Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tara Rice: Wanna Hold’em?

Tara Rice is a beautiful blonde actress/model who loves poker.  And I spent a couple of hours with her at the Venetian last Saturday.

The Venetian poker room, of course.  Although we didn’t play any poker.
Doing my day job for AVP, I learned about an upcoming special poker tournament scheduled at the Venetian for this past weekend.  It was billed as a “$10K Celebrity Invitational” poker tournament, a 2 day event, hosted by “Wanna Hold’”  Their website is here.
I had never heard of Wanna Hold’em, but surely they must have been a big player to be throwing a $10K event at the Venetian, right?  So I did some research and found their website.  It became obvious that they were new on the scene and the $10K at the Venetian was their first live event.
Ambitious, indeed.
Poking around their website, which didn’t seem finished yet, it was clear that Tara Rice was the, um, front person for this group.  I found some info on her—actress, model, beauty queen.  Starred in and produced a poker movie—Hitting The Nuts. Of course, I noticed that some sexy pictures of her graced the website.  They were clearly trying to take advantage of Tara’s obvious attractiveness and physical assets.  Check out the big pair Tara is showing off in the picture at this link.   I’m talking about the pair of Aces, of course.
In the “membership” section, they encourage you to sign up so that they can “keep you abreast of all our activities.”
I figured I had to check out this event for myself.  I’m always looking for blogging material.  And this almost seemed as it was designed with my blog in mind.  Plus, now that I am a professional poker journalist,  I am constantly looking for things I can write about in my monthly column.  I was hoping to find something I could use in Ante Up.
Besides, it was billed as a “celebrity” tournament, and since Tara was an actress, I was hoping to see some famous people.  A lot of actors like to play poker.  Perhaps some would show up for this?  Especially since the $10K price tag seemed designed for rich people, not your ordinary poker player.  Note, it was only later that night I saw a bunch of actors in another poker room and found out how cheap at least one of them could be (see here).
I did have my concerns that this was not going to be all I—or the promoters—hoped for.  I hadn’t heard much about this since entering the special event on AVP.  The website didn’t seem to get any more finished than the first time I’d looked at it.  I had to wonder, did anyone know about this?
It made me think of another event at the Venetian that didn’t get much of a turnout.  In my 2nd Ante Up column (see here), I mentioned the Jewish Poker Championships being held at the Venetian on Christmas.  I dutifully showed up there hoping for a good blog post and something to put in my next Ante Up column.  Sadly, the turnout was so poor (I don’t think they had a full table) that it wasn’t worth mentioning in the magazine.  I would have mentioned it here but I just had so many other things to write about, I kind of forgot about it.
Until now.  On Saturday, I was afraid it was going to be deju vu all over again. 
When I got to the Venetian, it appeared my worst fears were realized.  There was really no evidence that a special event tournament was about to start.  I kind of figured they’d have a few signs, perhaps a poster of Tara.  Nothing like that.  There was a blurb on the bottom of the Bravo waiting list screen, but that was it.  Oh, there were some flyers sitting in front of the Venetian tournament desk.
I went over to say hello to Tommy, the Venetian’s tournament directory and my main contact with the room, and asked him what was happening with the tournament.  He was chatting with someone when he saw me and called me over.
“So, is this thing gonna come off?”
Pointing to the man he’d been talking to, he said, “Ask him.  It’s his tournament.”
Oops.  Perhaps that was a bit rude.  But anyway, that’s how I met Ken, who is, I guess, partners with Tara in this venture.
Tara was running late and no one had bought into the tournament yet, and it was supposed to start in 10 minutes.
I started chatting with Ken, who was a really nice guy but it seemed he and Tara had made a few miscalculations.  I’ll get to those in a bit.
It looked like this wasn’t going to get up and running and I really wouldn’t have a story.  But I figured as long as I was there anyway, and Tara was on her way, I might as well stay and meet her and see if anything got going after she showed up.
She did indeed show up, looking fantastic, I might add.  She had a friend with her, Kim, also very attractive. I had explained to Ken my interest in the event as a columnist and a blogger, and I explained this to Tara as well.

