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by Craig Macrae 

6:00 a.m. Monday

I’m Craig Macrae, a fourth-year Radio and Television Arts student at Ryerson University, and I am awake early for a Monday.

It is the day that marks the beginning of TSN’s Degree Poker Championship, and I really don’t want to drive to Niagara Falls.

Two thousand players simultaneously competing, half from the east, half from the west.

A hundred sixty people will come back tomorrow; 1,840 won’t.

My name is the 60th drawn for the 100 remaining spots. I’m not going to lie — I’m nervous.

11:00 p.m. Monday

Day one is over, and I’ve made it. My sit-back-and-wait strategy worked against all the “jackals,” who are players who play far too agressively, looking to double up their stacks. I started with 1,000, finished with 10,000. That’s fine.

1:00 p.m. Tuesday

The calibre of players is getting far better. The young kids have been weeded out. I’ve only been playing eight months myself, but I play in Toronto’s Red Hot Poker Tour; my experience is in tournaments. It is the tournament experience that’s getting me through.

3:00 p.m. Tuesday

I’m almost out. My stack of chips has been dwindling and a Canadian circuit veteran known as ‘Hollywood’ won’t shut up. I’m just trying to get under his skin, but he’s winning chips, mostly from me. Then I hit my ace-jack, and call an all-in. Hollywood calls, ace-queen.


Blanks come on the flop, but the miracle turn-card is a jack, giving me a pair that holds up and allows me to double my stack. Take that, Hollywood.

11:00 p.m. Tuesday

The day is finally over, with 23 players from the east section advancing to face 22 from the west tomorrow. The largest free-roll in Canadian history will feature 42 men and three women of the 21,000 who tried for spots.

You’ve got to be good to be lucky, and lucky to be good, right?

2:00 p.m. Wednesday

I’m struggling. Five tables of nine players, each starting with 10,000 chips. I am down to 7,000 and not hitting anything.

I bring out my lucky Jawa, a Star Wars figurine, to help turn my luck around. The Jawa nets me cowboys, or pocket kings, on my next hand.

My luck changes, and I begin to pick up some chips.

6:00 p.m. Wednesday

It is down to me and a 10-year poker veteran called Fernando. I’ve made some bad calls and am now short-stacked.

C’mon Jawa, give me something. Any decent hand.

I hit a 7-2, and I’ve always liked this hand. I have my own poker site, www.7-deuce.com, so I figure it would be appropriate.

All-in, and Fernando calls.

7-2 vs. A-9.

Much to the dismay of the screaming crowd, nothing bails me and my “hammer” out on the first four cards. Fernando may have gotten the best of me. Fernando!

The last card is a two, the crowd erupts, and I begin, once again, to breathe. Keep focused.

7:30 p.m. Wednesday

I look at my hand, Rockets.

American Airlines.


Pocket aces.

Fernando calls all-in. I know, I know, aces lose a lot. But I’ve got to call. It’s the right move. I win my table, and move on to Friday’s top five.

4:00 p.m. Friday

Longest. Day. Ever. I am thinking, “just don’t be first out.” Fourth gets $2,500, third $5,000, second $10,000, and first place earns $100,000. Don’t be fifth.

The day goes on and on, and I never really get a chip lead but stay alive. It ends up being only me and a guy from the west named Liam.

This guy is good, and I can’t get a read on him. Blinds are high and I need to pick a hand. I pick one where the flop is 8-8-Q. I call all-in with my A-9.

Liam, believe it or not, has a queen. Damn it.

11:00 p.m. Friday

$10,000 for a week’s work, not bad. I’ll take it. Maybe I can make it onto the Canadian Poker Tour some day, or go to Las Vegas once I get my degree from RyeHigh.

Until then, I will deeply resent that lone queen that put the $100,000 prize out of my reach.

Until next time, right Jawa?

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