Flyers' Upshall checks way to raise money for charity at poker tournament in A.C.
By SUSAN LULGJURAJ Staff Writer, 609-272-7187
ATLANTIC CITY - Scottie Upshall was in intense competition this week.
He had to figure out the right moves, what his opponents were going to do and then be in the right place at the right time.
The difference was the Flyers' right wing was competing in the main event of the Borgata Poker Open, a World Poker Tour event.
The Texas Hold 'em event had a $5 million guaranteed payout, the largest guaranteed prize pool of any land-based casino. The winner will receive $1.4 million on Thursday, the last day of the tournament.
The Borgata Resort Casino and Spa fell slightly short of the mark with the buy-ins and put in a little less than $50,000 into the pool.
"I really didn't know what to expect. I walked into the room here and saw all the tables," said Upshall, who borrowed poker player Lacey Jones' gold headphones to listen to music off his iPhone. "I am here for a great cause. If I can get in and win a little money for them, it makes the last few days more special. I felt nerves this week that I have never felt while playing hockey."
The Borgata paid Upshall's $10,000 buy-in ($9,600 goes to the prize pool and with $400 going to the house). Philadelphia contacted Scottie Hartnell first, but he was going to be away with his wife.
That's when Upshall jumped at the chance. He found the tournament a great way to combine his interest in poker with a way to raise money. Charities can't always rely on donations but have to come up with ways to draw attention to them.
Upshall finished 52nd out of 516 contestants, taking home $15,000 to split between the Flyers Wives Fight for Lives and the Kids Forever Foundation, which Upshall founded with the Ottawa Senators' Chris Phillips.
The scrappy right winger led the Flyers in penalty minutes (44) during the playoffs last season. Philadelphia made it to the Eastern Conference finals and lost in five games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Upshall finished the season with 14 goals and 16 assists. He had three goals and four assists in three rounds of the playoffs.
"I am not here gambling. I am here just trying to raise money," Upshall said. "I mentioned it to a couple of players and said it was my first event. When I said it was for charity, they thought, 'Wow that's amazing;' I couldn't sit here for three straight days.' "
The partnership worked well for Borgata because the casino is always looking for ways to break into other markets. Getting a Philadelphia athlete to compete in the high-profile tournament, the Borgata is showing poker is for anyone.
Anyone can enter a tournament and have a chance at a title while taking out some of the best in the world. Poker isn't exclusive to those who have been studying the game for years.
"One of the big reasons is to bring it a little more mainstream," said Borgata's Ray Stefanelli, director of Poker Marketing. "We are very friendly with the New York and Philadelphia markets. One of the things we thought about is why not have someone have a chance to win $1.4 million for charity. What better thing to do with that money."
Upshall isn't a novice to the game, but it was his first live event. The 24-year-old plays with teammates Hartnell and Derian Hatcher on the road. It's a normal past time for the Flyers who spend much of their time on planes and trains.
Upshall rubbed elbows with some of the most popular poker celebrities and even pushed his chips around with 2006 World Series of Poker main event winner Jamie Gold, who offered to give him tips on the game and charity work.
"My dad likes to play. He has a card table back home," Upshall said. "We also get a pretty good game of the guys on the plane. It's nice to get a little competitive game of cards every once in a while. That's kind of when I started playing poker, when I turned pro."
Playing poker and playing hockey require completely different skills. While Upshall isn't being knocked on his backside or taking shots to his face while playing poker, the game requires a different level of concentration.
Upshall made it to Day 3 of the five-day event outlasting a huge amount of people. The days are long-lasting from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. On top of that, Upshall is the only competitor coming from an early-morning workout of skating on lifting weights.
"Poker is a game you have to sit down and take your time," said Upshall, whose friends texted him throughout the three days to find out his status. "I've learned a lot from the players here. You watch some of the players and things they say. I am going to take that back to my game with the boys."
Notes The U.S. Poker Championships, which last though Oct. 8, is going on at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City.
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