Not everyone is cut out to play Texas Hold em’ Poker. At the same time, however, it’s not just for cowboys, retirees, or ex-Navy officers anymore. In recent years, poker’s popularity has grown exponentially and over 615 thousand people watch the World Series of Poker Main Event on ESPN each year.
For the initiated and the interested, the event can be a real nail-biter. This is especially true for the participating players who have literal millions of dollars on the line at any given moment during the game. One question many still have, however, is what these players end up doing with the winnings…
In the Cards
Though there is no direct date for its invention, most agree that the game we know as Poker today was developed sometime during the 19th century. Developed in the United States, the game has evolved much from its humble beginnings and its many incarnations are played all over the world today.
One of the most popular forms of the game, Texas hold em’ involves dealing each player two hole cards, face down. Then, five community cards are dealt in three stages. The first three cards (“the flop”), then another single card (“the turn”), and a final card (“the river”). Players are meant to make the best hand out of these five community cards and their hole cards and they bet to this effect.
The Bet’s the Thing
It is in these various bets that our story truly begins. After all, what’s the point of gambling if there isn’t a big payoff in the end. In events like the World Series of Poker, it can be a pretty substantial payoff indeed. So substantial, in fact, that many players struggle to spend their prodigious winnings.
No Time for College
Dan Smith, a 29-year-old college dropout, left the world of higher education in 2007 to pursue what he foresaw as a rather lucrative career in the world of professional poker. At the time, many might have tried to dissuade him of this most improbable dream but as it turned out, Dan wasn’t betting blind. He knew that the odds were in his favor right from the start.
Dan’s first victory came in 2008 when he won the Heartland Poker Tour Main Event at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in New York. His prize for the event was a whopping $101,960 and it proved to all his naysayers that he had a real knack for the game. Dan’s talents would win him millions more as the years went on.
Make a Difference
Throughout his career, Dan won enough money to make quite the comfortable life for himself. Yet after so many years playing cards, Dan realized there was much be more to life than the game. He wanted to use his favorite pastime to make a real difference in the world and he had plenty of money to do just that.
Over the next few years, Dan used his vast fortune to organize a charity drive. This charity pledges to match a substantial portion of any amount donated from Dan’s future winnings, and the winnings of several of his poker peers. Dan saw it as his way of giving back to those less fortunate than himself.
“Poker is an inherently selfish game,” explained Dan when talking about the charity. “For me to win, that means somebody else directly has to lose.” As such, Dan believes the charity is essential in raising awareness and helping others. And it has most certainly raised awareness, especially among the poker and DFS communities.
The involvement of the poker and DFS communities has meant a great deal to the aims behind Smith’s drive. It also proves that his motivations behind the whole scheme have not gone unnoticed and have in fact been reflected in the newfound altruism of his peers. He recently spoke to PocketFives about the impact of the charity.
Dan says, “Motivating people to do good I think is an unbelievable achievement.” Last year, Fedor Holz, Stephen Chidwick, and now Tom Crowley have all helped out by making substantial donations to the drive. It can also be said that since the charity came into his life, Dan has felt like he’s become even closer to some of his fellow players and philanthropists.
In 2018, Dan and a group of poker players and pros from Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) pledged to match up to $1.29 million for the charity. This drive is called the Double Up Drive and it benefits over 10 different charities. Dan’s drives also receive additional support from the gambling world, which in turn helps further legitimize a business once considered to be “potentially immoral” at best.
The charity itself isn’t as time-consuming as it may seem and after a handful of one-hour conference calls, the 2018 charity was all-but sewn up. That said, the seven-figure charity drive does have a good deal of moving parts. There are donations, big and small, to be handled at all times. There are also salaries and people to be organized. It’s quite an undertaking.
According to Dan, the most challenging thing involved deciding what charities they wanted to include. After all, how do you determine who needs the most help when so many people are in need and deserving of assistance. In the end, they asked the help of their Internet followers to help decide.
The list of these 2018 charities includes Malaria Consortium, GiveDirectly, Hellen Keller International’s Vitamin A Supplementation Program, Grants to Recommended Charities at GiveWell’s Discretion, Massachusetts Bail Fund, The Good Food Institute, Animal Charity Evaluator Effective Animal Advocacy Fund, Machine Intelligence, Research Institute, and the REG Fund.
Dan’s fellow players, Tom and Martin Crowley, have been working with him on the drive for a while and this year. Tom pledged a full half of his winnings from the DraftKings World Championship Final to the drive. After that bold claim, Tom went on to win a whopping $2.254 million in the event.
With that astonishing number, it means Tom will be donating $1.127 million to the Double Up Fund. It was a mind-numbing amount for him to pledge, even for Dan Smith, whose own combined tournament winnings over his career have exceeded $25,000,000. Most rewarding of all, at least for Dan anyway, is how many lives are saved by their efforts.
Dan also spoke recently about how happy he is that his charitable endeavors have been so successful. “Like, we’re playing a $300K tournament, that’s thousands of lives that are going to be literally saved. It’s really hard to comprehend. It’s a very cool thing, and I couldn’t be happier.” He hopes that he can make an equally grand contribution to the charity himself too.
At this point, Dan’s next upcoming event has nearly 40 entries, making the prize pool well north of $10 million. This means first place will get more than $3.6 million. Even if he pledges five percent of his winnings, the take for the charity is pretty substantial; and he isn’t the only one pledging this time around either.
“Myself and Nick Petrangelo are playing five percent for charity,” he explained. That equates to about $15,000. It’s not $1.7 million, but it’s a damn fine amount for any charity to receive. More importantly, Dan likes the idea that those who watch the tournament on stream or TV will be inspired to themselves do good as a result.
Though the numbers all may seem astronomical, Dan wants everyone to know that in reality, any amount can make a difference. “People in Uganda are living off 65 cents a day, which is an amount most of us don’t consider at all.” This means any amount that folks can donate can pull someone out of poverty and that, in and of itself, is a win in our book.