Beach, Bodog Babes and Snoop Dogg: Salutes the Troops


So you’re hanging in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel, lei around your neck, the ocean on one side and the Waialae Country Club (home of the Sony Open Golf Championship) on the other, and you’re surrounded by celebrities and a sea of beautiful women. You’ve already partied at a rocking luau (and slept off the hangover), enjoyed cocktails from your private cabana at the beach, and watched a celebrity poker tournament. At the moment, beautiful women are bringing you drinks as you hang at Waikiki Beach, watching a comedy show and concert headlined by the rap legend Snoop Dogg. No, this isn’t a dream – the alarm isn’t about to go off. This was you closing out a classic three days at the ‘Bodog Salutes the Troops’ charity event.

Here’s what your weekend looked like…

Thursday, the event kicked off with a spectacular oceanside luau – complete with a roast pig and an erupting ice sculpture volcano – compliments of the weekend’s host, These guys know how to party, and this luau proved it. Who doesn’t get off on celebrity- watching (Colin Quinn, Estella Warren, Peter Berg, Paul Rodriguez, and Shannon Elizabeth, to name a few who made the weekend), fire-tossing islanders (most of whom looked like they’d just been released by the Green Bay Packers, only with a deep tan), and being mistaken for the country singer Randy Travis (though I’m actually much better looking)? And don’t forget the cocktails, island girls and one of the most beautiful backdrops in paradise. This secluded bay on Oahu was so beautiful, in fact, that you are actually willing to forget that people think you’re a weathered country singer. Besides, maybe later in the evening you’ll treat them to a tune or two.

Friday morning, on the day of the poker tournament, there was the opportunity to soak in the atmosphere of the Mandarin, allow the Polynesian paralysis (the intense urge to nap) to set in, and even throw back a couple of early afternoon cocktails before the day’s events fired up. Enter Matt Savage, world-renowned poker tournament director, and let the games begin. The game of choice was No Limit Texas Hold’em, featuring 17 celebrities (including poker stars Josh Arieh and David Williams), ten players, and over 60 U.S. troops all playing to support Uncle Sam.

After a stroll down the red carpet and a quick poker tutorial for some of the celebrity players, the games were under way. The tone was quickly set by our men and women in uniform; celebrity players started dropping like flies after only a few minutes. Having accurately described his level of play earlier in the day as ‘awful’, Carson Daly (Last Call with Carson Daly) was the first casualty, and was followed shortly thereafter by a long list of famous comrades. Eventually, the stars, both experienced and novice players alike, all fell prey to the aggressive
military players. Soon, the loser’s lounge was chock full of shell-shocked celebrities, who were trying to explain what went wrong out there. All signs pointed to the intensity of the military players.

“I wasn’t particularly intimidated by anything other than their focus,” said Peter Berg (director of the hit film Friday Night Lights and the upcoming The Kingdom) referring to the troops he played against. “These are guys that are very friendly, very polite, but laser-focused.” Berg, who normally plays in a weekly game with cast and crew, probably would have faired better at a table of actors trying to score a gig in his next feature! Instead, he was seated across from a marine pilot hell-bent on taking his chips. Other celebrities found themselves in similar predicaments. However, three stars managed to outlast the rest of the Hollywood pack, earning a spot at the final table. They were Jorge Garcia (Lost), Estella Warren (Planet of the Apes) and Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie).

Of the two professional players at the tournament, Arieh and Williams, only Arieh made it to the final table, but both were stoked to be participating in the weekend’s festivities. After the grueling World Series of Poker, they were glad to be relaxing in Hawaii, and to have the opportunity to show their support for our servicemen and women. “If the troops weren’t doing what they are doing for us, we might not be able to play poker at all. We might not have that freedom to play poker,” said Williams. Arieh was equally excited about playing with the troops. “It’s a chance to play and have guys that we look up to every day look up to us,” he said.

As more and more players went out, the marines proved to be the dominant poker strategists in the armed forces. A sea of red marine core shirts filled the remaining tables as the final table drew closer. But true to the unpredictable nature of the sport, this would be no sign of their future success. Though the marines stormed the beach and had a major show of force early in the tournament, when it came to taking home the hardware, they would all fall short.

The performances of the celebrity players early in the day provided an equally poor read of how the final table would play out. If the first half was any indication of things to come, a celebrity would not be the last man standing. Then, out of nowhere came our champion – and it wasn’t who you might think.

Throughout the day, there was a lot of debate and conversation over the advantages that different people might bring (aside from actual poker skill) to the table. Does it help to be the funniest cat at the table? “No,” as Colin Quinn (formerly of SNL) would tell you. Does being an actor help you tune in to other peoples’ tells at the table? No, again, was the obvious answer. The question we forgot to ask about was looks. In most sports, looking good in warm-ups doesn’t usually help once the game starts (I know, because otherwise I’d be playing in the NHL right now). But looking good in this tournament seemed to offer a tremendous advantage, judging by the final table of celebrities. (OK, so Jorge Garcia making the final table might screw with that theory a bit, but he also manages to maintain his offensive-lineman build while stranded on a desert island on Lost. Figure that one out…)

In the end, professional poker skills, military training, and even being well-fed lost out to beauty. Estella Warren, the hot model/actress known for her role in Planet of the Apes, quietly made her way through all comers and at the final table, and took down Shane Woods of the U.S. Army to win the tournament. Shane’s A-4 failed to hold up against Warren’s K-Q and pair of queens turned out to be enough to get the job done. The model takes home the trophy.

From the location to the people involved, and especially the cause behind the weekend – a charity event for the Fisher House Foundation, an organization that provides homes for military families during the hospitalization of a loved one – it was a homerun competition. Whether you went out first or made the final table, the Bodog crew made sure that you had a rock star weekend.

But the fun didn’t end when the tournament was over. Saturday night was the big comedy show and concert at Waikiki. There were comedy performances from three of the best comedians in the world – Wanda Sykes, Paul Rodriguez and Colin Quinn – combined with live music by Biff Naked and the legendary (for music, movies and run-ins with the law) Snoop Dogg – helped us all forget our bad beats and focus on fun.

Sunday was tougher than the other days. I sat there in my private cabana on the beach staring out at the ocean, knowing that soon it would all come to an end. What would I do next weekend? Would Bodog be throwing another party, and how could I get looped in? If not, the celebrities would all be gone, along with the Bodog girls and guys twirling fire sticks. How the hell would I get back to this place – easily the happiest place on earth? I could either gamble online at Bodog, become a famous rapper (I actually had thoughts of exchanging my golf clubs for a turntable), or learn to twirl fire sticks myself (though I’m thinner and paler than most of those Polynesian lads). Since I couldn’t figure it all out and still haven’t, I just decided to enjoy the moment and trudge through the day, oceanside in my cabana. At that moment, life was as it should be. I flipped trough the latest issue of Bluff and looked up every so often to drink in the beautiful setting or to grab a waiter to fetch me a Lava Flow (the tasty Hawaiian frozen cocktail). Little did I know that, later that evening, I would be crammed in a redeye flight next to some swamp donkey that looked like she slept in a tanning bed till she was 40, chewed on rocks every day till she was 50, and embraced every possible conspiracy theory on earth, which she gladly forced on me during our flight, till she was 60.

I miss the Bodog girls…

October 2005