Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ozark Mountain Poker Wedding

Note: This is a reprint of an article originally written for PokerSchoolOnline. The wedding took place in April 2006. I'm putting it here in case PSO takes it down. In addition, I am told that it may not be accessible to non-PSO members. This link is to the PokerPages.com version.

Ordinarily, a wedding ceremony would not be an appropriate subject for a PSO trip report. Not every wedding, however, has a poker theme. One third of the attendees at Dream_Catcher and missouridave´s wedding, including the bride & groom and best man, are members of Poker School Online or Bugsy´s Club. Equally extraordinary is the fact that the minister performing the service is a professional poker dealer. Naturally the bride and groom spent their wedding night in their honeymoon suite where they hosted a live poker tournament for their family and PSO friends. In any case, their engagement was previously a topic of discussion in the PSO forums, so please consider this as a follow-up trip report.

Dave and Carolyn Carrigan at their home in Boonville, MO

The wedding was held at Bennett Spring State Park in southern Missouri´s Ozark Mountains on April 15, 2006. What a beautiful spot for a wedding! Bennett Spring, for which the 3,100 acre park is named, is a natural spring with a flow of 100 millions gallons of fresh water per day. When Missouri was a wilderness (prior to the 19th century) the spring provided hunting, fishing and drinking water for Native Americans who believed the area to be a sacred place of healing. The first Grist Mill was established in 1846 to harness the energy supplied by the water´s constant flow. The neighboring valley became a popular camping ground for farmers while waiting for the grain to be ground at the mill.

Around 1900, more than 40,000 mountain trout were introduced into the spring. A privately owned fish hatchery was built in 1923. Shortly thereafter, the state purchased the spring and surrounding land to create a state park. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), following the Great Depression of 1929, added cabins, shelter houses, hiking trails, roads and the beautiful arched bridge across the spring branch. The CCC also constructed the stone pavilion where the wedding ceremony was held and the rustic dining lodge, site of the wedding reception. The dining room in the lodge features walls of stone, beamed ceilings and iron chandeliers with a trout motif.

The adjacent Niangua River has long been a popular float stream, a perfect place to glide along in a canoe. Missouridave (Dave), an avid fisherman, has enjoyed Bennett Spring and the Niangua River for many years. So this is where he took Dream_Catcher (Carolyn Sue) on their first overnight date. Once they announced their engagement, selecting Bennett Spring for the site of the wedding ceremony was an easy choice. They wanted to have Julie D'Auteuil, a mutual friend and recently ordained minister, perform the wedding ceremony. It would be her first! But that choice wasn´t so easy. They were told by the pastor of the church located within the park that they could not bring an outside person to conduct the wedding without his permission. This was more than a minor annoyance.

Carolyn first met Julie dealing poker in the Isle of Capri Casino in Boonville, Missouri. Julie dealt cards some of the time and served as the floor supervisor in the poker room when she wasn´t dealing. Prior to dealing poker, Julie was a long distance trucker, a member of the Air Force, and a massage therapist. She has a part time position in a publishing office down the road in Rocheport and, when they met, was studying to become an ordained minister. What a fascinating person! Rocheford is a fascinating little town as well. Located on the Katy Trail, a 250-mile former railroad bed now utilized as a biking and hiking trail (I walked 12 miles of the trail while I was there), Rocheport was recently named one of the ten coolest places to live in the U.S. It is easy to understand why.

During early 2005, Carolyn and Julie had a few opportunities to talk about some of their mutual interests during Carolyn´s occasional visits to the Isle of Capri poker room. One day Carolyn noticed a bright orange bracelet that Julie was wearing while she was dealing. It was part of a special casino promotion. She was attracted to the color and told her that she really liked her bracelet. Julie offered to give it to her once the promotion ended. Several weeks passed by and they did not meet up again. Carolyn was busy at work and her 16-year-old daughter Chelsea was home from school, so she had no time for the casino. On August 13, Julie was working the poker room desk and noticed the bracelet in her loose-leaf binder. She was about to throw it away, figuring Carolyn had completely forgotten about it.

