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Learning to play the game
By Chhun Sun

Ever imagined sitting at a poker table with thousands, even millions, of dollars near your fingertips?

Don’t dream too big just yet. Learn the game first.

At West Coast Poker League, one of the organization’s goals is to build players into elite ones, one hand at a time with peer coaching in a non-serious, just-another-night-out-with-friends kind of environment. Some players are already advanced and just need more practice.

But if someone just wants to have a good time, WCPL can offer that, too.

“The league is one of the best ways to learn the game,” said Efren Juarez, owner of WCPL. “We’re considered a learning league. You play by sitting down, playing hands and we take the time to instruct people about what they should have done after the hand is over.”

The league started on Jan. 1, 2011, with the intention of helping “people who would like to strengthen their poker skills without the expensive investment of entering numerous tournaments. Each player has the opportunity to practice strategy while learning to read tells. These are all skills that are important to learn and experience if playing in a high-stakes poker game. The opportunity to play several events at no cost is just what you might have been waiting for,” as it states on the WCPL website.

In order to compete in the various WCPL tournaments in cities like Modesto, Manteca, Riverbank and Escalon and other places within driving distances, players must only pay for food and drinks at the establishment holding the poker event. The league is referred to as the “batting cages of poker.”

“It costs zero,” Efren said. “You have absolutely nothing to lose.”

At present, WCPL has about 2,000 members between the ages of 21 and 85. Each season is three months, with the latest season — which is No. 17 — having started on Jan. 1. At the end of each season, three big events take place called the Main Event, Spartans and Masters.

In order to participate in the latter two events, players must produce 10,000 and 15,000 points throughout the season, respectively. Players can earn between 5 and 1,000 points at various poker nights.

In the end, a WCPL champion will be determined.

Another incentive to participate in the WCPL is the chance to compete at the Carnegie Hall of poker: Las Vegas. It’s called the World Bar Poker Championships. WCPL sent 30 members to represent its league in last year’s inaugural championships — which had a $25,000 guarantee.

This year, Efren hopes to take 75 members to participate at the event.

“Because we are free to play and because we don’t charge anything, a lot of people don’t know about us,” Efren said, adding that members play with professional chips and on “beautiful (poker) tables.” “We don’t have a huge ability to advertise. We rely on our players to spread the word. People need to know about this. It’s a great way to learn how to play poker.”

For more information on West Coast Poker League and its upcoming events, visit WCPL also can be found on Facebook at