Spring poker fever on the Bayou

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Springtime in Louisiana traditionally has meant one thing: crawfish season! As you read this column the Cajuns in the South are filling their nets with the crown jewel of Creole cuisine and gathering their families for a fais-do-do that will last long into the summer months. Numerous festivals throughout the state honor what we call the mudbug and there’s no better time to plan a visit, especially if you’re a poker player. World-class poker is fast becoming Louisiana’s new spring tradition.

With a little creativity a poker player can plan a roadtrip that will allow him to enjoy the game while experiencing the unique culture of the Pelican State. I’ve put together a little travel guide for you this month so you can make the most of your visit. With a little luck, who knows? You just might pay for that vacation.

North

What self-respecting poker player doesn’t dream of taking a shot at poker’s biggest prize, the World Series of Poker Main Event? The $10,000 buy-in may not be within your means, but don’t let that stop you from pursuing your dream. You can win a seat into the main event for as little as $120 by playing in the monthly satellites at the Horseshoe Bossier City through May.

The tournaments are the first and third Mondays of each month. The buy-in is $120 and there are $100 rebuys and add-ons. Registration begins at 4 p.m. and the tournament begins at 6. These tournaments have been very popular and usually draw a field of close to 100 entrants. If the main event isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry; you can opt to take a cash payout instead when you win. It’s normal to see multiple seats/payouts awarded in each tournament.

After you win that seat you’ll need to refresh yourself before heading to Vegas to take on the likes of Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan. Take time to kick back with your favorite beverage, enjoy those tasty crawfish and celebrate with some live Zydeco music at Shreveport’s Mudbug Madness Festival. A yearly celebration since 1984, Mudbug Madness attracts tourists from all over the United States for a weekend of fun in downtown Shreveport. This year’s festival runs from May 26-29. One suggestion: Bring sunscreen. The festival is open-air and you can expect to be in the sun for a few hours. For ticket prices and details go to mudbugmadness.com.

Southwest

The Isle of Capri in Lake Charles has become the destination for poker in Southwest Louisiana. The highlight of the spring season is the Louisiana State Poker Championship, which runs April 25-May 8 and boasts $200,000 in guaranteed prize money spread out over 14 events. Six of these events will award a bracelet to the winner. This is the Isle’s signature event and the casino really rolls out the red carpet for poker players.

If you make it to the Isle for the LSPC you won’t want to miss Contraband Days in Lake Charles. Now in it’s 54th year, Contraband Days is a celebration of the state’s colorful history of pirates. Legend says the notorious Louisiana pirate Jean Lafitte used to hide out in Contraband Bayou near Lake Charles on his way to raids in Galveston, Texas. The legend has spawned what has become one of America’s largest exhibitions of pirate history. Each year the festival draws in excess of 100,000 visitors and hosts more than 100 activities on land and water. This year’s festival runs April 26-May 8 and you can get a complete list of events at contrabanddays.com.

South

When people think about New Orleans they naturally think about Mardi Gras during February and March, but the poker enthusiast should consider heading to the Big Easy soon for some exciting poker action.

Boomtown Casino in Harvey will celebrate the grand opening of its newly expanded poker room in June. Plans are still being finalized for this event but my sources say you can expect some unbelievable tournaments and promotions. More tables, more games and more amenities for players will create an exciting opportunity for you to visit this spring. Be sure and say hello to room manager Robert Horvath and tell him Ante Up sent you. You never know what he might pull out of his goodie bag!

Without question, the biggest poker event in New Orleans this spring is the WSOP Circuit stop at Harrah’s Casino. The series begins May 9 and concludes May 22 with the nationally televised no-limit hold’em regional championship. Some of the top names in poker will vie for a coveted WSOP Circuit ring in 11 tournaments. Numerous non-ring tourneys also are scheduled. For as little as $135 you can give it a try, but be prepared for some very tough competition. This is the major league of professional poker.

If you’re going to be in NOLA this May then the 42nd annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is an absolute must. This year’s roster is a stellar group of musical legends. Bon Jovi, Kid Rock, John Mellancamp, Wilco, Jimmy Buffet, Cyndi Lauper, Wyclef Jean and Willie Nelson are just a few of the performers who will take the stage during the seven-day blowout that has been called America’s Best Festival.

The dates for this year’s event are April 29-May 1 and May 5-8. Single-day tickets are $45 in advance and $60 at the gate, a terrific bargain and a great way to pump those poker winnings back into the local economy. For a complete schedule go to nojazzfest.com.
There’s no reason you shouldn’t combine your love of poker with an opportunity to experience the culture and style of Louisiana this spring. If you come our way to play poker do yourself a favor and take time to attend some of these festivals, and don’t forget to set a place for the old Spokesman at that crawfish boil!

OTHER NEWS: Bobby Thornton at the Isle said the search for Matt Dodd’s replacement is going well and he expects the company will not look to radically alter or change anything Matt did. “We really just want to continue to enhance our product,” Thornton said.

— 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 scottyrushing@gmail.com.