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Mankato poker whiz to compete for national title

Jamie Totman, a Mankato native and MSU student, is on her way to Las Vegas to compete in a national poker tournament. (AP Photo/John Cross, Mankato Free Press)

To get an idea of how good Jamie Totman is at poker, consider this story.

She played well enough at Pub 500 in Mankato to earn a trip to the state tournament in Mahnomen, and at one point got into a hand with a pretty sizable pot.

Her opponent was known as a good player, and he pushed the stakes higher and higher. But something about him didn't seem right. Out of the corner of her eye, as she gazed at the cards in her own hand, she saw the man twitch a little.

That was enough. She knew. And even though her opponent fronted a good hand, she knew otherwise. Totman called his bluff.

Moments later, she sent this text message to a friend back at Pub 500:

"OMG. I may be chip leader. I just made an amazing call. I had k j, k on the flop, 3 clubs at the turn, ace on the river. He has position, raising huge each round. 27 thou at the river, I call. He mucks! He was bluffing! Omg."

You don't need to be fluent in text-message or Texas Hold 'em-speak to see she was excited about that hand. She won, obviously, and Totman's performance at the state tournament -- she finished 14th out of more than 200 poker players -- was good enough to get her in the national tournament. She leaves late this month for that event in Las Vegas.

If Totman does well enough early on in the tournament, she'll have a chance to get a seat in the World Series of Poker. Not bad for a pre-med student from Minnesota State University.

Jay Reasner -- a Pub 500 proprietor, fellow poker aficionado and recipient of that text message -- isn't surprised Totman has gone this far.

"She's very solid," Reasner said. "Some players you can get to fold. It's very hard to get her off of a hand."

Totman's formidable at the poker table. That's for sure. But to say she's been a lifelong practitioner would be, well, bluffing.

While she's known how to play poker since she was a kid, and has been known to play on occasion, it wasn't until a friend asked her to accompany him to a Monday Pub 500 poker night six months ago that she really started playing ... a lot.

"I was a newbie when I came here," she said. "Now I just love it."

On Mondays, it's Pub 500 first, then Buster's later in the evening. Thursdays it's Ruttles. Choppers has poker, too. She's played at them all.

Totman, a Mankato native and Mankato East High School alumnus, is also an "A" student at Minnesota State. Just 10 days prior to heading out to Las Vegas, she will take the MCAD, the test prospective medical school students take to get into medical school. Yes, it's been stressful. And the juxtaposed mental images of medical school bills and World Series of Poker winnings haven't eluded her mind.

Totman's mother, Lori Schroeder, said she remembers her daughter wanting to be a doctor as early as age 3. But the poker thing? That was unexpected.

"I was shocked," Schroeder said of the day she learned her daughter was playing barroom poker. Shocked, but not worried.

"She's always on the honor roll," Schroeder said. "She's always used (poker) as a stress reliever."

When asked what qualities her daughter possesses that would make her a card shark, mom simply pointed to Totman's intellect. Totman, meanwhile, said she's studied poker a little to find out how to improve her luck. It also helps a little, she said, that she's a she.

"A lot of times," she said, "guys think they can get me to fold."

On the subject of female players, Reasner added, "You just don't believe they're bluffing."

Bluffs notwithstanding, Schroeder said her daughter has always been trustworthy. She's also been focused. She told her mother that, even if she wins the lottery, she's still going to medical school.

She can bet on that.