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Poker News | World Poker News

Ante up for Africa

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Imagine paying $5,000 to enter a tournament and then deciding you don't want the first place money. That's exactly what Dan Shak and Brandon Moran did late Thursday night when they split first place and donated $386,738 to charity. Of course, this was "Ante Up For Africa," a tournament held in conjunction with the World Series of Poker at the Rio to help the millions hurt by the conflict in Darfur, Sudan.

Back in the early 80s, pop stars such as Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper and even Ronnie James Dio sang for Africa, with one of the tracks, "We Are The World," becoming one of the defining messages of hope that decade, even if the song was a little cheesy.

Now that poker is as popular as pop music, pro Annie Duke and movie star (and a fine poker player himself) Don Cheadle led an impressive contingent of 167 actors and poker pros who each spent $5,000 to enter the NLH, fast-paced tournament.

Duke and Cheadle, beforehand, asked the 18 who cashed in the tournament to donate at least 50 percent of their winnings to the cause but didn't require that to enter. Shak and Moran did them one better, inspiring all those who cashed to donate at least a portion of their winnings.

Conflict among tribes, militias and rebel groups and starvation have torn Darfur apart since 2003, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions. Currently the Sudanese people are attempting to rebuild their lives while surviving in squalor in refugee camps in Chad and Sudan.

"Hopefully we won't be here in five years for Darfur," Cheadle said at the press conference. "This isn't going to be solved one nation at a time. We need to bring this to the world."

"Entertainment Tonight," "People" magazine and many other entertainment media won't even cover the WSOP's Main Event, but they were all out to snap photos of those in this tournament.

The list that joined in the poker tournament was as star-studded in the world of poker as the musicians who gathered to sing two decades ago. Doyle Brunson, Joe Hachem, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu and Jennifer Harman were among the poker stars. And, of course, adding to the glitz, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen and Ben Affleck (all players themselves, and Damon, of course, played a poker stud in "Rounders") were among the movie and TV stars that came to play.

Damon was knocked out in the first five minutes when he lost on the river. That's poker. And Affleck was once considered one of the better celebrity players on the circuit, though he told People Magazine he doesn't play much anymore. "I've got a kid [daughter Violet, 2] and I'm directing movies," he told People. "I have hardly any time now. Poker takes a lot of time if you want to stay good. I don't want to suck."

You might have seen Shak getting lots of TV face time from ESPN's coverage of the U.S. Poker Championship. Shak made the final table and has cashed in several other major tournaments and also played on the third season of "High Stakes Poker."

Moran made the final table of the Borgata Poker Open of the World Poker Tour in the 2005 season, earning $135,000. Others who cashed include "Seinfeld" and "Celebrity Poker Showdown" star Jason Alexander, who took 10th for $12,174.

Duke and Cheadle plan to give the donations to the Enough Project and the International Rescue Committee and their efforts to educate policy makers about the crisis as well as help the lives shattered by the genocide. Cheadle has worked for more than two years to raise awareness of the Darfur humanitarian crisis, and he earned an Academy Award nomination for his role in "Hotel Rwanda," a movie about one man's heroic efforts to help those caught in another genocide in 1994. He recently released a book written with human rights activist John Prendergast, "Not On Our Watch," about the crisis.

Narcissistic movie stars and poker players accurately called "sharks" for the way they feed on tourist fish combined to show a little humanity. That's almost as likely as pop stars taking time off from their tours to record a song, but Thursday's tournament showed that anything is possible in the poker world. Annie Duke said it showed that even the sharks can care about others than themselves.

"We've proven in a very loud voice that it's not true," Duke said at the press conference. "Poker is a great way of raising awareness. And the outpouring of support from the beginning was remarkable."

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*Picture courtesy of ImageMasters Photography

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