500 Stones for good

In the previous blog from the Pro Tour on the road in California, we told you that there was a big charity component to the upcoming events. And man, it was awesome.

Our first stop of the weekend was at the 500 Club in Clovis, which they tell me is one of the oldest card clubs in California. That's saying something. The general manager, Dusten, told me that his grandfather opened the place with two tables "Before there was even card club licensing in California." But in between was his dad, who's still there:

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Here's the deal: The 500 Club is a charming poker room on the outskirts of Fresno, with staff who know their customers by name, and waitresses who remember how you like your coffee. In fact, let me tell you about Debbie the food server. I got a cup of coffee (it's self-serve) and saw that the only creamer they had was CoffeeMate. I like a dairy product in my coffee and asked Debbie if they had milk in back. "We've got whipping cream," she said, with a raised eyebrow. If you've never had real cream in your coffee, you're in for a treat. Just a little drip takes away the bitterness without diluting the flavor.

Where was I? Oh, the charity day. Man, they just blew the doors off. Every single dollar that went into the tournament "prize pool" went to the Valley Children's Hospital. All the buy-ins, rebuys, and add-ons. The club went and bought prizes for the tournament players:

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That's 500 Club staffers John and Douglas flanking my esteemed PokerStars colleague, Garry Gates, in front of a bunch of the prizes. But what you can't see is the custom poker table that PokerStars donated for the tournament winner. So let me show you Jason Somerville signing the table:

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Jason Somerville on autograph duty

Yeah, Jason Somerville was there, shaking hands and taking selfies with everybody in sight.

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Did I mention about the raffle? They were selling raffle tickets, with which you could win these:

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And the tip jars at the cage had been replaced by donation boxes for Valley Children's. Somewhere in there a bunch of poker got played, bad beats were duly administered, and then Dusten got up and said, "Y'all raised about $5,000 and then we topped it up to $10,000. Then with the raffle tickets and all..."

This is Dusten handing the lady from Valley Children's Hospital a check for $12,135.

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The place went nuts. The donated poker table - well, the guy who won the tournament sold it to a local fellow who hosts a regular poker game. But before it gets there, Daniel Negreanu and Vanessa Selbst are going to stop in and sign it. So it'll have three impressive signatures on it as it hosts its own bad beats somewhere in the Clovis area.

And Debbie, the food server who hooked me up with the cream for my coffee - she went home with "Run It Up! Best wishes, Jason Somerville" written on the top of her work shirt in permanent marker.

From there, we pointed the rental car north to Sacramento and branched a bit east to Citrus Heights and Stones Gambling Hall. A place that looks like - it looks like what my poker room will look like when I get around to opening a poker room.

Beautiful rustic appointments, nice new tables with USB chargers at every seat (!), great art on the walls, and a first-rate wood-fired pizza restaurant just beyond the tables.

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We had brought three pros to this one - along with Jason, Liv Boeree and Chris Moneymaker came along to celebrate. You see, this is where we were presenting a check for $10,000 to Make-A-Wish. Basically, we'd told all the clubs on the Pro Tour that we would give $1k to charity for our stop there (or our pros' winnings - whichever was larger). Our pros were kind enough to leave all their tournament buy-ins in the various poker economies, so it was $1,000 per stop. There were nine stops on the tour, but PokerStars decided that $10,000 was a prettier number than $9,000, so that's what we gave.

And yes, it feels good to work for this company.

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Speaking of working for this company, that's my boss, Eric Hollreiser, who's the head of corporate communications for PokerStars and Amaya, on the far left. Well, technically it's Wyatt Earp on the far left, who'd probably be wondering why in the world a poker company was giving away $10,000. But he'd probably be wondering about a lot of things. Like what a USB charger is.

That's Jennifer Stolo, CEO, and Theresa Gerhart, Development Director of Make-A-Wish Northeastern California and Northern Nevada in the middle, and you'll recognize the three poker players in the shot.

Now, I said that the pros left all their buy-ins in the local poker economies, but that's not quite 100% true. We had a pro there - just not a poker pro. TJ Dillashaw is the current UFC (mixed martial arts) bantam weight champion, a poker fan, and buddy of Jason Somerville's. TJ was kind enough to come out and help celebrate the Pro Tour and Make-A-Wish donation. But he also played in the main event at Stones, which, by the way, got 237 runners - a record for the club. TJ pulled a "Negreanu", finishing 11th and narrowly missing the final table, but still taking home a healthy profit on his $230 investment.

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One of the more impressive things I saw was TJ giving an interview to a clueless TV person, who was asking him all kinds of questions while he was in the middle of a hand. So TJ is there very politely answering the guy's questions, then turning to bet, answer question, bet, answer question, drag pot (uncalled). I mean, would anybody try to interview him in mid-fight?

Of course, at both 500 Club and Stones, we kept up the drumbeat of the whole purpose of the Pro Tour - to let California play regulated online poker. And the players truly stepped up to help:

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"Where do I tell them that I want PokerStars back in California?" "Right here, sir - that laptop ma'am."*

To all of you who came out to support regulated online poker in your state and support good causes in your neighborhood, thank you. It's a delight and pleasure to meet you all and we're looking forward to the valedictory lap of the Pro Tour this coming weekend.

*And if you want to sign up then you just need to click here.

Lee Jones is the Director of Poker Communications at PokerStars and has been part of the professional poker world for over 25 years. You can read his occasional Twitter-bites at @leehjones.

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