other side of the table. Mark Hayes, who is the table games shift manager at the Palace Indian Gaming Center, says Turner is at no disadvantage because he is not a professional.
"He has obviously played well to get where he is," Hayes said. "It's a very long tournament, he is going to be competing with over 2,000 players, but being a professional doesn't mean you are going to win all the touraments."
Turner says he feels very comfortable at the table no matter the stakes and he won't alter his strategy when he is sitting at the table with the world's best players.
"I will play conservative early and get a feel for the table, but don't get me worng when I get the cards I am not conservative at all," Turner said. "Some guys wear glasses at the table and that cracks me up, you won't see me with glasses I don't need them, if somebody want to look at me I will look them right in the eye."
Turner's carefree and confident attitude about the whole thing might have spawned from his unlikely path to the World Series. Like Turner, last year's World Series winner Chris Moneymaker was a part-time poker player who played with the enthusiasm of a rookie and the skill of a professional, and Turner thinks it could be the same story this year but with his name on the check.
"There is no way I could pass this opportunity upm, Moneymaker won the tournament last year and now they fly him around to tournaments wher he gets appearance fees just for showing up," Turner said. "I will turn 50 two days after I win the tournamnet, heck they can fly me all around if they want. Seriously, I still have a lot of work to do before I win that tournament."
The Palace has held satellite tournaments for the World Series of Poker for three years and this year they are sending three players including Turner to the prestigious tournament. The highest finish by a winner from the Palace was 145th from last years field of around 800 players.
Hayes says since the game of poker has been televised on ESPN and the Travel Channel in recent years the contest has grown in popularity and local players can expect more satellte tournaments from The Palace.
"With the shows and the internet games poker has exploded and it can be seen at poker rooms everywhere," Hayes said.
This year's World Series of Poker will return to television at 9 p.m.on June 8 on ESPN.