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I'll Donate to the Pot

Posted: January 22, 2008 3:21 a.m.
Updated: March 24, 2008 2:02 a.m.
The yells of "re-buy" at a poker tournament are about as commonplace as the rains in Seattle. For most poker players, re-buying additional chips is all for naught - it usually ends up going into the pockets of the casino and the tournament winner.

This is the reason I avoid playing poker tournaments - that, and it is not really a wise investment to be playing at the tables to begin with.
So why did I find myself sitting at a table in a one-room casino in the middle of nowhere at the base of Kern County - coincidentally the same county with the unhealthiest air in America?
It was for the kids. Specifically, for the Michael Hoefflin Foundation Scholarship Fund. At least that is what the Michael Hoefflin Foundation representative told me, as he took my charge card and docked me $100 for my first (but not last) re-buy. He also told me it was tax-deductible.
On Saturday afternoon, the Michael Hoefflin Foundation held a no-limit poker tournament at Diamond Jim's Casino in Rosamond, a few miles south of Edwards Air Force Base. The fundraiser tournament was to benefit kids with cancer, with all the money people spent to play poker going straight to cancer research and treatment. Approximately 130 people made their way to Rosamond, from just about every corner of Southern California imaginable.
I personally made the trip there from East Long Beach, which made it a 100-mile trip from door to door.
Once I arrived, it was game time. I was assigned to Table 10, Seat 2. Next to me in Seat 3 was a fellow Indian, a non-practicing Moslem from Mumbai (formerly Bombay) by way of Gujarat. What do you know - I am a kid born in Los Angeles that is a non-practicing Hindu with a mom who happens to also come from Mumbai by way of Gujarat. Automatically a way to bond. He was the first person to be eliminated from our table.
Across the way in Seat 7 was a middle-aged Caucasian proudly wearing his scarlet-red shirt with University of Southern California boldly written in golden letters across his chest. I now had a target, as I am a graduate of UCLA. Of course, the Trojans beat my Bruins in a basketball game earlier in the day, so I had extra incentive to go head-to-head with him on a few hands.
Sitting next to me in Seat 1 was a mild-mannered man in his 60s. He looked like he had years of poker experience, but struggled to catch a winning hand early on in the tournament.
In Seat 5 was another gray-haired man, probably in his 50s, who seemed to like every card he had in his hand, yet always appeared to play with a sense of hesitation.
A trio of men in seats 8, 9 and 10 all seemed to be regular poker players, as all three appeared to win the most hands.
Unfortunately, the other three people at the table did not leave much of an impression, mostly because they were quiet and just seemed content being there. Coincidentally, they did not stick around long enough at my table for me to get to know them - two of them were transferred to other tables, and the third went for broke two hours into the tournament before leaving for the day.
Yet, for nearly three hours, poker players unleashed their game with ultimate bravado, knowing that if they went all-in and lost the hand - and their chips - another $100 would get them back in the game. The $100 re-buys did not sting, since the money went to a good cause in the Hoefflin Foundation. It was not uncommon to hear someone yelling "re-buy" every 10 minutes or so, with several people re-buying four or five times before they were cut off in the final rounds.
For those who made it past the cutoff for re-buys, it became a whole new game. My new brother from another mother in Seat 3 put his poker face on, but it didn't help.
Apparently, I bonded well with my new brother - I was the next sucker to run out of chips. As I stood up and walked away, everyone at the table wished me well - even the guy wearing the Trojan T-shirt. It reminded me of why I was at the one-roomed casino in the middle of the Kern County desert. I walked away smiling at my Trojan brother, and not feeling guilty that I spent $300 to play a silly game of poker. If I had lost that money in a normal game of poker, I would have guilt written all over my face. After all, it is not fun losing any amount of money.
Yet somehow I walked away feeling as if I were the winner. The chips may not have landed where I wanted them to land, but for millions of children with cancer, it is not like the chips fell where they wanted them to fall.
Who am I to complain about losing $300 in a game of poker when I had the luxury of losing that amount of money. Luckily for me, I have the luxury of waking up everyday without pain. I have the luxury of assuming that I will be alive tomorrow. I have the luxury of planning out what I want to be doing when I turn 40.
For many children with cancer, they can only wish to have the things I take for granted. I take for granted that I actually have the ability to get out and drive to a small building in the desert to play four hours of poker with 130 people I did not know.
Walking out of that casino in Rosamond reminded me why I showed up to play on Saturday. I spent $300 so the Hoefflin Foundation can help some child have the same luxuries that I have, to take the same things for granted that I do.
By the time I made it to my car, I remembered another reason why I trekked out to play cards on a beautiful Saturday afternoon - I myself experienced the travesty of cancer when it struck my father 13 years ago.
As an 18-year-old attending my first year of college at Cerritos College, I still remember the cold January morning in 1995 when my mother kept me from leaving home to attend class, to tell me my father had cancer and only had weeks to live.
My brave father ended up fighting cancer for 13 months, yet it was a painful experience for all of us. Watching a man who taught me everything I knew in my young life suffer from chemotherapy and radiation, then eventually wither away into oblivion was very hard to swallow, especially for the two women in my life - a 42-year-old gregarious mother and 13-year-old sister still lost in her shell.
On Saturday I was reminded of the pain cancer brings to everyone affected by the disease. I was reminded how I have lived the last 13 years honoring the loss of the man I called "Pops," hoping that another son, father, mother, daughter, sister or brother would not suffer the same pain as my family did back in 1995.
I walked away not feeling guilty because the money I spent did not go to a degenerate gambler. I drove away knowing that my hard-earned dollars may help someone not experience the same pain people such as my father and I had to share in his losing battle with the disease. I entered my home that night knowing that the Michael Hoefflin Foundation hosted a poker tournament for us healthy people to have fun as we all helped children with cancer take one step closer to find a cure.


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