Celebs pony up at WPT Invitational

Mekhi Phifer
Mekhi Phifer's The Vine Group made better than second-place money at the WPT Celebrity Invitational.

It's the most bacchanalian night on the World Poker Tour, and this year organizers made sure it was for a good cause.

Thanks to Mekhi Phifer, participants in the WPT's Celebrity Invitational managed to raise nearly $80,000 for charity on Saturday night.

The tournament, a $200,000 freeroll that mixes the Los Angeles glitterati with the Las Vegas grinder set, kicked off with six wild hours of poker yesterday evening as participants weathered the Commerce Casino's numerous open bars in hopes of a seat at Monday's final table.

Their numbers included the likes of Don Cheadle, Good Charlotte guitarist Benji Madden, slugger-turned-author Jose Canseco and socialite Nikki Hilton, as well as teeming throngs of character actors, reality-show actresses and, gloriously, Freaks and Geeks actor Samm Levine.

Also in the house was actor and Invitational regular Phifer, who this year spearheaded an initiative to transform the tournament from just a kickin' party into an exercise in social responsibility.

At Phifer's suggestion, the WPT added a rebuy period to the event, meaning that anyone short on chips could get a boost by donating $200 to Phifer's The Vine Group, an organization that seeks to help underprivileged youth in Africa pursue education.

Phifer was the star of the show on Saturday night, taking the mike at the end of the rebuy period to exhort his fellow celebrities to open their wallets even further.

To their credit, many responded.

Even without the promise of a fresh set of chips, players like Noah Schwartz, Mike Matusow and Steve Lipscomb each ponied up an additional $500 for the cause.

Also donating was PokerListings fave Teddy "The Iceman" Monroe, although he wasn't aware at first that he wouldn't be getting more chips for his money.

Monroe took the news graciously, however.

"That's all right," he said. "It's for the kids. I'd do anything for the kids."

In all, the 433 participants in this year's event managed to raise $78,270 for The Vine Group, a figure that Phifer called, "incredibly incredible, for lack of a better phrase."

Meanwhile, on the tables the action was as chaotic as ever.

Marlon Wayans won big with a set-over-set-over-set masterpiece, touching Schwartz for most of his chips and ultimately causing "fouruhaters'" untimely demise. Schwartz reportedly left with more than $20k in last-longer bet losses.

Elsewhere, the WPT's Jeff Holsey one-outed Jean-Robert Bellande to end Bobby's day, the painful elimination surprising exactly nobody who knows the former Survivor star.

By 1:30 a.m., 14 tables remained, among them Canseco, Wayans, Madden, Rikki Lake and Shannon Elizabeth, as well as poker pros Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Andy Bloch, John Phan and Scott Clements.

Action will resume at 2 p.m. Sunday and continue until our six-handed final table is reached. Tune into PokerListings.com's Live Tournament section for coverage.


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