If you build it, they will play.
Though Greg Shafer doesn’t live on the edge of a mystical Iowa cornfield, he heard the voice just the same. It spoke to him in 2006.
“A buddy of mine and I got bored one day and wanted to play poker,” he said. “Of course, to play poker you need a table, so we went and bought the materials to build one. From there we called a few more friends and started playing cards.”
This was the humble beginning of the Dark City Poker League. Based in Shreveport/Bossier City, the home league has grown from that one homemade table to a roster of 40 participants for its eighth season, which will conclude with a championship on April 2. The winner will collect a nice sum, but the money isn’t what drives the members of Dark City. They play because they love the game and enjoy the friendship.
“The main purpose of the league is to hang out with friends and have fun,” Shafer said. “We are always inviting new people out to play, but remaining a small home league is what I think it’s all about.”
Shafer and friends had no idea how to run a tournament when they began. They took a trip to a Baton Rouge casino to observe how tournaments were conducted. Now, after five years of running monthly tournaments Shafer has developed a slick production that includes computer software to manage levels and blinds. The program even randomly assigns new seating when a table breaks. Two monitors in the room keep players up to speed on entrants remaining and how many minutes are left in the level. All in all, Dark City comes very close to replicating a casino tournament and maintains a very professional website (darkcitypokerleague.com) that tracks league standings and results.
When I visited Dark City in January to participate in a NLHE tournament I found a diverse group of participants. There were youngsters dreaming of being the next Tom Dwan and a little lady that reminded me of my grandmother right up until she check-raised me for a third of my stack. Most of the league members are recreational players, but in five years of biweekly tournament play even a recreational player can get pretty good. These guys can play.
The structure of the league is pretty simple. A season consists of 12 events. Six of these are NLHE with the rest being chosen by the league members in a vote. Season 8 included stud, Omaha, H.O.R.S.E., and even pineapple. Tournaments are deepstack events and offer a one-time full rebuy if a playerbusts. Points are awarded based on finish with a bonus for knockouts. There also is a bounty placed on the head of the previous event’s winner. The point leaders meet for a final table in the last event to determine the league champion. The format has been a success, but a change is in store for the new season set to begin later this year. Shafer hopes it amounts to a more fair system.
“Our biggest change for Season 9 will be our points distribution,” he said. “Every season we have awarded points on tourney placement alone. That’s fine and well, but when you consider the player who just beat a field of 16 gets the same points as the player who beat the field of 24, you’ve got to wonder if there is a better way. Going to a formula-based points system seemed like the logical way to go. We dissected the new system and are certain it’s going to spark more competitiveness with the upcoming season.”
Competitiveness is surely a factor that keeps the players coming back. Winning a league championship guarantees the victor six months of bragging rights and a bulls-eye on their back for the next season. Another attraction of the league is it allows an amateur a chance to give tournament poker a try without getting chewed up by the sharks at the local casinos.
With the launch of the new PokerStars Home Games platform in full swing, I asked Shafer if Dark City had any plans to take their league online.
“I have looked a bit at that PokerStars Home League, and it’s a really cool idea. I think that a lot of the camaraderie we have now with the home league would be lost if we were all sitting at our PCs playing online. Could be fun for a Wednesday night freeroll, though.”
State law in Louisiana is favorable to home games while the future of Internet poker still hangs in the balance. There is also quite a bit of history attached to home games in the Pelican State. Legendary players used to make the rounds in Shreveport and one game in nearby Haughton was a favorite of WSOP bracelet-winner T.J. Cloutier.
None of poker’s legends has emerged from a magical mist to sit at Dark City’s table, but that’s okay. The players who show up on league night comprise their own field of dreams.
DODD LEAVES ISLE: A bit of sad news this month as Matthew Dodd, the poker room manager at Isle Lake Charles, is leaving to start up another Isle poker room, this time in Black Hawk, Colo.
“It’s been a fantastic opportunity running the largest poker room in the Mid-South at the Isle of Capri in Lake Charles,” Dodd said. “The people and the region have offered me many new experiences, both personally and in poker. As I embark on this adventure, I do so knowing that my potential for success there will be due in large part to the experience I’ve gained here in Louisiana.”
Dodd was integral in launching the Isle’s Louisiana State Poker Championships last year, and will be remembered for changing the Isle tables from 10-handed to nine-handed, a move that benefited everyone.
— Scotty “The Spokesman” Rushing is a poker professional and sports journalist. When he isn’t playing or writing about poker he’s usually reading about it. Email him at email@example.com.