They were but an hour from the start of the Northern Ireland Poker Championships last Friday, eager players from around Ireland, England and mainland Europe bought-in and chomping at the bit to play some cards. Then the Gardai (police) shut the whole thing down.
The most confusing part: They're not even quite sure why.
For starters, action had already been shifted to the City North Hotel - just outside of Dublin and a short drive from the site of the 2007 Irish Open set for April 5-9 - to avoid any uncertainties surrounding the legal situation for poker in the North.
On top of that, poker tournaments with a one-off registration fee are supposed to be legal in Ireland.
Nonetheless, the Gardai informed the hotel that if they continued with the tournament they could lose their license, and despite, among other things, organizers offering to donate any profit to charity, the police wouldn't budge.
An alternative venue on such short notice couldn't be found, and so the tournament was canceled.
The £1,000 entry fee was returned to the players (plus an extra £100 added by the organizers to represent the expected overlay), and that was that: No Northern Ireland Poker Championship.