As Julie was contemplating the bracelet´s future, Carolyn walked into the poker room. It was a night of the week that she would not usually go out. But she felt an urge to visit the casino, about a 25-mile drive from her home near Columbia. Julie handed Carolyn the bracelet, which she promptly put on her wrist before taking her seat at the $3/$6 Limit Hold´Em table. Most of the players at the table were people she had played before. They were the usual calling stations and loose aggressive types that remained in most hands until the river. There was a gentleman she had not seen previously sitting directly across the table, wearing a black cowboy hat pulled down over his eyes. It was only his second visit to the Boonville casino. He lived in Sedalia, about an hour west of Boonville, and worked unusual hours. Most of his poker playing, she learned later, was on the Internet at a place called Poker School Online. After a few hands went by, a surprisingly gentle voice came out from under the hat saying, "I like your bracelet. Orange is one of my favorite colors." The ice was broken.

The Isle of Capri Casino on the banks of the Missouri River

So, this is how I wound up with a wedding invitation:

In the PSO forum, missouridave wrote:

"I must tell you all about my trip to the local casino…I arrived and signed in and not wanting to lose my vacation money, but still wanting to get a few hours of live play in, I opted for the Limit poker game. To make a long story short, I met a very nice lady at that game. By the end of the evening we were just both rolling our eyes at the any two cards people were playing. We ended up, both of us leaving the game about midnite, and sat at an empty blackjack table and talked for more than 3 hours until 3 am.

The next day I invited her to my apartment, she lives about an hour away, in Columbia, MO, for dinner, grilled ribeyes and a baked potato, and we had a wonderful evening. Not being familiar with Sedalia she got lost when leaving about midnight, went south instead of north when leaving town and was almost to the lakes when she realized I-70 is the other way.

I get a knock on my door at 1 am. We sat up and talked till dawn ... I gave her my bed (I am a gentleman "All bark-No bite" and this lady is smart. She really knows her math, being just a few college credits short of having an engineering degree and has worked at 3M for nearly 14 years) and we spent the next day together while I canned tomatoes, and made tator salad for my fishing trip (which I was gonna leave for at 8 am that morning) To say the least I didn't leave yesterday, but will be in a few hours of this post.

We both ended up losing about $100 at the 3-6 game. But on Sunday night, after we ate dinner and chatted, I/we played the $500 buy-in game at PSO with her by my side, and we talked about every hand (with music from the late 70's playing on the stereo). I finished 4th and had a wonderful night with a wonderful lady. I expect to be seeing a lot of Carolyn Sue, sorry ladies at PSO, but don't fret, I will still be flirting as I always have. And I suspect Carolyn Sue will soon be the newest member of PSO.

I must go now and pack for my one-day delayed week long trout fishing and canoe trip on the Niangua River. BTW in two weeks Carolyn Sue will accompany me there for a weekend trip…"

Later, he wrote:

"I met this lady just 3 weeks ago on August 13th. I never knew I would hit such a homerun that night I went to the casino. CarolynSue and I are getting married in the spring… Carolyn has been lurking here since meeting me and she thinks this a great community. She will soon be a new member.

I will soon be moving to Pilot Grove, Missouri. Carolyn works at 3M in Columbia, and I work at Alcan Aluminum in Dresden about an hour apart, so we are going to buy a house with about 10-20 acres halfway between the two towns and we will have the land for the horse. We will be married in the spring. Poker is a great game. I already have my first bracelet…I love you more than I can ever say CarolynSue. And I love you my friends at PSO."

We were all happy for Dave, of course. But being poker players, some of us were a bit skeptical about what was really going on. When Dream_Catcher joined Poker School Online, she was invited to join our Study Group.

Dream_Catcher, upon accepting her invitation, posted in Study Group “C”:

"ChessSafari, thank you so very much for giving me the opportunity to be in your group, it is truly a privilege. I will be honored if you come to the wedding."

ChessSafari (that's me!) responded (short version):

"Carolyn, sweetheart, we are all so very pleased that you really exist (!) and that you have joined our Group. Everyone I know at PSO looks up to (admires) your husband-to-be...his play, his respect for others, his sense of humor, his love of this game; in short, his soul.

I will most certainly be at your wedding if my health permits...and I am the one honored by your invitation. I don't admit this to many people but my father lived in Dexter, MO for several years (hiding either from the feds or his mafia friends) so I have a touch of Missouri blood running through my veins."

Bennett Spring State Park, located in the Ozark Mountains

So that´s how I got invited to the wedding. And I wouldn´t have made it if not for the help of my friend Delilah who encouraged me to take a side trip to Missouri on my way to visit her in Seattle. I´m heading out there to stay while I finish my book. When I told Delilah of Carolyn and Dave´s wedding, she said, "You should go. And take as many beautiful side trips along the way as you like." So I did.

