When poker goes beyond delusions of grandeur: Michael Murphy’s and Louisville Poker Tour make two of a kind

If I had told you five years ago that a game of cards would be getting better television ratings than a baseball game, you would have thrown me in a loony bin and tossed the key. And yet, the “sport” of Texas Hold ’Em poker is now a bona fide hit, drawing as much as a 1.9 rating during first-run telecasts on ESPN. That is twice what Sportscenter, the NBA, MLB and the PGA draw on the same network. And combined with Fox Sports’ new “PokerDome” series, The Travel Channel’s “World Poker Tour” and Bravo’s “Celebrity Poker,” you have a better chance of finding Texas Hold ’Em on your TV than drawing a flush on the river.

I was not one to jump on the poker bandwagon immediately. It seemed as random as any other card game. The thought of someone actually referring to himself as a professional poker player seemed a mere delusion of grandeur. But after extensive personal research (much to the chagrin of my girlfriend), I now realize this is a game of both skill and strategy.

Does luck play a role? No doubt. But is there luck when a football is grabbed by an unexpected gust of wind? Or when a baseball is poorly hit but somehow falls in that no man’s land between the infield and outfield? And does luck not come into play every day of our lives? When sports are at their best, they act as a metaphor for life, and the ups and downs of poker fall right in line with this ideal.

If you are not careful, poker can deliver you into the realm of financial troubles just like any other form of gambling. Fortunately, there is an alternative to dropping $100 at a casino or becoming an Internet poker freak. The Louisville Poker Tour features more than 30 restaurants and bars in our city with action going six nights a week. The season’s winner receives one $10,000 buy-in to the World Series of Poker in Vegas and a chance to win many millions more.

And don’t worry — the LPT is completely on the up and up. Budweiser is their major corporate sponsor, and hot spots hire the tour to bring in more patrons, thus increasing sales. According to Ed David, owner/operator of the downtown pub Michael Murphy’s, the LPT is akin to hiring a band for a three-hour set. “We usually have between 30 and 50 people each night,” he said, a claim I found to be accurate. This would certainly seem to help the bottom line. And while the short-term boost is welcomed, David really hopes the lasting effects are what make the LPT worth his while.

Bringing in more regulars seems to be the aim of any restaurant or club that hires in the tour, and this seems to ring even more true at Murphy’s. David offered, “I would say is a lot like Cheers. We have that atmosphere where everyone knows your name.” While that sounds like a cliché sound bite, I was pleasantly surprised to find he was telling the truth. The patrons all seemed to know the bartenders and the banter at the poker tables was familiar and friendly. This is also a fantastic place to go watch the big game, with several big-screen televisions and five booths that have their own personal sets. On top of that, the food is excellent; “Try the rueben!” proclaimed one very satisfied customer when queried about her favorite menu items.

If you have not been to Michael Murphy’s since June, David would ask you to give them another chance, as he has since bought out the previous owners. “We have a pool table, video games … our food is now made with the freshest ingredients … everything is an upgrade from before.”

The Louisville Poker Tour is a perfect chance to reunite with this First Streetmainstay. So come on down and play some cards. After all, you have nothing to lose, except maybe your appetite.