Here's a tip for those considering competing in Saturday's "Guitar Hero" tournament at Mystic Lake Casino: Chris Chike , who holds the Guinness World Record for the highest score in the popular video game, won't be there.

Finally, someone else has a chance to win.

Chike's nimble fingers have taken him to the heights of "Guitar Hero" godhood, but his record-setting prowess can't make him age instantly. At only 16, the junior at Century High School in Rochester is too young to get into the Prior Lake casino.

The so-called Rock the Lake tournament, which is being billed as the state's largest "Guitar Hero" competition, is open only to those 18 and older.

"First and foremost, we are a gaming operation," explained Bryan Prettyman, the casino's vice president of marketing. "We do not believe it is correct to encourage or to solicit anyone underage to come to the property."

Chike said he's OK with that.

"I'd love to be included -- but I do understand why they made the 'over 18' rule," he said.

"I think it gives the adults more chances to win, and it's probably best not to have kids in the casino."

No offense to the old fogies in the crowd, but Chike said he thinks he would win if allowed to compete.

Chike drew international headlines in March when he was recognized by Guinness World Records for achieving the highest score in "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock," part of a video-game series in which players keep time to hard-rock songs by following onscreen prompts to press the buttons on a guitar-shaped controller. He cranked out 880,920 points -- hitting 97 percent of the notes on expert level -- for the finger-burning "Through the Fire and Flames" by speed-metal band DragonForce.

Several days later, he bested that official record with a score of 889,256 (98 percent completion rate) at the Play N Trade video-game store in Bloomington as part of a national tournament with nearly 1,000 contestants.

Big crowd expected at casino

Mystic Lake Casino is preparing for a capacity crowd of 2,500 to compete in its Rock the Lake tournament. Prettyman said the casino has already had several hundred people compete in a prequalifying event at the Mall of America and has received e-mail inquiries from as far away as Texas and California. If more than 2,500 people show up, the casino will hand out tickets and call out numbers randomly until it reaches capacity.

With so many adults fretting over teens getting access to mature-rated (17 and older) games such as "Grand Theft Auto," does Prettyman see any irony in taking a teen-rated (13 and older) game such as "Guitar Hero" and making it available only to adults?

"While 'Guitar Hero' is wildly popular to a younger demographic, the game is just as popular to the over-18 crowd -- specifically, to the 25- to 40-year-old," he said. "That market is growing dramatically."

He added that the casino's tournament is no different than a neighborhood bar having a "Guitar Hero" night -- but with better rewards. Those include a grand prize of $10,000 among more than $20,000 total in cash and prizes, including a free T-shirt for all competitors.

"I'm glad they're holding a 'Guitar Hero' contest," Chike said. "It's a great game and requires skill and rhythm to win. It will be interesting to see how the 18-plus crowd performs."

Spectators -- again, adults only -- will actually be able to see how the contestants do. The final rounds will take place on the stage of the Mystic Showroom, the 2,100-capacity venue where the casino presents real rock concerts.

But before that, the tournament will take over the casino's entire conference facility with 25 qualifying rounds of 100 people each. Competitors will stand at 50 PlayStation 2 systems, two to a unit, and rock out all day on "Guitar Hero III." Those with the highest scores will progress to the next rounds. Each station will have an official to ensure that everything is run properly and to make sure contestants, who will be wearing headphones during the prelims, behave properly and don't use offensive language.

Prettyman said the Rock the Lake event will be easier than the "Guitar Hero" contests Chike has won.

"Most tournaments are hosted with the difficulty stage set on expert," Prettyman said. "Our tournament is set on medium and hard, so it's giving the novice players more of a chance to participate, if not to hold a position within the tournament, not to be immediately eliminated by a more seasoned player."

Chike has summer plans

As for Chike, he has no "Guitar Hero" tournaments in his immediate future.

"I've been thinking about planning one here in Rochester, but I need to finish up my school and track season before jumping into that one," he said.

Meanwhile, he has just signed an endorsement deal with a California-based company called the Ant Commandos to promote its "Guitar Hero" controllers. He's also looking forward to summer.

"I'm playing soccer and attending YoungLife camps," he said. "I'll also be working with TAC on developing the next score-winning guitar!"

Despite the accolades Chike has received for his "Guitar Hero" prowess, he keeps a healthy outlook about how much time he devotes to the hobby.

"School comes first, then family stuff and then athletics," he said. "I play 'Guitar Hero' to have fun -- and play when I can."

Although he can't compete in the Mystic Lake Casino tournament, he will probably still think about what could have been when Saturday comes.

"It would be sweet if I could win that money -- and help pay for college," he said.

Randy A. Salas • 612-673-4542