He got knocked out after about five hours of play in the second round of the 2005 World Series of Poker, but Eric Zard of Nisswa managed to go further than poker champions Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and David Williams, to name a few.
"I did pretty well but I couldn't avoid the situation," Zard said. "I got involved with a hand I couldn't get away from."
Zard, a 2002 Brainerd High School graduate, beat 430 players in an online poker tournament hosted by the Web site, www.bodog.com, in May, securing his spot at the poker tourney in Las Vegas. The Web site paid the $10,000 buy-in fee for Zard to play in the final tournament and gave him $2,500 for hotel and travel expenses while in Las Vegas. He's been in Las Vegas since last week and will return home on Saturday, he said Thursday from his hotel room. Zard won the top prize in an online tournament in which players played with their accrued points, not money. He's been playing poker for about five years.
Zard, 21, is a senior at the University of Minnesota and is working this summer as a bartender at Iven's on the Bay. He plans to go on to dental school at the university.
Zard played about 15 hours of poker the first round of the tournament Friday and ended the round with a little more than $11,000 in chips. He said he played about five hours on Sunday in the second round but was knocked out of the competition. The round continued for another 12 hours, he said. Poker pro Mimi Tran played at his table in the second round. He sat a table away from players like Hellmuth and Negreanu, watching them get knocked out of the competition.
"It was really intense because every single hand you get into it's like life or death in the tournament," said Zard. "There's just so much at stake all the time."
On his final hand, Zard went all in holding a king and queen of spades. Another player, holding an ace and queen, called it. The flop was an ace high, he said.
"It really opened my eyes to how intense poker really is," said Zard. "When you think you've gotten to the point where you think you're really good and then you play with the best ... I've watched some really cool plays I hadn't even thought about. I think it opened my eyes to how far I can take my poker game."
Zard finished about 800th out of the 5,619 players. Players who are at least in the 560th ranking win $12,500. The minimum age to play in the World Series of Poker is 21, so Zard was one of the youngest at the tournament. He said he never was dealt a great hand during the tournament. The best hand he had was the top two pair to win a pot but he never had a straight or a flush. He had one set, a three of a kind, but ended up getting beat by a flush on the turn.
"I've learned some really different plays," said Zard. "Just ways to play hands. It's really cool because the pros and the amateurs, there's not much difference in the cards, but when the pros get a good hand they are so good."
On Wednesday, Zard said he watched a cash game being played outside the tournament ring. Each of the players had $40,000 in chips in front of them.
"That's poker at a completely different level than what I'm used to," said Zard.
This was his first trip to Las Vegas but Zard said he hopes it won't be his last. His goal is to win another online tournament and return to the World Series of Poker next year.
"I didn't pay anything to get into the tournament and I knocked people out who paid $10,000 to get in the tournament. It was really strange," said Zard. "You look at it and think people actually paid this much to get into this tournament? Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money."
Zard, the son of Dr. Clark and Kathy Zard of Nisswa, wasn't alone at the poker tournament. His dad; an uncle, Steve Zard, of New Prague; his girlfriend, Ashley Schmolke, Baxter; and four friends watched him play, too.
Clark Zard, a Brainerd dentist, said he doesn't know how to play poker but it was fun watching his son play.
"It was a lot more serious and intense than I thought it would be," he said. "He did pretty well for being a so-called amateur as far as I'm concerned."
The 2005 World Series of Poker ends Saturday at Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel in Las Vegas.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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