I arrived in Boonville on April 2, courtesy of Carolyn who picked me up where the bus had left me off in Columbia. I played in a chess tournament at University of Missouri on April Fools´ Day, but that´s another post for another forum on a different site. My goal here was to play poker in the casino where Carolyn and Dave met and, hopefully, win enough to give them back, as a wedding gift, the money they lost on the night they met. Since I respect them both as better poker players than me, I knew that was not going to be an easy task, especially at a loose $3/$6 table. But, hey, I had nearly two weeks to do it.

The first three sessions were all profitable, albeit a slow grind. I made a decision to play tight and to be selective, knowing that I had to show down good hands to take any pots. After three days I was more than halfway to my goal, so I took a few days off from poker and did some writing, exercising and planning. When I returned to the casino on Friday, April 7, I suffered a humbling setback, losing half what I had won previously. On Saturday, Chad Snelling (metalmania on PSO) joined Carolyn, Dave and me at the casino. It was Chad´s first live game after more than two years on PSO! At one point, the four of us were at the same live table. Action slowed way down as neither of us wanted to enter a pot that any of the others was in. It was essentially a breakeven night for all of us, except Chad who won $250 when he stopped at a slot machine on the way back from a trip to the men´s room.

I was starting to get discouraged. As I tallied up the week´s play in my Al Spath Poker Journal, I noted that I had played 16.8 hours in 5 sessions and was ahead $51, or 8.5 BB. At a rate of 0.5 BB per hour, that meant I would have to play 50 more hours at that rate to reach my goal. Meanwhile, I was scheduled to check out of my hotel in Boonville the next day. Chad said he was coming to Boonville on Monday and invited me to meet him at the Casino at 7 pm so that we could make transportation and lodging plans for the wedding. I arrived at 6 pm and put both our names on the list for the $3/$6 game. Monday is a slow day so there were only two hold´em tables open, one for limit and one for no limit. I had already decided to avoid the no limit table because of the implicit collusion between the players who all seemed to know each other and the fact that I couldn´t afford to risk the $300 buy-in. Scared money is dead money.

Chad arrived on schedule but the list had not changed in an hour. It didn´t appear that any of the $3/$6 players were ready to go anyplace soon. Nobody had a short stack. Chad decided to play the slots and won a few hundred bucks again, just like he had done on Saturday. I felt such a strong urge to slip on over to the blackjack table but, if I had, I would´ve broken a solemn promise that I had made to myself. I was like a former smoker trying to resist that one cigarette. I summoned the mental image of the blackjack table as a pool filled with poison. One sip and I would be a dead man. Years of bad choices had made that so. I couldn´t go back there. So I didn´t.

By 8:30 pm we had made it to the top of the $3/$6 list, but still, no seats were available for us. A couple of seats opened at the no-limit table and, as a result of sheer boredom, I requested a spot at the no-limit table. Just until, I rationalized, my seat at the limit game finally opened. By now Chad and I had finished planning the weekend ahead so he had wandered again to the beckoning slot machines. I took my seat at the no limit table. It was at the table where Carolyn and Dave had met and I was in Dave´s seat. Cool.

The big blind was three to my right on the first hand. But I was anxious to play, so I posted the $5 to get two cards. I was dealt QT unsuited. The player under the gun called, the next guy folded, and I checked. All folded to the button player who limped into the pot. The small blind tossed in an extra $3 to call and the big blind checked his option. Five players made the pot $25. The flop was Q95 rainbow. The blinds checked and the UTG player bet the minimum. With top pair and a marginal kicker, I bet $20 to define my hand. The button player, who I had observed during many hands throughout the previous week, re-raised making it $50 to go, and the others folded back to me. There was $100 in the pot and it was $30 for me to call. With 3.3 to 1 odds and top pair in my hand, folding was my third choice. The question in my mind was whether I should call or pop it again.

The player was a young guy, probably in his late twenties, with glasses and a green jacket that zipped in the front. I had seen him bet aggressively during the week, especially with a big stack, but didn´t often see him show down a hand. So I wasn´t sure what kind of cards he played. He seemed, from what I had observed, to be in a lot of pots. He had me covered with about $850 in front of him and had position on me, a dangerous combination. I sensed, however, that he was testing to see if he could push me off a pot on my first hand. So I took a deep breath and re-raised all-in. He thought for a long time and finally folded his hand. Everyone at the table seemed to exhale simultaneously and, feeling that I had caught him with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar, I showed my hand. He pounded his fist on the table and showed his QJ. He was visibly disgusted. OK, I admit it. Bad move on my part, but it worked. I was $75 ahead after one hand, more than I had to show for the five previous sessions combined.

