There is a weekly poker game just outside Charlotte that just might be one of the best in the country.
Two of the regulars in that game, Mooresville’s Richard Tucker and Michael Gracz, ended up at a different table this week. Both men made it all the way to the final table of the Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Lo event at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
With 480 entrants (many of them top professionals) in the field, the odds of the two N.C. men advancing to the final 10 players were off the charts.
“I didn’t even know Mike was playing in the event until we got down to about 50 players left,” said Tucker, 61. “I saw his hat and recognized him. We talked and ended up going out to dinner.”
Tucker, vice president and partner of Sitetec Construction Co. in Charlotte, ended in fourth place for a payday of $92,003. Gracz, 34, who has won events on the World Poker Tour as well as the World Series of Poker, finished 10th to earn $18,725.
“I enjoy playing, but I’m as amateur as I can be,” joked Tucker, who cashed in a WSOP event for the third time. “At my age, playing 11-12 hours a day was a challenge, but I got some good cards.
“Everybody at that table was a pro, and it was tough to get a read from them,” he added. “The real shock was me being in it at the end.”
Gracz is in Vegas for the duration of the World Series as a representative of FantasyDraft LLC, an online fantasy sports site based in Charlotte. He is staying with Raleigh’s Chris Bell, another former WSOP bracelet winner.
“It was pretty amazing that Tucker and I were one-two heading into the final day,” says Gracz. “It was awesome seeing him there. He’s a very good player.”
The friendly neighborhood game Tucker and Gracz play in helped both men prepare for the World Series. “It’s a great group of guys who have fun, but there is a lot of talent there too,” said Gracz.
In recent years several players from North Carolina have emerged as threats in the WSOP, most notably Chapel Hill’s Mark Newhouse, whose incredible run of back-to-back Main Event final table appearances last year defied all the odds.
“North Carolina seems to be a hotbed for very good players,” said Tucker. “Mike is a world-class player. He has a quick wit and a good mind for poker.”
The Main Event
While Tucker and Gracz played at the final table of their event, there were some very interested people watching the action back home via live-streaming. “The most memorable thing for me was all of my family, friends and co-workers watching and texting me,” said Tucker. “It was a blast and I’d love to do it again.”
Tucker’s success in Las Vegas has given him a bankroll to enter the World Series of Poker’s Main Event next month. “If my wife Vickie will let me come back I’ll play in it,” he says. “We’ve been married 41 years and she’s been very supportive of me.”
Tucker’s good fortune may have started years ago when he served as a helicopter pilot just after the end of the Vietnam War. “I was very lucky that I served during one of the few periods of time (1974-’80) when bullets weren’t flying,” he said. “Helicopter pilots did not have much of a life expectancy.”
Gracz displayed his talents after the first day of the event when he was near the bottom with just 3,000 chips. By the end of Day 2, he had run his stack up to 901,000 chips to lead the event, with Tucker in second place.
“I really thought I played the short stack to the best of my abilities,” said Gracz. “On Day 2 I caught lightning in a bottle after the dinner break.”
Gracz found early success as a poker pro in March 2005, winning a World Poker Tour event for $1.5 million. Just three months later, he captured an event at the World Series for a paycheck of $594,460.
In 2011, he migrated away from poker. “I love the game but I knew I wanted to do something else with my life,” he said.
Gracz will join Tucker in the Main Event at the World Series next month. And they would love nothing more than to make another final table for the guys back home.