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Extreme Poker

For many poker players, the long hours at the table, intense concentration needed, and amount of money and prestige at stake would qualify the game as challenging under any circumtances. But late past November last year, off the coast of the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, InterPoker took the game to new extremes.

And "extremes" is exactly the right word: the event, held 30 feet undersea, was the first in a series of planned "Extreme Poker Tournaments."

Since playing time had to be kept brief, owing to the tournament being played underwater, just five players participated in the event, which lasted 35 minutes. Those players included eventual winner Juha Helppi, Phil ("The Unabomber") Laak, and Kenna ("The Cowboy") James, as well Internet qualifier Louise H., from Denmark.

Robert Varkonyi, who won the main event at the WSOP four years ago, was to have been the fifth player in the tournament, but a cold forced him to drop out of the event, so at the last minute Peter Marcus, InterPoker spokesperson, was recruited as the fifth player, and surprised everyone, especially himself, by coming in second, beating out Phil and Kenna.

Are you wondering about the logistics of playing poker underwater? It was all very carefully planned and prepared, in fact, several months' worth of planning went into making this event a reality. The poker table was specially weighted with anchors attached to the underside, so it would remain underwater during play. The cards were weighted as well, and laminated, so they would be waterproof and would stay in place. And the chips were heavily weighted too, so they wouldn't float away either. The equipment was all tested both in swimming pools and in the sea, to be sure it would work properly.

The players wore ordinary swimsuits with full SCUBA gear, special buoyancy jackets, weight belts, fins, and masks. Prior to the afternoon event, they spent the entire morning training. Several of the players had never dived before and had to be taught how.

Three dive masters watched the event to monitor for safety, and in addition to standard poker rules applying to the game, there were additional rules implemented for the safety of the players:

1. Any player who ran out of air or who floated to the surface was to be declared out of the game. 2. Any player who ran out of chips was to be required to surface immediately. 3. If one of the dive masters felt it was unsafe for anyone to continue, that player would be required to surface at once.

Andy Goetsch, CryptoLogic's Vice President of Poker Software Development, acted as tournament director and dealer.

Tournament spectators, who included WSOP champions Jennifer Tilly, Kathy Liebert, and Todd Whiteles, snorkeled well above the weighted table in order to watch the action in the clear water 30 feet beneath them.

And on the subject of playing in a swimsuit rather than street clothes, Juha had this to say: "It was a lot of fun, like playing poker online at home in your underwear."

Was it difficult to see the cards underwater? "Not at all," he said. "It was completely clear. The cards were laminated, and the mask was clear. It was the middle of the day, and with plenty of light and clear water, we had good visibility."