Tristen Barnes curved his long fingers over his cards, shielding them from the others at the poker table. His expression was nonchalant, as if thinking about something as inconsequential as his next trip to the grocery store. Inside his brain, however, he planned his next move.
He and another player were locked in a strategic battle. The dealer dealt cards rapid-fire to the two, while the other seven Texas Hold ’em players watched. Barnes stealthily peered at the card and flicked his glance to the cards on the table. So far, he had a pair of fives. A flurry of bidding and dealing ensued. By the end, Barnes held two pairs. When the other player laid down his pair of aces, Barnes smiled and raked in the $148 pot.
At age 20, Barnes is one of the youngest players at the Wildhorse Poker Round Up, which runs Nov. 2-12.
“I’ve been playing poker as long as I can recall,” said Barnes, who was schooled by his father, a semi-professional player.
Barnes is barred from most other tournaments until he hits 21. However, since alcoholic beverages aren’t served on the floor at Wildhorse, the Poker Round Up is open to anyone 18 or older.
The Salem poker player, who is studying to get his real estate license and works as a back flow tester, feels comfortable with players decades his elder. On Wednesday, as Barnes’ chip cache ebbed and flowed, he demonstrated the art of holding and folding. Older players paid their respects to Barnes.
“He’s the dude,” said one.
“He’s one of the best,” said another.
Across the table from Barnes sat Jorge Canada, a South American-born poker player who sits 25th on the Wildhorse Poker Tournament All-Time list. The Kennewick car salesman has played Wildhorse for 10 years straight, winning $82,054 and earning all-around honors the last three years in a row. Canada’s chip pile had dwindled slightly.
Barnes, Canada and the others around the table share a unique vocabulary. There’s the big blind and the small blind, the button and the flop. The rainbow and the river.
“They’ve got their own language,” said tournament director Jeremy Maddern. “Unless you know poker, you are walking into a brand new world.”
Only seniors could play in the Wednesday afternoon tournament, so Canada, who is 49, and Barnes were playing a side game for cash.
Maddern said 500-to-600 players show up to play on Fridays and Saturdays during these tournaments and from 200-250 players Sunday through Thursday. The tournaments generally last about 12 hours. Maddern described the group of poker players as close-knit.
“It’s like a family reunion every time we have one of these,” he said.
That’s not to say they don’t get competitive when the cards are dealt. There is money to be won. Tuesday’s winner, James Morris, of Olympia, Washington, won $19,452. On the all-time winners list, Justin Monk has taken home a total of $195,458 over the years. Barnes may end up on that list someday, but for now, he’s just happy to play.
“What I enjoy is developing the ability to read players — their facial expressions, their body language. Sometimes it can be a tell,” he said. “That to me is fascinating.”
Four hours later, Barnes still sat at the table, $50 higher than when he started. He couldn’t have been happier.
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or call 541-966-0810.