Randy Couture moves all-in for charity

Las Vegas Strip

Since the poker boom first hit several years ago, the poker community has made it clear to anyone paying attention that wanting to take your opponents' money doesn't necessarily mean you're solely driven by greed.

Charity poker events have raised money for plenty of worthy causes, running the gamut from relief for refugees in Africa to preventing animal cruelty to researching cures for diseases such as cancer and ALS.

These events routinely draw in professional athletes and Hollywood celebrities, who themselves love the game, but they've almost always been put together by the poker community. This Saturday sees a break from that trend when UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture hosts Operation All-In.

The $500+50 with $200 re-buys No-Limit Hold'em tournament, held at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's The Joint in Las Vegas Saturday, will benefit the Xtreme Couture GI Foundation.

An Old Connection Deals the Cards

The Xtreme Couture GI Foundation came about through an old connection of Couture's: the United States Army.

A veteran of the army's 101st Airborne Division, Couture spends part of his time visiting and talking with soldiers at military bases throughout the U.S. Two years ago, on a visit to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda, Md., he met soldiers recovering from battle wounds received in Iraq.

"Their attitude was pretty overwhelming," Couture told PokerListings in a phone interview. "Most of them were dying to get refitted and get back over into the fray with their fellow soldiers they'd left over there. That was amazing to me, considering most of them were missing at least one limb, and many of them more than that."

The moving Walter Reed experience was followed up last year by a 12-day trip to Iraq to visit American soldiers, where Couture said he was impressed by the integrity and honor with which the soldiers went about doing their jobs. Based on his interactions, Couture decided he wanted to do something to help.

"I wanted to find a way to not only raise awareness about these guys and what they've put on the line, but to find a way to support them and to get them some of the things they needed to make that transition (to civilian life) easier."

By May of last year, the GI Foundation had kicked off with a high-profile Memorial Day event that raised money for its mission.

Another Connection Raises the Stakes

Steve Cyr, a casino host at Hard Rock in Las Vegas, has known Kim Couture since the days when she herself worked as a casino host. Cyr knew about the GI Foundation and thought a charity poker tournament to benefit the foundation would be a perfect fit. He contacted Couture earlier this year about hosting a tourney at the Hard Rock, and the champ jumped at the opportunity.

Cyr will serve as more than just the host for Couture's tournament, however. He will also be Couture's poker coach in a series of training sessions before the tournament, since the former UFC champ is a confessed poker newbie.

"I've watched poker a lot, but I've never played," said Couture with a laugh. "We'll see how I fare. Maybe I'll have some beginner's luck."

Even if the luck doesn't come his way, Couture still says he hopes to make Operation All-In an annual event.

The Stars Go All-Out For Operation All-In

The caliber of the GI Foundation's cause is reflected in the star power that will be on display at The Joint this weekend. Poker players Sammy Farha, Xtreme Couture GI Foundation Web site. Tickets are available through the Hard Rock box office at 702-693-5000.

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