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Aaron Todd

Aaron  Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

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Helppi Brings's Extreme Poker to Finland's Snow Castle

17 Mar 2006

By Aaron Todd

Juha Helppi braved an encounter with a stingray, dealt with water leaking into his mask, and adjusted his strategy in the face of a depleted oxygen tank 30 feet under water in the Caribbean in order to claim the first leg of the Extreme Poker Challenge in December.

"That was the poker tournament I had the most fun in so far," Helppi said. "That was my first time scuba diving, and it was pretty exciting. I had to keep getting the water out of my mask by blowing air through my nose, so I had to be more aggressive."

His aggressive style paid off in the first Extreme Poker tournament, and as a result, the reigning champion was given the choice of where he would like to defend his Extreme Poker title. For Helppi, the choice was easy.

The second leg of the Extreme Poker Championship will be held at Snow Castle in Helppi's native Finland on March 29. Built in December in Kemi, Snow Castle - the world's largest man-made snow castle - is made up of approximately 60,000 cubic feet of snow and ice. In addition to stunning light and ice sculpture displays, Snow Castle features a restaurant with tables made with ice ringed by ice benches covered in reindeer fur and drinks served in hand-made ice cups.

"Finnish people are very proud," Helppi said. "(Snow Castle) is a beautiful place. When I wanted to have the tournament in Northern Finland, it seemed like the best place."

While the first Extreme Poker event - dubbed the "DWSOP" (Deep Water Series of Poker) - was actually a freeze-out tournament, the second event will not be a freeze-out, at least not in format.

Players who bust out of the tournament will be able to rebuy more chips to stay in the competition, but they won't be purchasing those chips with money. Instead they will have to trade in their clothes.

"The first rebuy will be the top garments," said Peter Marcus, a spokesman for "Coats, hats, gloves and sweaters will all have to go. We may allow T-shirts, depending on conditions. We're trying to avoid frostbite, but this is still going to be extreme."

Players can bust out of the tournament in one of four ways. They can run out of chips and decline to rebuy, they can run out of chips and rebuys, they can succumb to the cold and give up, or they can be removed by medical personnel if they are deemed to be in physical danger.

Players may be able to rebuy a second time with their pants, but again, conditions will dictate the level of exposure players could face. They will also be able to purchase their clothes back if they have accumulated enough chips to warrant the cost.

"It will be interesting to see what's more important to the players: chip stacks or comfort level," Marcus said. "There's a lot more strategy in Extreme Poker than in a normal tournament."

Approximately 350 players entered a $1 online qualifier at to play in the Arctic leg of the tournament. The top four earned airfare and accommodations for the trip. Three players were Scandinavian, while one American player will make the journey across the Atlantic. The online qualifiers will face adverse conditions in the Arctic location, but will also face tough opponents in Helppi and 2002 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion Robert Varkonyi.

While Helppi opted for the frozen location, he doesn't expect his home field advantage to last very long.

"(My opponents) will be a bit nervous about the temperature and the surroundings for the first 10 minutes or so," Helppi said. "Then they will start to focus on the game." plans to continue its Extreme Poker series with at least one more single table event later this year at a site and time yet to be determined. The winner of each event will earn an invitation to a three-table final, which will once again take place underwater in the Caribbean off the coast of St. Kitt.

"The only way most people can play poker right now is either online or in a cushy casino where you sit in comfortable chairs and people fetch drinks for you," Marcus said. "We want to put poker players in intense conditions to see how they perform."

In his previous life, Aaron Todd was a sports journalist by day and a poker player by night. He can now be found covering the poker beat for Casino City and making horrendously unsuccessful bluffs in his home game. Write to Aaron at

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