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Not in the cards

A local poker player nearly reached the big time, only to have his hopes dashed at the last minute.

Dale Hjelmgren, a member of the poker league that plays at the Outer Limits bar in rural New Richmond, attended the "Party at the Palms" national championship tournament at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas June 28.

He was accompanied by fellow league member, Justin Lamb. Their goal was to win their way through the 50-player Texas Hold 'Em tournament and into the World Series of Poker competition which began the next day.

Neither player fared well in the first round of play, as 18 poker enthusiasts in the field advanced.

But in a special "second-chance" event, Hjelmgren was the chip leader when the competition ended. He was told he'd won a seat in the major World Series of Poker.

As he waited in line to enter the national contest, officials prematurely closed registrations. Hjelmgren was a few minutes from making it in.

"It was very unfortunate," he said. "I was disappointed that I didn't get the chance to play."

World Series of Poker officials gave Hjelmgren a choice -- he could accept a seat at the next big poker competition or he could accept a $1,500 payment.

"Being that we have a baby on the way, I decided to take the money," Hjelmgren said.

Even though he failed to attain his goal of playing in the World Series of Poker event, Hjelmgren said he and Lamb had a great time in Las Vegas.

"It was a great experience," he said. "I'll be back."

Hjelmgren is already working on a return trip to national competition. He has qualified for the upcoming state tournament, which will determine national qualifiers for the Heartland Poker Tour event at the Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas.

"I'm one step closer to going back," he said.

But with the birth of his child estimated to occur Aug. 31, Hjelmgren said it's possible he might miss out on the trip.

"I'm trying to save all the money we can," he said.

The Outer Limits league plays Texas Hold 'Em every Wednesday.