The biggest part of the poker calendar is making a highly anticipated comeback this weekend and the Mount Gambier RSL is the place to be.
For the first time in three years the Johnnie Walker Poker Classic will be in town and it remains as popular as ever with some big stars coming down.
The event created in 2018 rapidly grew into one of the biggest poker tournaments in the state within the space of two years.
However, COVID-19 put the Classic on ice for three years until tonight when the four-day event is drawn into action.
A total of $20,000 is guaranteed for the main event winner, which is run from Friday to Sunday, while a classic opener, High Roller, Hyper Turbo, Teams and Terminator events will also be played throughout the June long weekend.
The huge event which includes 63 hours of poker and around $100,000 prize money is directed by Gambier Poker’s Martin Pink and Dale Fox and the latter said there was a tremendous amount of hype circulating the classic following its hiatus.
“The anticipation is enormous,” he said.
There is probably going to be around 150 people including some who we never thought would make it, so everyone is making a huge effort to support us because we have not had one for three years because of COVID.
“We have a great reputation around all poker players around Australia, so I have been very overwhelmed and surprised.”
Of the big field of players, there are some big names in the poker world.
Pink was the inaugural winner in 2018, but will be busy as a director, however, reigning champion Jason Newman will be back and is determined to defend his crown on home turf.
“We have Dennis Huntley and Clint Taylor, who came fourth in the 2019 Aussie Million and collected around $423,000 are coming,” he said.
“Another called Shurane Vijayaram actually won the Aussie Millions event in 2017 is coming from Melbourne.
“We have people from all walks of poker background and the demographics will be enormous with people aged in their eighties and teens.
“So there will be people of all regions, demographics, ages, ethnic backgrounds and poker experience to try their luck and win the main event.”
The return of the Johnnie Walker Classic has also had a positive long term on the Gambier Poker scene with locals coming out in force to ensure they have the skills to challenge the stars.
“Our numbers have definitely increased as we have got closer to the classic,” Fox said.
“Some who have not played for a few months have actually comeback to get some gameplay under their belt which gives us an idea the interest is increasing.
“The local players will have to step up their game to compete against these professional players.
“But anyone on their day can win with anyone who puts in the buy in having a chance of winning the $20,000 first prize.”
With more than 200 of the best poker players in the country coming down to the RSL, the return of the Johnnie Walker Poker Classic will bring a massive economic boost to the community.
Fox said the public are more than welcome to attend as the town gets sucked into one big poker party across the long weekend.
“It is going to be a massive cash injection for the RSL with the venue full of poker tables and the town itself with so much accommodation booked up,” he said.
“People are more than welcome to come and have a look at the event itself.
“We do not want the public at the tables and right behind the players, but everyone can come to see the enormity of the actual series itself.
“Being such a large series in a country town will be an eye opener for a lot of people.”