LAS VEGAS - Celebrities turned out Wednesday to donate to Darfur charities - and to show their fellow stars just who the real card sharks were.
"I'm looking forward to whipping a lot of celebrity rear end," talk show host Montel Williams said before beginning play in a charity Texas Hold 'em tournament at the World Series of Poker. "I tweaked my game, and my game is really solid."
Williams and 87 others, including such Hollywood heavy hitters as Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Alexander, George Lopez, Adam Sandler and Ray Romano, played in the no-limit tournament to raise money and have a good time.
Charles Barkley also played after a recent pledge to take a hiatus from gambling. The 45-year-old former NBA star, who was sued in May by the Wynn casino for failing to pay back gambling loans, said he would donate his winnings to charity and didn't plan to spend a lot of extra time in town.
The TNT commentator paid back his markers shortly after the casino filed a civil complaint. Barkley said he wasn't going to gamble for "the next year or two" on the air during the NBA playoffs.
"I can't gamble, so I gotta drink," Barkley joked with Phil Hellmuth after the 11-time bracelet winner invited Barkley for a cocktail after the tournament. "Can you imagine how bad life would be if you couldn't gamble or drink?"
Players donated prize money from the second annual "Ante Up for Africa" event to charities working in the Darfur region of Sudan. Cheadle and poker pro Annie Duke began the event last year to raise money and awareness for the region, where more than 300,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced since ethnic warfare began in 2003, according to the U.S. presidential envoy to Sudan.
The tournament benefited two charities - ENOUGH, a project co-founded in 2007 by the International Crisis Group and the Center for American Progress and Not On Our Watch, a group co-founded by Cheadle, Damon, George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
"It's just great to see everybody," Cheadle said as the event began. "Don't expect to win, because it's mine."
Cheadle was eliminated by Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell when his pair of jacks couldn't top Cantrell's queens.
Players in the poker tournament paid $5,000 to enter, and were asked to donate at least half their winnings evenly to the two charities. Nevada law prohibits poker tournaments from designating a certain amount of prize money for charity so players signed voluntary contracts at the tables, pledging at least half their winnings.
"Charity doesn't have to be boring, it doesn't have to be a burden," Duke said. "We want people to have a really good time."
As play began, the prize pool totaled $418,000. Last year the event raised more than $500,000 for the charities and finished with the top two players pooling their $350,000 in winnings and donating it to the cause.
Alexander won the first hand at his table with Damon, eight-time World Series of Poker gold bracelet winner Erik Seidel and others when he raised before the flop and everyone else folded.
"All the tournaments I've ever won have been for charity," Alexander said. "When there's no actual money for me, I'm very good."