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Published December 30 2012

Poker players in Minot for championship tournament

MINOT, N.D. — Hundreds of card players are putting on their best poker faces as North Dakota's Texas Hold ‘em championship tournament nears its final showdown.

The annual competition — under way at The Vegas Motel and Sevens Bar & Restaurant in Minot — is set to wrap up Monday with a potential first-place prize of $45,000.

Motel manager and tournament creator Wendy Ruppert said there were 800 registered players through Saturday, meaning the event was likely to surpass its 1,200-player goal.

That's about 650 players fewer than last year, which Ruppert attributes to a $50 hike in the entry fee. This year, it cost $150 per spot. The increase was because of a state law that took effect in 2012 that allowed the playing of $300 for a total tournament per participant. Players are allowed to play during both qualifying rounds if they choose, with each round costing $150.

Even though the number of players decreased, the first-place prize is expected to increase. Last year's winner, Californian Jeremy Keillor, won $42,500.

“When we raised (the cost), perhaps we'd have a few less players, but obviously the tournament is still growing because the prize pool is still going up,” Ruppert told the Minot Daily News.

The three-day event is the largest poker tournament in the continental U.S. outside of Las Vegas. It draws players from all around the country and Canada, Ruppert said.

It's steadily grown since its 2004 start, when there were just 400 players.

Players range in age this year from 21 to 87. Some of the funds raised go to the Minot State University Alumni Association for scholarships.