Poker Players Go All In for Charity

The stakes are high when children's futures are on the line. That's why more than 125 people anted up for charity Friday night at the inaugural Chicago Poker Open, held at the Hard Rock Hotel. Proceeds of the No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament benefited the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago.

The tournament raised more than $30,000 and was the brainchild of political consultant Kelly Dietrich. Dietrich said the event was a way to combine his interest in poker with another passion: charity.

'I had recently joined the Board of Directors for the General Wood, Little Village and Kanoon Boys & Girls Club and recognized immediately an opportunity to have fun while serving a greater purpose,' he said. 'The Boys & Girls Clubs are a truly great cause that make the difference in thousands of kids' lives every day, but they need help to keep up their good work.'

Thus was born the Chicago Poker Open.

The tournament drew all players of all ages, from fresh faced novices to professional gamblers, including Jim McManus, a World Series of Poker veteran and New York Times poker columnist. Players participated in either a high stakes or low stakes game.

While 'it's not Vegas,' according to Chad Worozaken of Barrington, 23, the tournament provided solid competition for all players. Worozaken said he has played for about six years.

They put their money on the line for different reasons.

'I came to play some poker,' said Matt Lillrose, 23, of Barrington.

His friend Worozaken differed, saying, 'I'm here for the charity.'

Whatever their reasons for playing, most of the players enjoyed a chance to bet chips in exchange for prizes and the opportunity to support the Boys & Girls Club. Winning the tournament was not a priority for many attendees, which also included former White Sox star Bill 'Moose' Skowran and Melissa McGurren, traffic reporter for 101.9 The Mix.

Worozaken said he would be fine if he did not make it to the final table.

'If I don't make it, I'll stay and drink. I'll be here for a while,' he said with a laugh.

Marcello Gulotta, 36, felt deeply about the cause. Gulotta, a Chicago resident, was a Big Brother while a student at the University of Iowa.

'I always try to do my part for charity organizations,' he said. 'I appreciate what [the tournament] is doing for the [Boys & Girls Club].'

Players were privy to a unique opportunity to mimic the poker heroes they see on television, as a local company filmed one of the tables. A custom-made table came equipped with pocket cameras, which broadcast players' cards on a television screen in another room.

The atmosphere was not as intense as on televised poker games, however. Dietrich called it 'good natured' and described the enthusiasm surrounding the final table, which was complete with players jumping around and yelling in excitement.

Dietrich was excited about the turnout and the results, praising the generosity of the players. 'We raised more than $30,000 this evening, with a majority of that coming from new donors to the Club. A fantastic showing for our first time out.'

He noted one particular instance of charity: 'The winner of one of our Blackjack tournaments donated his grand prize back to the [Boys & Girls Club], which I thought was incredibly generous and very classy.'

Fernando Lopez, 23, was one of nearly 30 Boys & Girls Club volunteers at the event. Lopez, who acts as teenage coordinator for the Boys & Girls Club, reiterated that winning was not top-of-mind for most players.

'People lose, but they feel great because it's a great cause.'