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Retired St. Helena innkeeper Jim Smith ended the night beating all comers in the Ninth Annual Rianda House Texas Hold ’em Poker Tournament, played Friday, Oct. 12.

At the final table of five, he beat Andy Gridley, who won the tournament last year. Gridley had offered two bottles of wine to anyone who could knock him out of the tournament. After going out in fourth place, Gridley offered his hand and the wine to Smith. Rounding out the top five were JoAnn Busenbark, second; Larry Bradley, third; and Tom Merzon, who ended in fifth place.

Gridley, who said he has played poker for “a long time, at least 40 years,” added his poker strategy includes patience. “Don’t get in a hurry, don’t try to go all in, don’t get too cocky,” he said before the games started. Additionally, he said a good strategy is to “pick your battles.”

About 50 people played poker, buying chips when they ran out, at least for as long as they could. Gridley is the coordinator of the tournament and said it’s easy to support Rianda House, because of the many programs offered. “They do such an amazing job, it makes it easy for me to donate time and effort and support what goes on here.”

He added, “We’ve got some great prizes, amazing stuff tonight and I’m looking forward to sharing that. There’s going to be some winners tonight and they’re going to go home with some great prizes.”

The evening started with a delicious rib dinner, cooked for five hours by the chefs of Rutherford’s Alpha Omega Winery, including Chris Carmichael. The 32 racks of ribs went quickly. Volunteer Peter Working said he spent the early part of the night in the kitchen, putting corn muffins on each plate and then later, moving clean dishes in the kitchen, to keep them dry. Working added he steps in to volunteer whatever anyone needs. He added he wasn’t going to play cards.

Others, though, were going to try their luck at the cards, dealt out at the poker tables set up in two rooms at Rianda House. Mary Koberstein said she went to the practice session, held in early October, and added she didn’t normally play poker. How did she think she was going to do? “It’s hard to say,” said the St. Helena City Councilmember. “It depends on the cards, doesn’t it?”

Calistoga vintner Rudy von Strasser said it was his first time participating in the poker tournament at Rianda House, although he plays poker in the Calistoga Businessmen’s Association, which had its start in 1991. He added that Texas Hold ’em is a game that you play with a lot of people and that he had never played it. His strategy for the night was to win, he said, adding he would do it “by hook, crook or any means possible. Hopefully, it will be because I have the best cards, but that doesn’t always happen.”

Chuck Meibeyer, a retired attorney who now sells real estate, said he played in the original poker tournament nine years ago. “I didn’t know much about Texas Hold ’em then and I went out 11th from the end,” he said. “Gosh, I could’ve been at the final table (of 10). They all got their pictures in the paper.”

He said the St. Helena Rotary Club held a Texas Hold ’em poker tournament for two years and he won them both. “I don’t play but once a year, and it was one of the most phenomenal, fortuitous lucky streaks I’ve ever had in my life. Too bad I wasn’t playing for real money.”

Meibeyer said Rianda House is a community institution, adding, “We have to support it in any way we can. Why not support it in a way you can fun, laugh, gamble, drink some wine and maybe get lucky.”

Before any cards were dealt, Meibeyer was asked what his strategy would be. “I’m not giving that away. You’ve got to know when to hold and know when to fold ’em.”

Julie Spencer, executive director of the Rianda House Senior Activity Center, said center staff is still tallying up the evening’s proceeds. “After the event, our overall feeling is that it was another winning night for all, with terrific sponsorship, fabulous prize donations, delicious dinner and beverages and an enjoyable, well-run neighborly tournament.”

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star, The Weekly Calistogan and st