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Poker News | Casino Poker | Tournament Reports

Billionaires Play High Stakes Poker for Charity

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News in the poker industry is filled with information about high stakes poker games, whether online, in poker rooms like the Bellagio or Commerce, private games like those hosted by Larry Fzlynt, or on the set of shows like High Stakes Poker or Poker After Dark. Once in awhile, a film or television celebrity will participate in a high stakes game as well. But billionaires on the Forbes family yacht playing for a $200,000 donation to charity? Not exactly something we hear about often.

It’s not as if poker isn’t played in varying circles of people, from rich to poor, and many of them participate in the increasingly popular charity poker tournament. But when no professional poker players are involved, it rarely makes the poker news. Matthew Miller of Forbes.com did post the story, however, of a select group of billionaires who played a bit of poker for charity, and those high rollers just happened to be members of the Forbes 400 playing on a Forbes family yacht.

The four players in the game converged upon Manhattan to board the yacht, each with tens of thousands of dollars in hand. Stewart Rahr made his billions in pharmaceuticals, Tom Siebel did well in the software business, John Catsimatidis was referred to as a real estate magnate, and Phil Ruffin made his money in casinos (former owner of the New Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas), oil, and other endeavors. Reportedly, the net worth of the four billionaires at the table was $8.1 billion, which may be able to put any Vegas cash game players to shame.

Each player bought into the game for $25,000 for as many chips, and unlimited rebuys were set at $25,000 for the no-limit hold’em game. While Rahr suggested the buy-in be $50K, the others argued that a lower buy-in would encourage more rebuys, so the lower amount was fixed. The winner at the end of the night would declare which charity would benefit from the entire amount in the pot.

Ruffin was admittedly the most familiar with poker of the foursome, even taking down the first hand of the night, but Siebel tried to give himself a bit of an edge by reading a strategy book on the flight there to overcome his status as the rookie.

Catsimatidis was the first to risk all of his chips and lose with a flush when Rahr called with the nut flush. But Catsimatidis immediately rebought for another $25K and continued to play.

But it was Rahr who had the best weapon of all -- the presence of friend Annie Duke. She came in with actress and model Brande Rockerick who came to pick up a check from Rahr, as Roderick was participating in a charity challenge as part of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice television show. (It has been rumored that Duke was also a contestant on the show.) At Rahr’s request, Duke play a few hands for him after he had to rebuy, though she wasn’t able to do much good for him. “You’re very unlucky,” she told Rahr when he returned.

Siebel was out of the game soon, followed by Rahr who finally stopped rebuying. Ruffin ended up winning the very last hand, eliminating Catsimatidis and taking the $200,000 pot to donate to the American Diabetes Association. Ruffin then told the reporter, “Bring better players next year. I want real competition.”

According to Miller’s recount of the events, most of the crew never stopped conducting business, despite the amount of money on the table. For a billionaire putting tens of thousands of dollars on the table, money that would ultimately be a charitable write-off, that seemed no reason to stop text-messaging. Nevertheless, the donations to charity that happened that night, including the $50K given to Roderick, were impressive. And Rahr was headed to Las Vegas to play in a Justin Timberlake charity golf game the next day.

The next annual charity game is already scheduled for September of 2009 in Manhattan, and all billionaires everywhere are invited. No matter the business at hand, there always seems to be time for charity…and poker.

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