Poker Players Take ALS Challenge

3 min read

Oprah Winfrey ALS challenge
Oprah Winfrey taking the ice bucket challenge for ALS

The ice bucket challenge is all the rage on social media these days, and poker players are taking the opportunity to get involved. The purpose of the challenge is to raise awareness about ALS and encourage donations to the ALS Association.

ALS is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis but better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It is a process in which the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord experience progressive degeneration that leads to paralysis and death. There is no cure for the disease.

The ALS Association is a national non-profit organization dedicated to global research of Lou Gehrig’s Disease and assisting those with the disease to better their quality of life until a cure can be found.

The group also provides public education, fundraising for research and treatments, and support for everyone affected by ALS.

Why an Ice Bucket Challenge?

The challenge is simple. Dump a bucket of ice water over your head, or have someone do it for you, and challenge several others to do the same. A person is given 24 hours to complete the challenge on video or donate to the ALS Association instead.

It all started in the summer of 2014, and the ice bucket challenge quickly went viral, mostly due to high profile people performing the stunt and donating as well. Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, businessmen like Bill Gates, sports figures like LeBron James, and singers like Jennifer Lopez have done it.

Others have been challenged and donated instead. For example, Ethel Kennedy asked President Barack Obama to do the ice bucket challenge, and he kindly declined but donated $100.

As of August 19, the ALS Association has raised nearly $23 million in donations for the period of July 29 to August 19, which is up from last year’s total of $1.9 million for the same time period. There have also been more than 453,000 new donors to ALS due to increased awareness and donations.

Poker Community Steps Up

Some of the biggest names in poker have participated in the challenge as well. Several members of the “Poker Night in America” team, including Nolan Dalla and Todd Anderson, did the challenge when they were at Turning Stone in New York. They then challenged others like Phil Hellmuth and World Poker Tour President Adam Pliska.

Hellmuth performed the challenge and extended it to Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Esfandiari, and WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart. The latter did it and challenged ESPN commentators Norman Chad and Lon McEachern, as well as all members of the WSOP November Nine.

Esfandiari named three people to do the challenge, including Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps.

Pliska did the challenge from a hotel room in Macau, noting that he was performing it with a fancy leather trash can, the way presidents should do such a thing. One of the people he named was WSOP on-camera host Lynn Gilmartin, who accepted the challenge and did it with a mixture of ice and things like coconut water and coffee beans for various health reasons.

Poker players are known for their generosity regarding donations and participating in charity poker tournaments, but this competition of sorts has put them in the spotlight, inviting them to do something uncomfortable (and very, very cold) in order to extend the challenge to others. It has become a fun stream of videos, and more poker players and industry executives may still participate.

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