All images by Joseph Donato/Cashman Photo

Years ago (I’m gonna guess 2006, give or take), Keep Memory Alive had its first poker tournament in LA’s posh Beverly Crest neighborhood (in the Beverly Hills Post Office area of Coldwater Canyon, in the Santa Monica Mountains), at the spectacular 11,000 square foot home of Keyshawn Johnson (the first NFL player to score a touchdown on Monday Night Football, playing for four different teams*), in the exclusive Beverly Ridge Estates.  If I recall correctly, I was the second person to bust-out; but since it was at the hand of two-time World Series of Poker champion, Johnny Chan, there was certainly no shame in that game.**  The only other thing I recall is being informed that the delicious smell wafting around the property was the result of a special chocolate-scented fertilizer.  Who knew?

Well, a dozen years later, the powers-that-be at Keep Memory Alive (in conjunction with KMA’s newly formed Fundraising Advisory Board), figured the time was right to revisit the tournament-as-fundraiser model; and I’ve gotta tell ya – they knocked it outta the park with their inaugural Texas Hold’em Charity Poker Tournament!

One absolutely inspired idea was creating a second, lower-price ticket-option ($100, versus the $500 buy-in) for guests who didn’t want to play in the tournament, and simply wanted to partake of the fabulous foodstuffs featured by a trio of CliQue Hospitality’s restaurants – Borracha Mexican Cantina and Bottiglia Cucina & Enoteca (Green Valley Ranch); and Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar (Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa) – as well as the particularly potent potables provided by small-batch luxury tequila, Casa Dragones; Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, and Kimo Sabe Mazcal.***

I had an absolute blast programming the music (with an assist from DJ Anna Robins), that evening inside the stunning Keep Memory Alive Event Center, at the Frank Gehry-designed Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health; I think because I got to dive deep, and provide a mix of old-school Las Vegas/Rat Pack standards, contemporary pop hits, funk and soul classics, and a bit of disco, with some rock n’ roll.  A seemingly incongruous mix, to be sure; but I think that’s why it worked so well.  So, whether I was playing Kenny Rogers (“The Gambler,” obvs),  Grace Jones (“La Vie en Rose”), Quincy Jones (“Ai No Corrida”), Robyn (“Dancing on My Own”), The Rolling Stones feat. Lisa Fischer (“Gimme Shelter”), Bananarama (“Cruel Summer”), Diana Ross (“The Boss”), Lady Gaga (“Poker Face”), Junior Walker & The All Stars (“Shotgun”), Propellerheads feat. Dame Shirley Bassey (“History Repeating”) or the historic recording of Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra, live at The Sands (“Luck Be a Lady”); there was a little something for everyone.  That I chose to close the affair with Sammy Davis, Jr.’s cover of Jimmy Webb’s “Macarthur Park” speaks to the musical salmagundi I purveyed that night.

In addition to the World Series of Poker’s original host, Jack Binion (who also hosted this tournament); longtime tournament director, Jack McClelland; and television personality/author Jon Taffer; a trio of WSoP bracelet winners were playing, that afternoon (though none of them would place “in the money”) – the recently-retired poker legend, Doyle Brunson (winner of ten WSoP bracelets, and two WSoP Championship Events; whose nickname, “Texas Dolly” came by way of his name being mispronounced by Jimmy the Greek); and my folks, who’ve won a trio of WSoP bracelets between them (most-prized among them, the one Dad received upon winning the WSoPE Championship Event, in 2009).  So, Dad (in a shoulder-cast following a recent shoulder-replacement) was seated in Seat 1, directly to the left of the dealer; with Doyle right next to him in Seat 2.  As he’d later say, on Facebook, “So, who do they put to my immediate left, but Doyle Brunson, himself?  Oh well.  It was a good cause, and the stories he told me were worth way more than the price of admission.”  Now, you can fit everything I know about poker on a bookmark; but I do know that coming from a poker player who busted-out of the tournament, that’s very high praise, indeed.

The evening was so well received, in fact, that Keep Memory Alive’s Texas Hold’em Charity Poker Tournament (now an annual event) will be back, next fall; so that you too can Go All In for Memories.  And those are some memories I’m looking forward to making.

Inaugural Texas Hold’em Charity Poker Tournament
Keep Memory Alive
Click HERE for info

Get into it!

[Editor’s Notes: * New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, and Carolina Panthers // **Johnny Chan was an absolute delight to sit next to, and kept me laughing, while yelling over my head, to my father (seated at an adjacent table), reassuring him that I was doing fine.  Meanwhile, Welcome Back, Kotter star, Gabe Kaplan (seated on the other side of Chan) kept looking as though he wanted to brain me with a brick, after repeatedly growling at me to pay attention to the game at my table, and not who was chatting with whom at the bar; and it was at this moment that I realized ADHD and poker are decidedly not a great pairing // *** While the brand amiably claims that its name comes from a Sonoran Indian phrase for “trusted friend” (a la The Lone Ranger), this is slightly erroneous.  According to Fran Striker, Jr (whose father, Fran Striker, was the highly-regarded writer of such popular radio shows as The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, and Ned Jordan, Secret Agent), there are two salient points that dovetail, with regards to the term (originally ‘kemo sabay’).  The first was that Tonto was a member of the Potawatomi tribe, from the Great Lakes region, not the Southwest (which makes sense, upon learning that the elder Striker had yet to travel west of Buffalo, NY, at that point; and that the show was launched from WZYX of Detroit, MI); and the second was that Jim Jewell (the show’s director) was a native of Michigan, and told Striker Sr. about a children’s summer camp in Northern Michigan called Ke Mo Sa Bee, which was said to have meant “Trusty Friend”]