Butch McDaniel hopes his win in the World Tavern Poker League’s National Card Player’s Championship in Atlantic City will help put Augusta on the poker map.
For the past year, he’s been playing with the local World Tavern Poker League at Somewhere in Augusta, where he led in points and earned a qualifying spot at the national championship.
After 10½ hours of play, he clinched the tournament June 5, winning cash and a seat at a World Series of Poker qualifier in Las Vegas in November. If he wins that tournament, he’ll compete against an estimated 6,000 of the world’s top players in the World Series of Poker, which is televised on ESPN.
“It’s one of the biggest tournaments they’ve got out there,” he said.
Winning the World Series would earn him $1 million.
The 72-year-old Army veteran began playing poker in 1956, when he was 16. He played all over the world through his career in the Special Forces, including Germany, Vietnam and Korea. He retired from the Army in 1981.
“I’ve been smiling ever since, and playing poker,” he said.
He traveled Georgia playing with the Amateur Poker League, even after it left Augusta around 2010.
“We had to go to Conyers, about 2½ hours away. Then it would be 2½ hours back, then 6, 6½ hours of play. That’s basically
taking up your whole day,” McDaniel said.
He played seven nights a week in Conyers, Covington and Savannah, sometimes going to two venues in two cities in one day.
“We were really hustling to get points,” he said.
Then he realized he was spending about $1,800 a month in gas and decided he needed to cut back.
When World Tavern Poker League games began at Somewhere in Augusta about a year ago, McDaniel joined and earned top status as points leader.
Now he’s helping friend Wes Hyman build the league in Augusta. Currently, leagues play at Somewhere in Augusta on Mondays and at Malibu Jack’s on Tuesdays. Five venues are needed to establish a regional tournament in Augusta.
With a regional, he said, “We’ll be sending more people to the seats that are out there in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.”
They hope to attract more women and soldiers.
“This is something that’s wholesome for them. They can enjoy themselves,” McDaniel said.
It costs nothing to join the league.
McDaniel said competition is the one thing that’s kept him seated at the poker tables for so long.
“You get to read a lot of people,” he said. “Sometimes you sit and you own the table. You can look at a person and tell whether they’ve got certain cards or not.”