LAS VEGAS. As the World Series of Poker has grown from a small-scale event to a nationwide phenomenon with a top prize of $15 million, it has attracted critics in the non-profit sector who say it does much less than other major sports to assist their work.
"Where is the WSOP at Christmas or Thanksgiving?" asked Ted Synnar of the Dream Come True Foundation. "In the past, we never saw them."
But tournament organizers say they're determined to change that, and are encouraging the big players in the no-limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament to give back to those who are less fortunate through a program called "WSOP Kinda Kares for Kids."
Greg "Fossilman" Raymer, a repeat champ, appears to have taken the WSOP's mandate to heart as he sits down for some high-stakes poker with five terminally-ill children referred to him by the Dream Come True Foundation.
"Lot of these kids, they can barely pull the arm on a slot macine," says Raymer. "Poker's a job for me, but for them, it's all they think about once they get bored with Old Maid."
Across the room Cyndy Violette, who busted out of this year's tournament early, is playing a hand of Texas Hold 'Em with a group of testicular cancer survivors. "Guys," she says as she deals two cards face down to each of them from the "button" chair, "I'm living proof that you don't need balls to be good at poker."
Meanwhile, Johnny Chan allows little Tiffany Germond, who is confined to a wheelchair, to try on one of his ten diamond-encrusted WSOP championship bracelets. "Mommy, look what the nice man gave me!" she squeals as she wheels off towards the blackjack tables. "Hey--come back here!" Chan yells as Tiffany finds a hole and breaks through the crowd of fans that surrounds a table of nine top-notch players. "Aw, let her go," says Phil Hellmuth, Jr., but Chan calls for security and Tiffany is escorted off the premises. She will be banned from Harrah's Casinos world-wide for her impulsive act.
Back at Raymer's table, the Fossilman is trying to steal a hand by brow-beating his younger opponents. He is sitting on an ace and a jack, and the flop produces two jacks and a five. Raymer raises. "Daddy, that man's glasses are scaring me," says Billy Nobles, Jr., and the boy's father asks Raymer to drop his trademark protection. "No way," says Raymer, "the eyes are the number one poker 'tell'," or physical sign that reveals the strength or weakness of a player's hand.
"Please, Mr. Raymer--he just wants to win one hand," Nobles Sr. pleads.
"No can do," Raymer replies. "I've got an endorsement deal with David Steele Sunglasses, Newport Beach, CA 10937 to wear the Greg Raymer Cat Eye Sunglasses throughout the tournament." Billy Jr. folds, and Raymer rakes in a pot of 3,500 chips.
As the charity event breaks up, a little boy on a respirator approaches Johnny Chan with a special request. "Mr. Chan," he begins weakly.
"Could you--could you hit a home run for me."
Chan considers the request for a moment. "You mean go all in before the flop holding a pair of aces?"
"Y-yes," the little boy says with difficulty.
"And have somebody beat me with a 7-9 off suit when they hit their straight on the river?" Chan asks incredulously. "I don't think so kid."
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection "The Spirit of Giving: Untrue Tales of Inspiration and Generosity."