If you’ve watched ESPN at all in recent years, you’ve certainly noticed the proliferation of poker programming. Poker’s popularity is tremendous and on Thu night, Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Chicago Sun-Times columnist/film critic Richard Roeper and former Chicago Bear Chris Zorich came together to host “Aces UP!” celebrity poker tournament to support Urban Prep Academy, the only all-boys public charter high school in the state. Players came to Fulton’s on the River on Sept 18th to take on the stars of Chicago’s media, entertainment, civic and sports scene in Texas Hold ‘em; for a prize pool of more that $15,000. In addition to the three hosts, celebrity participants included former Chicago Bear Jerry Azumah, “Dodgeball” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Actor Chris Willliams, Chicago Tribune sports columnist Teddy Greenstein and NBC5’s own Natalie Martinez. The event was organized by Urban Prep founder Tim King. “Ninety percent of the students come from low-income families and while it is a tuition- free school, the programs we have at the school necessitate raising funds to support our projects,” King said. The proceeds raised by this event (more than $100,000) will help provide a college preparatory education for the school’s students. “We’ve got some real problems here in Illinois in the way we fund our education, so for someone to come out and start their own charter school and do such a phenomenal job with it is something I’m really excited to be a part of,” said treasurer Giannoulias, who King introduced to the room as “the next Governor of Illinois.”
When the six-hour and 200+ player tournament was over, the final three champions: Matthew Golden, Spilios Venetsanopoulus, and Dan Rosenbloom decided to split the $15,000 pie. “We want people to come here and have a great time, great food, great drink, but also play some pretty serious poker and we had some real good competition last year,” Richard Roeper told me during an exclusive chat before the tournament. Although the stakes will be somewhat high, the competition here was nowhere near as cutthroat as what’s on ESPN2. “When you’re playing a charity event, as opposed to what’s on television, the idea is just to have a lot of fun,” said former Notre Dame star Chris Zorich.
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