Charity poker games: why it pays to give back

With Liv Boeree and Igor Kurganov giving half their $274k WSOP win to the REG poker charity they co-founded, Paul Phua looks at a different kind of raising in poker – raising money for charity 

In Casino Royale, James Bond has to win a game of poker to save the world. In real life, poker players are also playing their part in saving the world – through charity poker tournaments.
At the World Series of Poker 2017, Liv Boeree and Igor Kurganov jointly won the $10,000 Tag Team Championship, taking down $273,964 in prize money. A nice twist to their joint victory is that the two players are partners in life as well as in poker. As they kissed for the cameras, it seemed a heart-warming instance of love conquering all. Even more touching, however, is that the power couple have pledged to donate half their WSOP winnings to charity.
Poker coach Doug Polk has also proven the worth of his own teachings by besting 130 players in the $111,111 buy-in High Roller for One Drop. It gives him his third WSOP bracelet, but it is also a big win for charity.

One Drop poker

One Drop was started in 2007 by Guy Laliberté, the founder of Cirque du Soleil and a keen poker player. The non-profit organisation aims to provide access to safe drinking water for all. When One Drop stages a poker tournament, 11% of the buy-in goes to worthy causes. Since these charity poker tournaments are played for the highest stakes, that can be a lot of money.
The last $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop was in 2014. It made $4,666,662 for the charity – just from one poker tournament! That was won by my friend Dan Colman, whom I often play against in high-stakes cash games. (Watch the Paul Phua Poker School video profile on Dan Colman here, and his interview about online poker vs live poker here.)
I have played in several One Drop tournaments myself. I even won the Monte Carlo One Drop last year. Despite the €752,700 prize, I am still down overall, since the two times I have entered the Big One for One Drop cost $1 million each! But that is the beautiful thing about charity poker tournaments. Even when you lose, you feel like a winner. You just think of all the good that can be done with the money you have contributed. I donate to several worthy causes, but with charity poker tournaments I can pursue my favourite passion at the same time.

Other charity poker tournaments

Following in the giant footsteps of One Drop, a number of poker charities have sprung up. PokerStars has done its bit in the past, helping to raise half a million dollars for Hurricane Haiyan relief, amongst other causes. The World Poker Tour (WPT) has held numerous charity events, pulling in celebrity hosts such as Tiger Woods and Mel Gibson. The Charity Series of Poker raises money for a variety of good causes, and is backed by pros such as Mike Matusow, Greg Merson and Mike Mizrachi. The Triton Series, of which I have been a strong supporter since its inception, gives 100% of its profits to charity.
Returning to the WSOP’s tag team couple, Liv Boeree and Igor Kurganov, the $136,982 they are giving away will go to REG (Raising for Effective Giving). This is an organisation they co-founded which encourages poker players to donate 2% of everything they earn to charity. Ambassadors include John Juanda, Cate Hall and Erik Seidel.
Liv Boeree put it well at REG’s launch in 2014: “I’ve been playing poker for a long time and thankfully, I’ve been reasonably successful doing so. With that came a wealth of amazing opportunities the game has given me, from travel to experiences to meeting heroes from many industries. But at the same time I’ve become increasingly aware of a growing emptiness I’ve been feeling, and it’s one I’m not alone with – it’s the question of what we, as poker players, are actually contributing long-term to society.”

Fundraising through poker

Many professional poker players struggle: they overplay, they burn out. Sometimes they take a sabbatical from the game, go travelling, and return refreshed. But perhaps what some need instead is the sense of a noble purpose beyond their own self-interest.
So if you ever start to feel hollow inside as you sit at the poker table or computer screen, consider playing for some higher goal such as a charity. It might just save your game – and the world.
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[dt_sc_h2 class=’aligncenter’]Charity poker tournament organisers[/dt_sc_h2]
One Drop. One Drop poker tournaments donate 11% of the buy-in to the charity, and all players at the WSOP are encouraged to give 1% of earnings.
The Charity Series of Poker. Stages tournaments in aid of charities such as Three Square Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity.
World Poker Tour (WPT) Foundation. Hosts a series of ongoing philanthropic poker events under the title WPT Playing for a Better World.
Triton Series. Donates 100% of profits to charities including The Red Cross and Project Pink.