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With March comes thoughts of father, playing poker

March 7, 2010
- By SANDY MICKELSON, Messenger staff writer -

March always reminds me of Dad.

I should be thinking of all possibilities spring, that lion and lamb thing, but it always goes back to Dad. His birthday was March 30, so all March was his and always will be. At least in my mind.

Almost more than anything else, Dad loved playing poker. He was good at it, too. And lucky.

Maybe not as good as Dan Ramirez, of Fort Dodge, but better than many.

Ramirez may be tops in Dodge for poker playing, though I have no way of knowing that. I do know he's spent the past few days in Vegas at the 2010 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. He might already have won it, but as this goes to press, he's just beginning to play.

Limited to 64 poker players - including seven amateurs - this is an invitation-only tournament, and they've invited only the world's best players.

It's a one-on-one tournament, Ramirez said, and each round likely will last half an hour, give or take. After the first round, half the players are gone, and so forth down the line. The winner goes home with $500,000, though the top 16 players win money, starting with $25,000 for places nine through 16.

"I'm hoping to at least break into the money," Ramirez said. "Anything past that is just gravy. I only have to beat four people to win the whole thing. The last match is two out of three, so I'd have to win six matches, but only beat four people."

Buy-in to the tournament is $20,000, but Ramirez is luckier than most. He doesn't have to pay. He won his spot in the tournament by playing online poker on a free site, beating more than 3,000 others for the bid to the tournament he calls "coveted by the nation's best, the top of the top." It's the first time amateurs have been allowed in the tournament, which will be broadcast starting April 18 in a six-part series on NBC.

At 32, Ramirez plays poker almost every night from 11 p.m. to approximately 6 a.m. or until he gets so tired he can sleep. It's a routine that started after he had eye surgery and the pain kept him awake. He can't work because he's legally blind in the left eye, and there are two tubes in the eye. Oh, you don't want to go there. It makes me squeamish, and I grew up on a farm where squeamish was all but forbidden. A 20-year diabetic, he's had lots of eye problems and is essentially homebound.

As one of seven amateurs in the tournament, he gets airline tickets for two to Vegas, where he'll stay at Caesar's Palace - two rooms for five nights. His brother and sister-in-law from San Diego will join him and his best friend, Sarah Traeger. He needs someone to fly with him and be available to help if he needs help.

He also gets VIP travel, though he's not sure what that is, and $1,000 cash.

Ramirez, son of Lucille and Blaise Ramirez, of Fort Dodge, attended Fort Dodge Senior High, but quit before graduating. Because of his eye problems, he's left his job as sales manager at Access Audio and has had to move back home.

"Healing time is when I started becoming a better poker player," he said. "It's one thing I can do. I have a car, but I don't drive. I can't work."

Pretty soon we'll know just how good a player he's become, and how lucky.

So long friends, until the next time when we're together.

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or



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