Ante Up

George and Don at my table

Small buy-in, high-profile celebrity charity poker tournament… Am I interested?  Let me know when and where and I will do my best to be there.  They are having the tournament at San Manuel.  I hear there is supposed to be a celebrity at every table.  The tournament is a $150 buy-in, $50,000 guarantee limited to the first 288 players.  How does that work?  How will the charity make any money?  You aren’t seriously telling me it is scheduled for a Thursday night.  Tickets are available on the internet.

I go to my office and look up the casino web site and sure enough “Ante Up for Africa” is there and a link to get tickets from Ticketmaster.  The tournament is usually held in conjunction with the World Series and is a $5000 buy-in held at the Rio.  I wonder if I just bought a $150 ticket to watch this tournament.  I make a phone call and find out sure enough it is $150 buy-in and pays $20,000 to win.

At my current place of regular employment I am furloughed the first three Fridays of every month; of course this October 29th tournament is the fourth Friday of October.  I will have to burn a vacation day to play the tournament and drive 275 miles one way to get there.  I figure I will leave at lunch time on Thursday and drive the four and a half hours to the casino.  Maybe I can rest for a few minutes before the tournament.

My tickets are at will call and even that makes me a little nervous.  I find the window and get my tickets and proceed to the next line for my seat assignment.  I should have registered as press and also got a press pass to be able to interview a few celebrities.  [Note to self: make prior arrangements for press credentials in the future.] 

Where are the celebrities? I have only seen Chris “Jesus” Ferguson and Howard Lederer.  Chris is pacing and looks a little amped up.  Howard is very relaxed and cordial.  I am trying to relax and mentally prepare myself for a tournament that requires quite a bit of aggression.

I return upstairs to the tournament area and find quite a bit of activity.  Only an hour earlier the area was deserted.  I find my seat and notice all the cameras and bright lights in a roped off area where several professional players are doing interviews.  I relax in my seat and look over the blind structure.  $1500 in starting chips with blinds doubling every 20 minutes starting at $25 and $50.  I do some calculations and figure we are at the final table in three hours and twenty minutes.  Play fast.  I am ramping myself up emotionally to be able to unleash some serious aggression.  Looks like we are going to start a little bit late; six o’clock turned into 6:30 at sign up and has morphed into seven.  The celebrities are running late.  Cards are in the air at 7:42.

A quick look around the room reveals all the celebrities to be in the nine seat at every table.  Our nine seat is late-late and when he finally shows up, I do not recognize him, everyone at the table is stumped.  Gossip has it that he is the editor of a poker magazine.  Talk about feeling cheated!  Not only is he a stranger, he is very standoffish and evasive; a very poor choice as a celebrity for a charity event. The upside is, he sucks at poker or doesn’t care about this tournament.  We bust him after a little more than an hour.

My table is active, busting players out on a regular basis.  The problem is the other tables are slow to break and we play for entire 20 minute rounds six handed with no players coming to our table.  Big blinds and lots of them lead to ridiculous gambling.  The nine seat “celebrity seat” is empty for over an hour and I am turning into a whining little bitch.

My nine seat is filled with host Don Cheadle.  Don is great, very friendly and welcoming.  He poses for pictures, signs autographs, and chats up the players.  A class act all the way.  I have forgotten about the magazine editor; good riddance. 

Don is joined by George Lopez who has busted out of the tournament.  George pulls up a chair and for the next thirty minutes I am so entertained by Don and George that I feel the trip is worth every bit of effort required to get here so early on a work night.  These guys are truly great guys and very entertaining.  Don actually plays a little poker also.  When Don pushed all-in pre-flop on my big blind for about three times the blind I looked him up with ace-ten after asking if he was playing for charity and donating all his winnings.  I figured I could double him up without too much damage to my stack.  If I knock him out my story is easy to write.  Don shows ace-king and doubles up.  Don survives another orbit but busts out on his next all-in.

At five tables of 45 players I start to realize I have a shot at making the money as one of the final 18 players.  There are only a couple stacks and everyone else is short with ten big blinds or less.  Players are falling quickly.  Three players at my table are busted in a single hand.  We are six handed again and I don’t like it.  We break our table and are down to three tables just before the blind gets to me.  We lost 18 players in about 14 hands.  I go to my new table and have four hands before the big blind.  I go through the blinds and when I am on the button we break and are at 17 players.  Ten players down in six hands.  Crazy.  I am in the money.

The draw to two tables seems uneventful. We draw into the two remaining tables and those seated remain….I thought it would be a complete redraw.  I am happy when I sit down and see the big blind is all-in for less than the blind.  Then Phil Gordon announces we will high card for the button.  I am now the one in the big blind for less than a full blind.  There is an all-in at the other table and he has more chips than I do so I will finish 17th even if we both bust out.  My T-9 of diamonds doesn’t help against three opponents and I am out.  I go to find my paperwork and before I am done signing everything we are at twelve players.  The tournament is chopped by the final nine players.

I wander to the cage and accept my $350 for 17th place.  When I return Don is there to chat me up and ask if I had enjoyed myself.  I assure him that I will be back.

The tribe donated $500,000 to the charity and the players and spectators donated another few thousand.  The tournament at San Manuel has now raised more money than the Las Vegas tournament.  Ante Up for Africa seems to be a very worthwhile charity and Annie Duke and Don Cheadle deserve to be recognized for all the great work they do in raising millions of dollars for charity.  I am proud to be a poker player today.

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