A potter by trade, John "Skip Dove does not wear jewelry, but he said he might make an exception for the bracelet given to the Moose International Texas Hold Em winner.
"I looked at the bracelet, like others did," Dove said. "I never thought I'd wear it. I don't wear any bracelets, watches or rings, none of it. But this is pretty cool. When I play poker, I'm probably going to wear it."
Dove became only the fifth Moose to claim the victors' bracelet when Eric Stocz conceded the title to end the three-day competition at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas.
Dove, a native of Soldotna, AK, is a member of Lake Havasu City, AZ Lodge 2269 as he spends his winters in Arizona. The Texas Hold Em tournament brings Moose from all corners of the continent together. Included in the 744 original players were 30 from Alaska. Among that group was Dan Mortenson, from Peninsula, AK Lodge 1942 and one of Dove's close friends.
"We decided we would do this when I was last in Alaska," Dove said. "It would be something fun to do. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would even get in the money, let alone win it. But it was pretty goshdarn exciting when it happened."
Dove said just winning money and then qualifying for the final table were successes for him.
"It is just surreal, absolutely surreal," Dove said.
In a way, it looked like two old friends playing cards – except this was two strangers competing for the title of the 2014 Moose International Texas Hold Em title.
Conversation flowed, jokes were exchanged and when they ended the competition, Dove and Stocz shook hands, then embraced, then talked a little more. There was plenty at stake, but the friendliness that infuses Moose sporting competitions never left the final table – just as it was ever-present through the three days of competition.
"The camaraderie was there from the start of the tournament, at every table," Dove said. "It's because we're Moose and we all like the same things. It was convivial and the camaraderie in the room was spectacular all day, every day."
When play began on Jan. 20, 744 sat in one room at the Golden Nugget. None of those players, including Dove, put much thought into ultimate victory. As play continued through three days, the numbers decreased, but the friendliness never waned.
"It is still one of the strongest points of this, the camaraderie and the point of feeling good for your opponent," Director of Activities Shawn Baile said. "There are people who have mixed emotions that they're moving on but that they just knocked out one a fellow member. I think that adds to the attractiveness of the event. It is not only well-run and organized, but it has a sincerity to it."
Second-placed Stocz, from Cortland, OH Lodge 2012, concurred with Baile's feelings. Donned in Detroit Lions apparel throughout the tournament – Stocz played a season with the Lions in the 90s – he was smiling when the competition ended, though still disappointed he didn't win.
"This is a great event," Stocz said. "Being a Moose member and meeting all these new people out here was a really good thing. Being second was a great thing."
Stocz said he plans to return for the 2015 event, and that being with his fiancée and family for the competition made the event special. He has entered some highly competitive poker tournaments, and said the Moose event was enjoyable.
"In the big tournaments, it's pretty cut-throat," Stocz said. "I felt a sense of family here. That feels good and that's why I'll want to come back."
As the final pairing progressed, Dove slowly eroded Stocz's chip stack. Ultimately, the Cortland, OH Lodge 1012 member conceded victory to Dove.
"It did drift away," Stocz said. "Like in any tournament, you have to get lucky and you have to play well. You can't get unlucky, and all those three have to go together to win a tournament. I only maybe got one out of those three."
This year's tournament marked the fifth annual Moose International Texas Hold Em Tournament, and the number of players who commented that they can't wait till the 2015 event was lengthy.
"This has always been a Membership builder and a Membership retainer," Baile said. "That's what it always will be. We want them to remember that the only way they can participate in this and enjoy what happens here is if they pay their dues."
Fraternalism was never far away, despite the players' concentration on their card play. A 50-50 raffle took place, with 50 percent heading to Moose Charities in support of the Mooseheart School Renovation program. So many tickets were sold that more tickets had to be found. When the winning ticket was pulled just before the final table play began, $2,500 was raised -- $1,250 heading to Moose Charities.
"You have to remember that, no matter what event it is, it takes place within our fraternity," Baile said. "You have to remember what we're all about. There's no reason you can't have a poker tournament and still remind players what's important."