Grand Tournament Cashes In On Poker Craze

A poker dealer looked around the table and counted up the players who called the hand's original bet.

"We've got five players," she said.

One of the players nervously waiting for the river card to be turned over was Sarah Norman. The 27-year-old fell in love with poker just more than a year ago.

"It's just a feeling. Heart pumps, races. Just that little feeling," she said.

Norman struggled during late morning tournament action. Her hands often covered her face as she folded hand after hand.

"I'm down a little. Not too much," she said after counting a stack of chips that once totalled 5,000.

She knew a few more losses and her seat in the Southern Classic Poker Tournament would be gone.

"You've gotta catch the cards. And I'm not getting them," she said.

Norman learned how to play poker on the internet. A year later, this Southaven cocktail waitress felt comfortable enough to enter a tournament dominated by men. And she fit right in.

Norman wore sunglasses, just like some of her male counterparts. And just like the guys, she had an earpiece connected to an MP3 player.

"I'm a big talker, so if I have that in, I don't talk a lot," she laughed. "Some people say I give my hands away when I talk so much."

Grand's Southern Classic tournament was south Mississippi's version of a high stakes poker shootout. It featured a variety of poker regulars from all over the southeast.

"Poker has been popular around the country," said poker room manager Ted Vaughn. "And we just want to be a part of it."

That's why Grand Casinos hosted this week's Southern Classic in both Gulfport and Biloxi.

It's why Sarah Norman put up $540 to test her poker skills against the men.

"I didn't realize it had become so popular with women," said Norman. "But it has."

Thousands of dollars are up for grabs in the Grand Casino poker tournament. The finals will be held on Sunday.