Thursday, May 14, 2009 | 11:05 p.m.
Picture it now: It’s Monday night, you’re at home, and you’re about to tell your friends what happened at the Rio three nights earlier.
“So there I was, at the card table, and who sits down right next to me? Matt Damon!” you say.
“Then this really tall guy walks by and takes a seat at the next table. I think to myself, ‘Man, he sure looks familiar,’ and then realize, oh my God! It’s Charles Barkley! I couldn’t believe it.”
Your friends stare back at you, wide-eyed, and urge you to go on. They’re captivated. You continue your story.
“I could hardly focus on my cards,” you admit, shaking your head as you relive the moment. “Then, right when I think my luck couldn’t get any better, I’m dealt two queens, then the flop comes: queen, queen, jack -- and then I realize the guy at the end of the table is none other than Don Cheadle, that actor from 'Hotel Rwanda' and 'Ocean's Thirteen.'”
Glory stories like these are few and far between, but when they come along, they are told and retold for years.
And while celebrities aren’t hard to find in a city like Las Vegas, it’s rare to find oneself at the same table as a well-known star, let alone a group of celebrities.
Yet that’s what makes Ante Up for Africa unique: The annual charity poker tournament is filled with high-profile personalities and offers everyday folks the chance to play against and alongside well-known stars.
Damon, Barkley and Cheadle are just three of the faces expected at this year’s tournament. TV personalities Jason Alexander, Montel Williams, Marlon Wayans, Sarah Silverman, Casey Affleck, Hank Azaria and Brad Garrett, retired NFL running back Herschel Walker, and former NBA players Kenny Smith and Reggie Miller will also participate.
Not surprisingly, a host of professional poker players, including Howard Lederer, Andy Bloch, Erik Seidel and Phil Hellmuth, will also vie for the prize.
The tournament is being organized in support of Ante Up for Africa, which helps victims of ongoing humanitarian crises in Darfur and Sudan.
Cheadle started the nonprofit three years ago, along with professional poker player and recent “Celebrity Apprentice” star Annie Duke (who won a coveted World Series of Poker bracelet in 2004 and has collected more than $4 million in poker tournament winnings) and Norman Epstein.
Since its beginnings in 2006, Ante Up for Africa has raised nearly $2 million.
Anyone can enter the tournament, provided they’re at least 21 years old and are able to ante up the $5,000 entry fee.
Meanwhile, those who prefer to watch can do that for free.
The contest will get underway at 2 p.m. on July 2 at the Rio Convention Center’s Amazon Ballroom. The tournament is expected to last no more than five hours from start to finish, and will be followed by a post-poker party at Pure at Caesars Palace.
The tournament will air as a three-hour special on Aug. 11 on ESPN.
This year’s Ante Up for Africa effectively serves as a kick-off for the 2009 World Series of Poker tournament, which will get underway the following day.
The World Series of Poker last year attracted 58,720 players from 124 different countries and doled out $180 million in prize money.