The population of Monroe is less than 300 people. One of those residents, John Harms, survived four days in Las Vegas last month, beating out 7,410 people to cash in at the World Series of Poker Main Event to win $15,000.

The World Series of Poker Main Event took place over two weeks starting July 3 at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino. 

Although the World Series cash-in might be his largest prize sum to date, his poker journey started long before then. 

"Growing up with my cousins, we use to play five card draw for skittles and things like that," Harms said. "In 2003, that was the year Chris Moneymaker won the Main Event on ESPN. I was watching it on TV one night when he won it and kind of got intrigued by the way the game was played and ended up buying a couple books on strategy and math and things kind of took off from there." 

Harms then found himself playing in online games in college before the government shut down many of the sites. 

"It’s different because it was more accessible," Harms said. "You log on to a computer and play. I had a couple friends in Columbus who between the three of us we were clicking pretty well. We had a couple nice scores here and there.

"Once Black Friday (the term for the day three major poker websites were shut down) happened, that kind of shut down our access to the games. My personal belief is it should be legalized and regulated because if you can go to a bar and play Keno, buy scratch tickets and play in games of chance, poker is more a game of skill."  

Harms likes to play games in the Free Poker Network, a free bar league in which Lonestar Bar and BT's holds free poker games giving players a chance to qualify for larger tournaments including the World Series of Poker Main Event.  

Harms played in those leagues the last six months and qualified to the state tournament where he placed in the top 12. He then qualified for a trip to national in Vegas the summer before the Main Event in which they give away four Main Event seats over two tournaments. Harms came up short, but was able to qualify eventually through a private league. 

It was his second year playing in the Main Event. A rough first day in his first appearance cut his trip short in 2018. He saw his stack of 50,000 chips disappear in the first few hours landing on the wrong side of a few full houses.

This year, he turned his fortunes around with a hot start

In the first two hours, Harms grew his stack from 60,000 to 100,000. He ran into some tough competition at the end of the first day after encountering some tough aggressive European players and dipped to around 43000. 

"Europeans are generally a little more aggressive playing style in poker," Harms said. At the end of Day 1, I slid down to about 43000 chips. I had a couple unfortunate coolers at the end. Given that the structure is really slow you have a lot of playing time depending on how you play you stacks."

Harms rebounded on Day 2 and grew his stack to around 208000. 

That led him to Day 3 when the money bubble finally popped around 1 a.m. Pacific time. 

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"The average stack to make the money was approximately 300,000 and I had about 250,000 chips at the time," Harms said. "When it gets closer to the money bubble, about 50 places before the money bubble pops, there’s a lot more people that will just play tight and conservative, because they’re just trying to fold and make the money.

"For the most part I was playing pretty much the same way, but I was picking spots with a couple people on my tail who I knew were a little tighter than they should be. I got a couple free chips here and there. When it got down to the final 10 before the money, it was pretty much just fold your hands until the money bubble popped."

A conservative style of play is different than Harms' normal style of play which he categorizes as more aggressive. 

Harms' journey finally came to an end in Day 4 getting knocked out pretty early into the day. 

Harms was dealt the king and queen of hearts, while one of his opponents was dealt a pair of black 10s. 

The flop produced a five, six and two, two of which were hearts bringing Harms one heart, one king or one queen away from winning the hand. It never came. 

"I got all-in after the flop with the way the betting went and I was actually a slight favorite given the exact hand I was against and just couldn’t hit anything," he said. "That’s how it goes. You can get yourself good spots, but you still have to catch cards." 

One of Harms favorite parts of the tournament is meeting people from all around the world. 

"You get to meet a lot of cool people since the World Series brings together people from all over the world," Harms said. "You have players that are 21 and some that are in their 70s. You have a wide variety of ages and playing styles, with people from a lot of different backgrounds that have different experiences.

"You have the pros that you see on TV, you have just your recreational players, some people have only played poker once or twice in their life. Almost every poker players dream is to at least go down and play it once and hopefully win it, but when you have over 8,500 players it’s a pretty big field to come over the top and win with. "

Harms didn't have any of the big names of poker at this table, but he did play with Timothy Su, who finished in eighth place, and was in the vicinity of players like Daniel Negreanu, Mike Sexton and Mike Matusow.

"(The tournament is) fun," Harms said. "If it’s your first time playing a World Series event it can be overwhelming. You walk into the room and it’s about the size of an empty Walmart just full of poker tables. You walk in and can hear chips shuffling across the whole floor. Just the amount of people. The Starting Day of 1C (one of the three groups for Day 1) of the main event there was like 5000 people. Whenever the breaks went off, the hallways were packed solid with people. You’re shoulder to shoulder walking with people trying to fight the crowds.

"Just being able to meet and observe a lot of people from all over the world is probably the neatest part of the thing. You see a lot of different things. Some cultural things, the way people dress, like from overseas and different cultures versus having just the local interaction with people. Some people at the poker table are really quiet and you have the guys that will talk your ear off. It’s just kind of enjoying the experience and the atmosphere of playing with people from all over the world."

For those interested in participating in a Free Poker Network game, check out Lonestar on Tuesdays or look at BT's Facebook 

Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sports@columbustelegram.com 

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