If you walk into Kick Shots at night, you have high odds of seeing a throng of people gathered at green felt-topped tables toward the back, clouded in thick cigarette smoke.
Four times a week at the South Knoxville establishment, the Series 7 Poker League plays two rounds (at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.), open to the public.
Dave Lowrance, manager of the Knoxville branch, is the master of ceremonies (of sorts) at this event. Donning a Bluetooth headset and manning a laptop, Lowrance is in charge of signing players up, putting players at the appropriate tables, keeping score and otherwise hosting the event.
It's the kind of evening where you put $5 of AC/DC songs on the jukebox, break out the Marlboro Reds and drink Whiskey Sours while adjusting your eyesight to faintly lit tables. The large, open room separated into sections by wood paneling adds to the mystery of the event. As do the dark corners.
But despite the machismo, it's an incredibly diverse evening. And anyone you talk to you will describe that crowd diversity in a different fashion. Some by race, some by occupation or income, some by age.
"Here you'll see doctors, lawyers and sanitation workers," says a man who identifies himself as Alan. "You'll see people whose income is zero and people who make six figures."
Lowrance is quick to point out that the crowd ranges in age from 18 to 85. And that there are 18 hearing impaired people in the league.
With every end of the spectrum covered, it's clear that there's only one common denominator: a love of Texas Hold 'Em tournaments - which took off in popularity in 2003 when Farragut High/UT grad Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker.
"The only game we play is no-limit Texas Hold 'Em," says Lowrance. The "no-limit" modifier, suggesting that players have no maximum to their bets, is slightly misleading as no money is changing hands. "We play strictly by points, and that's how we stay legal in Tennessee. No money involved." Chips representing money amounts are used in game play.
"Texas Hold 'Em is the chess of the poker world," Lowrance says. He points out that 79 percent of your hand is shared with everyone else at the table. The other 21 percent is known only to the individual player, giving strategy a chief responsibility.
As the evening rolls on and players are eliminated from their games, the thumping of darts and clacking of pool balls gets louder. Side games of spades break off. The chatter increases as the poker faces and mystery break down into familiar conversations between friends. Players order beer by the pitchers and give each other advice.
"This is a learner's league," says Alan. "Though we've got some sharks out there," Lowrance jokes.
It's mostly fun and games, but the North Carolina-based league has regional tournaments with prizes including buy-ins at national poker tournaments. The winner of these also takes a trophy back to their home bar, as well as a table-top from the evening.
And at a recent tournament, the Knoxville team took the win, with manager Dave Lowrance (who can only play in tournaments) tying for first with another Knoxville player, Billie Perry.
Sharing her excitement about the victory, Perry emphatically reiterates the slogan on the Series 7 Web site: "They came from the hills of Tennessee and left with all the money!" It's a particularly meaningful slogan (and misleading, since no money is involved) for the Knoxville team considering it's the first time the trophy has been on Tennessee soil.
In May, the team has to defend their trophy at another regional tournament, this time taking place in Knoxville's own Kick Shots.
© 2009, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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