MORRIS - Although John DeRung of Morris said he's "too darn cheap" to gamble, when the opportunity came to go to Las Vegas and participate in a national Texas Hold'em tournament he just couldn't say no.
Earlier this month, DeRung and his wife Wendy took a trip to Sin City after DeRung qualified for a national tournament through a local poker league affiliated with the Free Poker Network (FPN).
FPN was founded in North Dakota and currently has more than 265 participation locations across the country. Throughout the year, the league organizes promotions that lead from local competition to regional, state and national tournaments. There are three bars in Stevens County that have FPN poker leagues: Buddies Bar & Grill in Hancock and the Met Lounge and American Legion in Morris.
DeRung is a regular player at all three locations. The league size varies at each bar - between 40 and 50 people at the Legion, from 20 to 30 at the Met Lounge and between 10 and 25 at Buddies - and fluctuates depending on the season.
DeRung said that about half the players float and play at all three bars, but each league also draws different players with other attractions like the Sunday afternoon football game at Buddies.
DeRung started on the path to Las Vegas by qualifying for both the regional tournament and directly to the state tournament after playing at the Legion and the Met Lounge. During the same promotion, Alan O'Shea of Benson qualified for the regional tournament from Buddies.
The state tournament was held in October at Running Aces Casino in Cambridge. At the tournament, DeRung placed ninth and O'Shea placed sixth out of 274 players. The top 13 players were offered invitations to the national tournament in Las Vegas. The top six finishers also won free airfare and hotels at the tournament, but DeRung needed to pay his own way to participate.
To celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, DeRung and Wendy made the trip to Las Vegas for DeRung to compete in the tournament at the beginning of December. Nationally, 100 FPN players were invited to play, and about 75 made the trip.
Although DeRung didn't win any money at the national tournament, coming in 24th overall, he said just seeing the professionals like Danny Negreanu and Barry Greenstein was a treat.
"You can see them on TV any time, but to see them in person was neat," said DeRung.
DeRung said he hopes that he can get back to the national tournament again. As an added bonus, the FPN national tournament switches venues regularly - before Las Vegas, the tournament was held on a Carribean cruise - so attending can be more than just poker, said DeRung.
Since people have found out that DeRung went to Las Vegas, he said he's been asked whether it's really possible to play poker for free and, in fact, make money doing it.
"If you perform well enough, playing for free consistently, there is a way to potentially get paid to play," said DeRung.