Tara (left) and Kim
Tara made some calls and sent some texts to see if she could get some players to show up.  The problem was that no one was interested in playing if they didn’t get at least 2 tables going, and no one had even bought in yet,  By now, the starting time had long past.
It seems that they had a bunch of players “committed” to playing—mostly friends of Tara’s, but a bit of bad timing had messed things up.  This was the day of the Kentucky Derby, and as part of the festivities there, they had a big poker tournament.  A number of people who were planning to play in this event ended up going to Kentucky for the horse race and the poker tournament instead.
There was also some kind of UFC event going on in Canada which had a poker tournament attached to it, and some of the players who were originally committed to being at the Venetian went there instead.
There was one guy there who was very interesting in playing.  I’ll call him Dave because that’s his real name.  He had won the satellite they had the night before gain entry into the tournament.  However, the satellite didn’t have enough entrants to pay him the full entry fee, he had to make up the difference out of pocket—assuming things ever got underway.
Dave turned out to a interesting guy, very nice, and the five of us at least had a nice time chatting.  He was trying to get a buddy of his to come down for this but again, this was the problem, no one would commit to playing unless there were more players.  And they couldn’t get more players until they had some players.
But as I said, we had a nice conversation.  I hung around for a couple of hours waiting to see if the tournament would ever get underway.  It turned out that Tara was not only beautiful, but a warm, friendly person and it was great meeting her.  She’s also a great handicapper—she won her Derby bet.
We did discuss some of the mistakes they had made, and that they will learn from for future events.  The timing was one problem.  Not only did they lose players because of the Derby, but it was probably way too close to the start of the WSOP for such a pricey tournament in Vegas.  Afterall, that entry fee is also the price of a seat to the Main Event.  Players with an extra $10k would need it for the main event or the “cheaper” bracelet events.
But they really weren’t going after the ordinary poker player.  Because of Tara’s showbiz ties, they were going after poker playing showbiz types more than the typical Vegas grinder.  And they apparently had some players in that vein—but they ended up in Kentucky.
Another problem was the name of the event.  It was an “invitational”.  That made it sound exclusive, like you had to be invited to play.  Not the case at all.  They should have called it the “10K Celebrity Open”, or just “10K Celebrity Poker Tournament.”
But the biggest problem was the price.  I guess that was because they had all these rich showbiz types lined up, who would possibly poo poo a smaller event.  But if you’re gonna pull off a $10K event—especially as your first event when you have absolutely no reputation behind you—you better get your ducks in a row and lock up a whole bunch of players, and make damn sure they show up.  I don’t mean 10 or 15.  I mean more like 50.  I’m just sort of pulling that number out of my butt, but it sounds right to me.  Because you’re not going to get a lot of walk in traffic at that price. 
So starting right off the bat with a $10k buy in was a major miscalculation.  Even a $1K probably would have been too much, unless they had a good number of big names locked up.
They also didn’t do any serious advertising, which was apparently not their fault.  They had to wait too long to get legal permission to use the Venetian name and logo, and by the time they finally got it, it was too late to run ads in the poker mags.  That really hurt them, of course.
Apparently Tara did a radio interview about it, but you know, she does not have a face for radio.  She belongs on the screen—big or small.
All the while, we were waiting to see if these people who expressed interest might show up.  We talked about other things too.  Turns out Tara had met Kim when they were contestants at a Miss Hawaiian Tropics contest at MGM X number of years ago.  Now, when Tara told us the story, she mentioned the age they met and how many years ago it was.  So I laughed and said, “do the math.”  She realized what I meant and then said, “No, no, don’t do the math.”  So being the gentleman that I am, I won’t reveal how long ago they met, or at what age.
Despite the lack of an actually poker tournament, it was a fun afternoon, very pleasant conversation.  That was one reason I hung around so long.  The other reason was that I was hoping I could stay and see if the tournament would ever get started.  It seemed like it was several times thisclose to getting going, if only just a few more players who had expressed interest would actually show up with cash in hand.
Finally they came up with the idea of making it a $1K buy in.  And when I finally left, it appeared that they were not that far off from starting it at that price.  Sure enough, later that night, after I had said goodbye to my new pals, I saw a tweet from the Venetian saying they did have cards in the air as a $1K event.  And in fact, I learned they had a full table and that Tara actually won the tournament, thus getting her own trophy!  :)

Tara won her own tournament!
So it will go down as a learning experience for them.  They are considering a charity event in the future, which should work out for them.  And they might do something in one of the L.A. rooms instead of Vegas, so Tara’s celebrity pals don’t have to go to Vegas for it. 
They’re really nice people and I wish them well.


  1. cut to the chase Rob, where are the pics of Tara with her kit OFF ??