My Poker Story - How Dawn of the Dead changed my life

This is a story about how Dawn of the Dead changed my life. Now bear with me, this is a #MyPokerStory. It’ll just take a bit to get to. Emerson said it best, “Life is a journey, not a destination. In the words of Dragnet (feel free to google this youngsters), the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. So grab a mountain dew, bag of Doritos and time travel with me to 2004. It’s been a bit since then so let’s refresh together. Peter Jackson and company just people’s elbowed the Academy Awards with The Return of the King, killing time playing snake on your Nokia was the equivalent to swiping left and right today, and Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson recently taught us what a wardrobe malfunction was.

Queue up Friday, March 10th, 2004 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In every high school there was always an unspoken hierarchy, mine was no different. To put it briefly, you had the “cool” kids, the “kinda cool” kids, and the “not so cool” kids. Each group had its subdivisions of athletes, partyers, bookworms, slackers, loners, etc.. I’m not entirely sure where I stood in this made up caste system but I like to think I was part of a little bit of everything. I digress but I promise we’ll come full circle.

It was a warm sunny day with a cool breeze as Oklahoma was transitioning from Winter to Spring. My best friend, Kirk, and I were huddled over a white crumpled up piece of paper with a seven digit number emphasized with a heart around it written in sharpie. You know that feeling when you get it in pre-flop and you’re ahead, but the flop gives your opponent a flush draw and open ender? Well, multiply that by ten and you should have a good idea on what it felt like to be a sixteen year old kid about to call a girl up. Why didn’t you just text her? You have to remember landlines were still a thing back then and usually an awkward sounding “Is Jessica home?” would have to be articulated to a parent before contact was made.

Kirk and I discussed a game plan at length afterschool and decided on calling up Jessica to schedule a movie meet-up with her friend Veronica for Saturday. Luck have it, the phone rang twice before Jessica picked up.

*Ring* *Ring*

“Hello?” said a bubbly voice.

“Hi, is Jessica home?” I said in a confident tone, in reality it probably squeaked.

“Hey this is her, who’s this?” responded Jessica

“Hey it’s Tana. Was calling to see what you and Veronica were doing tomorrow.”

“Oh hey, we were just talking about trying to sneak into the new zombie movie.”

JACKPOT! So the new zombie movie was Dawn of the Dead. It was Rated R for obvious reasons. Kirk was 17 at the time and I was 16. Being high off of adrenaline I thought to myself, we could be heroes if we got the tickets so they didn’t have to sneak in.

“Kirk and I were going to see the same movie tomorrow, we’ll get tickets for the 7:20 showing and meet up with you all?”

“That sounds great, we’ll see you then.”

“Awesome, see you then,”


Ever hit a two-outer on the turn? This was that feeling. Fast forward to 6:00pm the next day. Abercrombie and Fitch button down? Check. American Eagle jeans? Check. Gel’d up faux hawk? Check. Kirk swung by in his white Ford Explorer so we could get there early and figure up a plan to snag up some tickets before the movie sold out as it was opening weekend. You could always hear him pulling up as his engine sounded more like a go-kart rather than an actual vehicle. After a high five/bro hug we jumped in the car and headed to the movie theatre. The same cold breeze was going since yesterday as we parked and walked up to the box office.

Plan A was have Kirk get four tickets, he jumped into the line and came back shortly with a frown.

“They said I could only get one” he said confused

 Plan B We’ll go up together and I’ll tell them I forgot my ID and get one then we’ll shoulder tap someone for two more.

Kirk went first and was immediately asked for his ID. Shit. I’m next up. Time to bluff.

“Dawn of the Dead 7:20 please.” I said in the lowest voice possible.

“Are you over 17?” asked the movie attendant.

“Yes, but I forgot my ID.”

“I can’t sell you a ticket without one.”

Shit. Bluff called. Hail mary time, you ever get tank called by an opponent on the river and your last hope is to just throw your hand face up as confidently as possible so they muck even though you missed everything?

“Actually I may have it” I stated as my hands theatrically fumbled around my pockets. I slid my ID facedown in dramatic effect across the counter just like in the movies when the villain would slide their money offer to entice the hero to cross over to the dark side.

“Hey man you got to be 17 to see this.”

“Do I?” I said with one brow arched.

“Sorry man, next in line please.”

Shit. Shit. Shit. The river had turned the tide and we were now sitting with the second best hand. We met up with the girls at the entrance a couple of minutes later and explained the bad news. Luck struck again as the girls seemed to be unfazed by this news.

“Oh that’s okay, we were actually going to ask you all if you wanted to check out the poker tournament Jamie was holding.” said Veronica.

Kirk and I both glanced at each other and did a mental air high five. We had completely forgotten that it was today. The poker tournament had been advertised from a series of multi-colored flyers stuffed into everyone’s locker the week prior but at the time I could barely keep track of when my Spanish homework was due let alone a random social event.

“Let’s do it.” I answered excitedly.

Jamie lived in a gated neighborhood where all the houses were the size of museums. We tailgated another car past the gate before it closed and parked a block away along a string of trucks, SUVs, and cars. The amount of people here for the poker tournament shouldn’t have come to a surprise as the popularity of poker was at an all-time high since Chris Moneymaker and ESPN had just taken the game to the mainstream.

Signs painted with the words Poker Tournament and arrows led us to a red wooden door with an antique bronze knocker. As I reached for the handle the door swung open as some classmates a year below were coming out. The set-up was in a basement the size of a basketball court. Sixteen long fold out tables were spread out across each holding a stack of plastic Wal-Mart chips and two colored Bicycle decks. A food spread of every Dorito flavor, Cheetos type, and cubed cheese was available. Liters of soda were neatly lined up at the end of each table with red solo cups and ice coolers. TV’s were set-up along the edge of the tournament area for spectators. Kirk and I bought in along with Jessica and Veronica went to meet up with some of her friends by the TVs.

Despite the impressive set-up and packed house, this was still a typical home game tournament. Blinds were shouted out, people played out of position, dealing had to be explained to at least one person at each table. But that night was one of the most memorable nights that shaped me to what I do today. Its been so long that I don’t recall the hand histories but I was able to claim a second place finish.

That wasn’t what made the night memorable though. As play commenced and people were eliminated and tables merged, so did the made-up caste system. There were no “cool” kids, kinda “cool” kids, not so “cool” kids, just poker players. I got to hang out with classmates I never would have if left by chance. I got to finally connect with people that I’ve gone to school with for years that I would have missed out on without the game of poker. So this is #MyPokerStory. Poker has awarded me many things, it has given me lifelong friends, it has connected me closer to my father, it has let me build a company. The company I built sprouted from this experience. The simple concept, poker brings people together. Young or old, sock sock shoe shoe or sock shoe sock shoe, it doesn’t matter when you’re playing poker. But I may have never known that if it weren’t for Dawn of the Dead and its R rating.

- Tana Karn