Stakes Raised To Help Veterans - Wounded Warrior Project.Professional poker players are all about the raise, but Kenna James had never seen one so poignant. An 8-year-old boy, watching a veteran who lost both legs during a rocket grenade attack in Iraq, pledged his allowance for the year - about $1,000 - to a non-profit organization that assists severely injured soldiers.
In a room full of poker players, the raising had just begun. When it was all over, James' Operation Helping Hand - a benefit tournament held this week during the World Series of Poker's main event in Las Vegas - had raised $170,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides prosthetics and other care to veterans. "It started with a passing of the hat to auctioning off items to 8- and 60-year-olds pouring out their hearts to these guys," James said of the after-party. "It was very emotional."
"That was big for us," said Heath Calhoun, 27, of Roanoke, Va., the Army veteran who lost both legs above the knees. "As an outsider to the poker world, they made us feel like family. Personally, I don't know how to play poker. They were more than willing to let me play."
The event also affirmed poker's growing universal appeal because it was inspired by soldiers overseas. Screaming Eagle Poker meets every Sunday in Iraq to play a Texas Hold'em tournament. It donated an Iraqi flag signed by group members that was auctioned for $5,000.
Their games have grown from a few soldiers to a few hundred to multiple military bases in Iraq. James was contacted by Army Sgt. Felix Gutierrez of the 101st Airborne, president of Screaming Eagle Poker, asking him to visit the troops — perhaps round up a game.
James, a 42-year-old former actor and card dealer who has been playing as a professional for eight years, was eager to oblige. However, the trip didn't work out. Instead, James has been organizing events to benefit soldiers.
"They don't play for money, they play for pride," James said.
They also play for bracelets made from military utility cord webbing.
"It's their own World Series of Poker bracelet," he said, referring to the coveted jewelry he's trying to win for himself. James is not in the main event, but he is competing for one of the four remaining titles out of 42 in this year's WSOP main event and undercard.
"They're the Stanley Cups of poker," he added, as if World Series of Poker weren't prestigious enough.
A native Chicagoan nicknamed "Cowboy" — "My wife always wanted to marry a cowboy, and she started dressing me," he said — James was a card dealer at Hollywood Park Casino in the Los Angeles area before launching his full-time professional poker career.
"I started playing in the kitchen with mom and dad," he said.
James has won nearly $3 million in his career and is pledging 1% of his annual earnings to the Wounded Warrior Project - about $10,000 so far this year. He wants Operation Helping Hand, sponsored by SunPoker.com, to become an annual event during the WSOP. He said he's also trying to organize a Veterans Day benefit in November that he hopes will be televised.
"You look at what these soldiers have done," James said. "Some have lost their limbs. We just can't do enough for them.
Source: Sun Poker
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