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Soroptimists of SCV play to win

Poker: Chris Cuffari is the evening’s big winner at charity poker tournament

Posted: June 23, 2010 9:59 p.m.
Updated: June 24, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Chris Cuffari was the winner of the Soroptiomist International of the Santa Clarita Valley’s second annual Texas Hold’Em Poker Tournament. He is joined by, left to right, Soroptomist President Donna Kreutz; his wife, Suan Cuffari, Sandi Naba and Event Chairwoman Tara Rice.

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The chips were flying in the lounge of the Courtyard Marriott in Valencia as local players worked to knock out the visiting poker champ at the second annual Fiesta Poker Tournament sponsored by Soroptimist International of the Santa Clarita Valley.

This year’s top prize was a $1,500 seat at the World Series of Poker along with a two-night stay at the Rio in Las Vegas.

Second place was two 10-lap adventure race passes at L.A. Racing — and the chance to drive a NASCAR race car on the legendary Toyota Speedway at Irwindale. 

The buy-in for the tournament was $100 with $40 re-buys and a final $60 add-on. Spectator tickets were available for $25, which included dinner. As guests and players arrived, they enjoyed freshly made soft tacos.

West Poker L.A. supplied the tables, dealers and all of the equipment.

Event chairwoman Tara Rice, a TV hostess, actress and poker pro in her own right, organized the fundraiser. The SCV native started modeling after graduating from Hart High School in Newhall, and entered the 2000 Miss Teen California pageant for the experience. She ended up winning the competition.

Rice also placed 35th at the 2005 Legends of Poker Tour Ladies No-Hold Limit Hold’em Tour at the Bicycle Casino in L.A. and played professionally for seven years.

Players arrived at 4 p.m. for instruction before serious play began at 5 p.m. Rice said she would have changed the start to an earlier time so all the rounds could be played before midnight.

“You never know how many people to expect — we only had 50 reservations, and now we have almost 90 playing,” Rice said. “It’s very unpredictable, we had a prepaid list of only 20.”

She said she was thrilled with the turnout, because the goal for the evening was to raise a significant amount of money to support programs to help women and girls.

“We hope to raise $10,000 tonight,” said Sandi Naba, president-elect for club.

Women helping women

Soroptimist International is the largest female service organization in the world with more than 90,000 members in 125 countries and territories around the world.

Soroptimist International of the SCV also raises funds for the Victim’s Advocacy Program which works to save girls and young women from the illegal sex trade worldwide.

“Proceeds go to programs supported by Soroptimist to improve the lives of women and girls in our community and around the world,” said Wendy Smith, of the local chapter. “We’re also going to keep going with poker, it’s more hands on.” 

Smith said the group supports local organizations such as the Domestic Violence Center of Santa Clarita Valley, Single Mother’s Outreach and Child and Family Center.

Soroptimist of SCV also gives more than $25,000 each year to help women in the community through the club’s Woman’s Opportunity Award.

“It is so cool,” Smith said. “This is a club that funds other clubs and we have very low administration costs as a result.”

Smith said another of the “hands on” projects was putting together 32 pink Beijo bags filled to the brim with donated “comfort” items to be presented to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients at the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center.

“The Poker Tournament was fun — interesting how so many different clubs in Soroptimist International find so many different fun ways to raise funds to support our mission,” said soroptimist Cheri Fleming. Fleming is the Soroptimist International of the Americas Camino Real region governor. “We all know that Soroptimist means ‘best for women’ and this is what the organization has tried to be since its founding in 1921.”

Fleming loved the way just a few women could make such a big difference in their community and throughout the world.

“Both men and women and girls and boys live in poverty, face discrimination and have to overcome obstacles,” Cheri Fleming said. “But, throughout history, in every country in the world, women and girls face additional obstacles and discrimination because of their gender. It’s nice to think we’re making a difference.”

Bounty player
One goal of the evening was to knock out poker champ London Gallagher and win a prize. The event committee put Gallagher up as the bounty and rightly so, her credentials are impressive.

In 2005, Gallagher beat out 565 players to win her seat at the final table of the 2005 World Poker Tournament Ladies’ Night III, an event she won, earning more than $20,000 in prize money.

The affable Gallagher lives in Torrance with her husband, Kevin, and their daughter, Lacey.

She also has a full time job as controller for the Laemmle Theaters, making her poker success all the more impressive.

“It’s more social with women,” she said. “I know women all over the country through poker and we still play fierce. We also like to travel in packs, or drive to tournaments.”

But Greg D’Angelo, a hobby player who lives in the Hollywood Hills, knocked out Gallagher in the fourth round. The drummer for the band, White Lion said he plays every week but said he was surprised to win a 500-piece professional poker set for his efforts.

He also won third place overall at the final table, winning a night on the town in Old Pasadena including a one-night stay at the Courtyard Marriott and four tickets to the Ice House.

“I added money to support the cause, but didn’t need any rebuys, which is hard because anything can happen,” Gallagher said after losing to D’Angelo. “I play a lot of charity events and I’m not used to seeing people who actually know how to play.”

Buy-in goes long way
“We are 34 women in the SCV and support the No. 1 program to prevent human trafficking,” said Donna Kreutz, president of Soroptimist of SCV.

Kreutz said the money would also go into the general fund and support programs to end domestic violence and fund a program in Sierra Leone to rebuild a village.

“Women everywhere want warm showers and clean water,” she said.

A pair of queens
Near midnight, after many rounds and increasingly larger blinds, the Tournament winnowed the players down to the final table with 10 players.

After several hands and elimination of seven players, it came down to the final three.

The final flop revealed and a queen, a jack and an eight. Chris Cuffari won the hand when he showed a king and queen against a pair of jacks held by second place finisher, Jorge Moran.

“I made some good calls,” Cuffari said. “I took a conservative approach and protected my chips.”

Cuffari a regional sales manager for Kimberly Clark said he plays every week at the Paseo Club, but at the urging of his Soroptimist wife, Susan, he crammed for the event.

“I bought 10 books on poker and studied technique for the past two months,” he said.

Chris and Susan Cuffari also won the special live auction prize — a flight over Los Angeles in a six-passenger private plane with lunch on Catalina Island.  

Overall, Rice was happy with the turnout and the response from players. She has plans to move next year’s tournament to a larger venue.

“This is my favorite event,” Fleming said. “It does so much good for the community.”

Bill Kreutz, Donna’s husband, agreed and added it was better to have a “hands on” event for fundraisers.

“Helping a woman helps society,” he said. “We are having a good time here tonight and doing something to benefit thousands.”

For more information about Soroptimist International of Santa Clarita Valley, call Carolyn Brimer at (661) 254-6739 or visit www.siscv.com.

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