I folded the next hand as I stacked my chips neatly. The player to my right stepped away from the table so I was big blind on the third hand I was dealt. Four players called the minimum $5 before it got to the blinds, including the young man who had contested the first pot against me. I saw him glance up at me after he examined his hole cards. Something seemed devious about his expression. The small blind completed his bet. Six players were already in the pot and it was my option to check or raise. I had watched the action around the table before looking at my hole cards. I was about to tap the table and then spotted pocket jacks. Time to thin the filed.

I decided to raise one and a half times the pot ($45). I had one caller. Guess who. A dream flop followed: 8J3 of three different suits. I bet half the pot ($60). He called Hmmm. $180 in the pot. The turn was a 6 of the fourth suit. Now all I had to worry about was a straight draw like T9, 97 or 54, or an over-pair that could potentially morph into a higher set on the river. I tossed in a black chip and said in a scared sounding voice, "Bet a hundred." Without hesitating my young friend shoved his chips toward the middle and declared, "I´m all in." Then he stood up from the table, daring me to call. I called with my top set, of course, and he turned over two black aces. He had been slow playing pocket rockets.

I have been beaten by two outers before, and to be honest, I was much happier to see aces than T9, which would´ve provided him with four times as many outs. The dealer counted the chips in the middle. "$770. Pot´s right", exclaimed Milos. Everyone in the room paused to see the river card, which for some reason seemed to take an hour to come out of the deck. "Jack of spades. Quads win. Nice hand, sir." Oh my God! Three hands and I had reached my goal. I had enough money for the wedding gift, and extra to reimburse Chad for gas to get us there, and cash to pay for both our rooms at the Bennett Spring Inn. Thank you, PSO.

From Tuesday until Friday I relaxed and walked along the Katy trail and thoroughly enjoyed the 80-degree spring weather. On Friday, Chad and I followed Dave and Carolyn to Bennett Spring State Park. As we walked into the Inn, two men in denim coveralls with no shoes sat on a big sofa next to the front desk. "Y´all here to catch all them fish?", one of them asked as he took our money. "Nope. Wedding." I explained. "We´re catching dreams instead of fish this trip." On Saturday morning, Chad and I were joined by another PSO member, PapiW (Jim Wenzel), who drove up from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Now, for certain, we had enough players for a game.

Despite a few thundershowers at the outset, the wedding ceremony was absolutely beautiful. There were flowers and decorations, which added to the natural beauty of the park. Tasteful music played in the background. The little stone pavilion was filled with joy. But it almost didn´t wind up that way. About a week before the scheduled ceremony the pastor from the Bennett Spring church called Dave and asked him if he would mind moving the ceremony to another date. There was a conflict, apparently, with a memorial service and with Easter weekend activities at the park. "Heck no," said Dave (my polite translation). "We have spent money on the photographer, reserved the dining hall, and have people coming from as far away as New York". "Well, I can´t do both services," said the Pastor, "so unless you can find a back-up minister on short notice who is able to come to the Ozarks on Easter weekend, your options are limited." Another dream is caught. Permission granted for Julie to do her first wedding.

The PSO contingent: Chad (metalmania), Carolyn Sue (Dream_Catcher), Dave (missouridave), Frank (ChessSafari) & Jim (PapiW)

The reception in the Dining Lodge was elegant and nice, as one might expect. It was an intimate gathering of 18 adult guests and a half dozen children sitting around a horseshoe shaped table with the bride and groom at the bend in the horseshoe.

Anyway, the reception didn´t end with dinner. It continued with half of the guests assembling at the bride and groom´s suite for a single table no limit hold´em tournament. $20 was the buy-in, for a $180 prize fund to be split as follows: $90 for first place, $60 for second, and $30 for third. The bride and groom just happened to bring cards and chips. How convenient! A guest (who will remain nameless) sweetened the pot by placing $20 bounties each on the bride and groom.

Here´s the line-up: Seat 1, Dad (Dave´s father Don Carrigan); Seat 2, Chad (metalmania on PSO); Seat 3, Frank (ChessSafari on PSO); Seat 4, Mom (Carolyn´s mother Carol Head); Seat 5, Jim (PapiW on PSO); Seat 6, Shannon (ToeJam on Bugsy´s and Best Man in the wedding); Seat 7, Dave (missouridave on PSO); Seat 8, Bro (Carolyn´s brother Jess Head); Seat 9, Carolyn Sue (Dream_Catcher on PSO).

