Poker charity events always have been near and dear to my heart. What better way to raise funds for needy causes than to have a fun time on the felt, where a reasonable portion of the buy-ins are contributed to the benefiting organization while at the same time providing substantial prizes to the winners to attract participants. And with those players all in the same room for several hours, you have the added attraction of a great social time mixed in and a captive audience to spread the word about your cause. It certainly beats a golf tournament, where the participants are spread out over 50,000 acres of land for most of the afternoon.
Poker Gives, started by Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, Mike Sexton and Lisa Tenner, has been a visible organization on the charity scene at the World Series of Poker for years, with its 1 percent program involving many big-name players to raise money for its roster of five great charitable organizations. Coming up soon will be the group’s third annual National Poker Month in September with live charity events spread around the country. For more information and assistance to host your own event, go to pokergives.org.
The most successful charity tournament of all-time was the Big One for One Drop, which raised more than $5.3 million for the Guy Laliberte initiative to bring fresh water to disadvantaged families all over the globe. This high-profile $1-million buy-in event raised awareness for this global catastrophe and continues to bring in hundreds of thousands of additional aid to the unfortunate suffering from disease and dehydration because of the lack of clean water.
Here in South Florida, the deans of charity poker sponsorship are identical twins Bernard and Irwin Cohen, who sponsored their first poker event at Hollywood’s Seminole Hard Rock in 2005. It was an immediate success, attracting more than 250 players. Now the attorney brothers are set to present their 18th tournament on Aug. 9, the Summer Poker Charity Classic at the Hard Rock. Though they hadn’t played poker since they were children — “We used to play for baseball cards,” Bernard said. — they immediately accepted the chance to become sponsors of an event that would help needy children.
“Whenever we have the opportunity to help children, we jump right in and don’t wait for the flop,” Bernard said.
Their events usually benefit the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie (known as “The J”), focusing on the center’s programs assisting families who have children with special needs. “These events are like our Special Olympics,” he said.
When I asked if the recent proliferation of poker charity events made it tougher to raise the needed funds, Bernard said, “We never have goals on how much money we raise because we are looking at a win-win situation … of course, we feel that we can never raise enough money when it comes to children of special needs.”
After teaming with good friend Michael “Grinder” Mizrachi over the past two years with his January event, the Hard Rock came calling again to kick off its Summer Splash series with another charity tournament.
“They told us that our events have been the most successful charity events they have ever hosted and enjoy working with both The J and Cohen & Cohen, so again we didn’t hesitate,” he said.
With his focus firmly on making this August event another in a long line of fun and successful events, I asked Bernard about his plans for future tournaments. He laughed and said, “Our future is just like the sun; it just keeps getting brighter and brighter.”
The Summer Poker Charity Classic to benefit the David Posnack Jewish Community Center’s Preschool/Special Needs Scholarship Fund is Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. Buy-in is $150 and one free rebuy is available if the ticket is purchased by Aug. 2 (a $30 value). During play, there will be an optional rebuy structure for the first 90 minutes with rebuys of $30 and a $50 add-on. For more information, go to jccpoker.com.
WSOP RECAP: After Cory Zeidman’s win in the World Series of Poker’s Event 4 (profiled in last month’s column), players with South Florida ties made numerous final-table appearances, but had only a couple of small-profile victories until late in the series. Until, that is, the Grinder found himself in a familiar position. Mizrachi dominated the final table en route to his third WSOP bracelet by winning the $50,000 Poker Players Championship for the second time in the last three years, collecting $1.4 million. He’s the only player to win that title twice.
Joey Weissman of Boca Raton held a huge lead throughout the latter stages of Event 46, a $2,500 hold’em event, only to see France’s Jeremy Quehen reel him in and take the lead. However, Weissman fought back and captured the $694K first prize by turning things back in his favor, finally capturing the title with a nut flush on the final hand.
Earlier in the series, Coral Springs native Randy Ohel, now a full-time poker pro in Las Vegas, brought home the gold. He was a 2004 graduate of the University School at Nova Southeastern University in Davie before attending the University of Florida.
The 26-year-old outlasted Benjamin Lazar in a grueling six-hour head-to-head battle to win Event 22 ($2,500 deuce-to-seven lowball triple draw). At one point in the final duel, Ohel had a 16-1 chip disadvantage and the lead changed hands 14 times. Ohel earned $145K for the victory. He later reached another final table in Event 58 ($3K PLO/8), eventually going out fifth for $75K.
Fifteen other final-table appearances highlighted the South Florida rake. Headed into the main event, Jason Mercier of Davie led all South Florida players in number of cashes with six, while Hayden Fortini of Vero Beach and Kyle Bowker of Hollywood each had five. Fred Goldberg (Hollywood), Tristan Wade (Boynton Beach), Chris Bolek (Boca Raton), Michael Aron (PB Gardens), Corey Burbick (Davie), Michael DeGilio (Port St. Lucie) and Benjamin Palmer (Boca Raton) each cashed four times.
— Big Dave Lemmon is Ante Up’s South Florida Ambassador. Email him at email@example.com.