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The first celebrity charity poker event of 2008 took place just over a week ago on January 12, hosted by former UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture and his wife, Kim. Many famous poker players, athletes, and celebrities congregated at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas where a $550 tournament took place, complete with $200 rebuys for those feeling particularly generous.

Proceeds for the event went to the Xtreme Couture GI Foundation, a non-profit organization created to raise money for wounded soldiers who have returned and are trying to make the transition back to a normal life. Couture, an army veteran himself, said he also “wanted to find a way to … raise awareness about these guys and what they’ve put on the line.” He apparently got the idea to start his foundation when he visited soldiers recovering from amputations received in Iraq and noticed how impressive their attitudes were.

It was actually the casino host at the Hard Rock, Steve Cyr, who contacted Couture with the idea of hosting a charity tournament. He noted that “poker is the most universal game among charity supporters today [since] it’s an easy game to teach, learn, and play.” Couture himself had never played poker before, but he knew of its popularity and jumped at the opportunity to host such an event. Jamie Gold, the 2006 World Series of Poker champion, ended up teaching him how to play Holdem mere days before the big day, and he said that Couture “caught on quickly.” Gold also recruited many fellow poker players and emceed the event.

Notables at the Hard Rock included Johnny Chan, Hoyt Corkins, Montel Williams, Dean Cain, Todd Brunson, Mark Cuban, and many others. The rebuy tournament combined with a silent auction raised over $90,000. A $10,000 bid for an evening with the Couture couple by Houston Curtis helped raise this impressive amount, as well as the donation of the third-place prize by Phil Gordon.

Others who made the final table included Frank Trigg (also a UFC fighter), Jose Canseco (former Major League Baseball player), Mike Hass (wide receiver for the Chicago Bears), and Mike Wells (of the Toronto Blue Jays). First place ended up awarding $20,000 to Jamie Scott, who donated some of his winnings to the foundation.

Couture was hoping to raise between $50,000 and $65,000, so the $90,000 he raised must have been a very pleasant surprise. He wants to make the charity tournament an annual event, although one source mentions that he might even host another one during the summer sometime. Couture is obviously eager to do everything he can for his mission, saying that he “feel[s] like [they’re] just scratching the surface” with what they’ve done so far.

If you would like to learn more about the Xtreme Couture GI Foundation, please visit its website: http://www.xtremecouturegifoundation.org