Chasing the dream, albeit a much smaller dream

Sure, the top pros chased a top payout of $8 million at the World Series of Poker earlier this month, but they each had to reach into their pockets and pay $10,000 to enter. On Sundays, you can play for the big bucks, relatively speaking, in a South Florida tournament that is free to enter.

The Big Easy Poker Room at Mardi Gras Casino offers a tournament at 1 p.m. Sundays that guarantees $10,000 in prize money. It is one of eight free tournaments at the card room each week.

For cheapskates like me, it’s a good endeavor, even though “free” is a bit of an overstatement. Patrons can start with 500 chips for free, but that’s not what most players do: Some choose a “chip-up” of 8,000 chips for $50; others pay $100 for 16,000 chips. But, yes, some players have made the final table after starting with just the 500 free chips.

The event draws about 120 players, including a recent Sunday I played in it. And as I usually do, I hung in there OK, but never amassed enough chips to finish in the money. After buying in for the 8,000 chips, I was eliminated somewhere between 30th and 40th.

In this case, the top 15 players received at least $100, with first place paying $2,800.

Mardi Gras director of poker operations David Litvin takes pride that his tournaments never having antes – a policy I like because dealing with antes slows down a tournament and also because I’m a conservative player, and giving away chips while waiting for good cards bleeds my stack down to almost nothing.

Mardi Gras’ other free rolls are at 7 p.m. and carry guarantees off at least $1,500, with the same spend-money-go-start-with-more-chips technique for building the prize pool.