Gambling on a new charity concept

Blurb: Four young Montreal execs are rolling the dice by holding a Texas Hold 'em tournament to raise money for street kids and hospital research

One of the biggest obstacles limiting charities' ability to do more, is that managers who could potentially most easily steer their growth, do far better for themselves in the private sector.

To see just how much can be accomplished when a small group of young executives use modern business practices to build a new fund raising concept, one has to look no further than the Montreal Texas Hold 'Em Championship which will be held this Wednesday at the Montefiore Club.

Organizers expect that the tournament will take in up to $100,000 from approximately 250 contestants each of whom will put up $250. In addition a series of sponsors will be kicking in between $5,000 and $20,000. While the amounts are small compared to more establish events like the Daffodil Ball, what is noteworthy is how fast the fledgling group put their project in motion.

"We are going from the idea phase thorough the organization and tournament phases in less than six weeks. That's pretty fast," said Jeffrey Hart, vice-president of Hartco, who is organizing the event along with pals Jonathan Goodman, CEO of Paladin Labs, Mark Beaudet, a Paladin vice-president, and Jeff Baikowitz, president of Microban Canada Inc.

Texas Hold 'Em is a variation of seven card stud poker, that has sprung from relative obscurity three decades ago to a continent-wide phenomenon. For many of its early years the game's main claim to fame was that the Binion's Horseshoe Casino used the Hold 'Em format in its poker championship events, which featured a then unheard of $1 million first prize.

Texas Hold 'Em first came to the public's attention when ESPN began broadcasting the World Series of Poker in 2003. That year a then unknown,-- but appropriately named,-- Chris Moneymaker made headlines around the world with his Cinderella $2 million first prize win.

The game's popularity has skyrocketed ever since, with ESPN's ratings up 42 per cent during the 2004 tournament. According to Bob Chesterman, an ESPN producer, attendance at the 2005 championships which will be held in July, is expected to more than double, with 6,000 contestants each plunking down a $10,000 entry fee.

First place winnings are expected to reach between $8 to $10 million, which would make it the largest purse for any single sporting event on the planet. "We are getting a great response from advertisers, fans and contestants," said Chesterman. "It just keeps growing."

The Montreal group began playing Texas Hold 'Em at Goodman's bachelor party last year and have organized regular games amongst themselves ever since.

The charity tournament idea was born when Baikowitz, who is chair of Street Kids International, and Beaudry who is a volunteer with the McGill University Health Center Foundation began talking about fundraising with Hart and Goodman. "Someone mentioned the idea of a tournament and the event just took on a life of its own," Hart said.

According to Mark Beaudet, the main problem was that summer, a notoriously poor time to hold in-door events,-- was approaching. The group realized that if they were going to proceed they would have to work fast.

With no time or money to do heavy advertising, members began sending E-mail blasts to close friends advertising the event. In no time checks began pouring in and word spread. "It soon became a bit of a friendly competition to see who could sign up the most guys," said Beaudet.

Another key move was recruiting Dan Vigderhous, president of C3 Events, as tournament director. Vigderhous, a big on-line poker buff, first got wind of the tournament through the net and quickly contacted organizers. He agreed to donate his time pro-bono, taking only a small rental fee for the specially designed tables he agreed to supply.

Despite how well things seem to be going, Hart remains hungry for more. "We're just getting started," he said. "We're building a major charity brand here. You'll see. Next year we'll have twice as many people."

Sidebar: Texas Hold 'Em

Texas Hold 'Em is an offshoot of seven card stud. Players are given two hole cards and share five common cards, three of which are turned up after a first betting round. There are additional betting rounds after each of the final two cards are turned up.

Stud poker games like Texas Hold 'Em, when played with high betting limits,-- are one of the most well-rounded intellectual competitions devised by man. They test mathematical ability, psychology and stamina.

To succeed, players need to be able to calculate their chances of improving their hands relative to their competitors' chances. They also need the ability to "read," other players to guess the cards they are holding.

The most under-estimated skill requirement, --stamina,--comes in late in the evening, or after long, intense games. That's when brighter, but worn-out players, often give way to less talented, but mentally tougher opponents.


Fact Box:
Name: Montreal Texas Hold 'Em Charity Championship
Tournament director/event manager: C3 Events
Prize fund: $15,000, $5,00 first prize
Founded: 2005
Expected revenues: $100,000
Projected expenses: Approximately 25 per cent of revenues
Charities sponsored: Street Kids International, McGill University Health Center Foundation
Phone #: 340-1112 (3058)


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Peter Diekmeyer
275 Malcolm cir.
Montreal, Canada, H9S 1T6, 514-631-0025




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