Bro and Mom were the first to get eliminated, but not because they didn´t know how to play cards. Mom has been a tournament bridge player for many years and is responsible for both of her children, Jess and Carolyn Sue, learning to play cards at a very young age. It took almost two hours for the first player to get eliminated. This was not your typical PSO single table event. Dad, who plays home games in Maryland (do you hear that Johnny_Bravo?), is an experienced poker player. It was obvious from the beginning that he knew what he was doing. Despite being dealt one pocket pair all evening, he pushed his hands aggressively and managed to build up a decent stack until the one player who knew what he was doing, Dave, moved him all in with middle pair. Not to be pushed around by his son, he called hoping for a miracle catch on the river. Dad went out in seventh place.

So the final six were all Poker School Online or Bugsy´s Club players. Seems fitting. Chad was card dead most of the evening but remained very patient. His K5 in the big blind hit a magical two pair on the flop that evolved into a full house when another 5 came on the river. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the only hand he had all evening. At one point he moved all in with AK and was called by Shannon´s 66. The flop was AK rag but Chad could be heard whispering, "a six is coming, I know it." Sure enough, the six showed up on the river and Chad went to the sidelines. The honeymoon suite was not equipped with a rail, at least not in the kitchen. I didn´t look elsewhere.

Shannon Montgomery, the Best Man, is a friend of Dave´s from work who joined Bugsy´s last year with a bankroll of $50. Playing only in low stakes games (.01/.02 up to .10/.20), he has built his bankroll to nearly $100. Dave has been giving him lessons. Obviously, he has been paying attention. Up until this point, Jim (PapiW) had stayed deceptively quiet waiting to pick off the overly aggressive plays and, by doing so, had gradually built a formidable stack of chips. He took a big multi-way pot when a three gave him a full house on the river (the hand that eliminated Bro and Mom, I believe). I was in that hand, too, and had to struggle to get back into the game. Dave moved all in pre-flop with KQ of hearts and Jim called him with AK of diamonds. It was probably the key hand of the tournament since that both had substantial stacks at the time. The flop was heart, heart, diamond, pairing nobody. The turn was a rag diamond giving them dueling flush draws. The river was a harmless 8 of clubs, giving Papi the bounty on the groom, as well as a huge chip lead.

The bride went out fourth, at the hands of the big stack bully, but it was a big pot two hands earlier that crippled her stack. I was on the button with K9 suited and Carolyn had K2 in the big blind. A king and two low cards came on the flop so I bet half the pot. Carolyn raised all-in with top pair, which seemed like a monster in a four handed game. I called and it was a battle of kickers. Thankfully, a deuce didn´t show up on the turn or river. She had me covered, but only by a single $25 chip. She quadrupled up on the next hand with AK, but succumbed on the following hand as Jim claimed his second bounty. He graciously passed the $40 to the newlyweds as a wedding gift.

After suffering a big loss with AK against Shannon´s all-in 55, I nursed my short stack for a few rounds until getting blinded off in third place. Jim, who had Shannon out-chipped by margin of about 4 to 1, demonstrated his mastery of heads-up play to take first place. Congratulations to PapiW for winning the first Ozark Mountain PSO wedding tournament together with the first place prize of $90. Somewhere there is a bracelet involved, a bright orange bracelet to be precise.

At midnight, we all left so that the bride and groom could enjoy their first night of married life together. As we headed down the steps we couldn´t help hearing the sound of chips rattling and cards shuffling behind us. "Don´t they ever sleep?" I muttered to no one in particular.

I will always remember the sight of Carolyn Sue and Dave Carrigan looking into each other´s eyes, with Julie standing behind them in her violet clerical robes. And the sun, which had been absent during most of the ceremony, peeking from behind the rain clouds to illuminate their clothes as well as their smiles. And I will remember the sound of the former poker dealer´s firm voice, the one who had given Carolyn the little orange dream catcher for her wrist, who today instead of saying "raise to you, ma´am", or "pot´s right", was uttering "by the power vested in me by the State of Missouri, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride." She didn´t say it, but I could tell by the wink she gave Dave, exactly what she was thinking. "Your action, sir!"

Click here to read this same article on Carolyn's blog "Dream Catcher".

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