For a game which revolves around money, the poker world has a remarkable record of giving plenty away to worthy causes.
From individual efforts to charity tournaments, here’s a look at several prominent examples of philanthropy in the poker world.
REG – Raising for Effective Giving
The REG charity (Raising for Effective Giving) is a charitable organisation with its roots fully grown in the poker community.
Set up by superstar players Philipp Gruissem, Liv Boeree and Igor Kurganov, REG is a fundraising nonprofit whose donators consist mostly of professional poker players and financial investors who pledge a percentage of their winnings or income to selected charities including The Against Malaria Foundation, The Humane League, and Mercy For Animals.
REG receives donations and then selects charities based on their cost-effectiveness, ensuring money is placed in the right places to save as many lives as possible. To date, the charity has helped maximize the impact of more than $14 million in donations.
Big One for One Drop
The 2012 Big One for One Drop was not only the biggest buy-in tournament ever held at the time (cost of entry was a whopping $1M), it also raised a massive $5.6M for charity.
Set up by Cirque du Soleil founder and poker enthusiast Guy Laliberté, the event was designed to raise money for Laliberté’s One Drop Foundation, an international nonprofit organization which focuses on clean water initiatives.
For every $1M entry fee, $111,111 was donated to the charity. The 48-player event sold out and was won by Antonio Esfandiari who defeated Sam Trickett heads-up to win a staggering $18.3M.
The final table also included the likes of Phil Hellmuth, Brian Rast, and Laliberté himself, who additionally donated all of his winnings ($1.8M) to the cause.
As the 2019 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event reached its last few tables, our attention (and that of the mainstream press) was on Scott Wellenbach, a 67-year-old translator of Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhist texts from Canada who pledged to give all of his winnings to charity.
Wellenbach would ultimately finish in third place for $671K, an incredible donation by any measures, but particularly from a non-professional playing purely for the love of the game and his drive to make a difference.
If Wellenbach is the most recent “People’s Champion”, then Barry Greenstein is the original.
Nicknamed the “Robin Hood of Poker” as a result of his philanthropic efforts, Greenstein donated a very large proportion of his tournament winnings to charity, if not all of them. This was particularly commendable as in 2003 and 2004 (when Greenstein cashed for $1.1M and $1.9M, respectably) the poker world didn’t have the large buy-ins and regular seven-figure payouts we see today.
Triton £1M event
The £1,050,000 buy-in Triton Million for Charity event in 2019 surpassed the 2012 Big One for One Drop as the largest buy-in tournament ever held, awarding the largest single payout in poker history.
The event saw 54 entries, with £50,000 of each one donated to worthy causes (£2.7M in total).
Aaron Zang would win it for £13.7M ($16.7M) following a heads-up deal with Bryn Kenney, who banked the lion’s share winning £16.9M ($20.5M), the largest prize in poker to date.
The man who finished third for £7.2M in the 2019 Triton Million for Charity was Dan Smith, a high stakes poker veteran who also goes out of his way each year to raise money for charity.
Since 2013 Smith has organised his annual Double Up Drive, where hefty donations are matched dollar to dollar.
His efforts have raised more than $16 million for highly effective charities to date.