Fulfilling the higher calling

August 05, 2014

I’ve been playing poker for a long time and thankfully, I’ve been reasonably successful doing so. With that came a wealth of amazing opportunities the game has given me, from travel to experiences to meeting heroes from many industries. But at the same time I’ve become increasingly aware of a growing emptiness I’ve been feeling, and it’s one I’m not alone with – it’s the question of what we, as poker players, are actually contributing long-term to society.

Many believe that in order to achieve true happiness in life, you need to be doing something that fulfils a higher calling — that is, something that isn’t just self-serving but provides something beneficial to the wider community. This idea can present a problem for poker players, who, after all, are first and foremost trying to make money for themselves, and in order to do so must necessarily take money from others.

As a poker player, I can say I’m amassing personal wealth and perhaps earning a bit of fame, but what am I using it for? Am I improving others’ lives at all, or only my own and perhaps my immediate friends and family? Is there a way I can continue playing this amazing game that I love, and fulfil this wish to help and do more for the world? As with most problems, there is a solution!

Not long ago two of my friends, the well-known German poker players Phillip Gruissem and Igor Kurganov decided to start pledging a percentage of their yearly winnings to charity. They encouraged others to also make a one-time donation, which they would match up to $50,000. This received an unexpectedly large amount of support from fellow poker players.

That got us all thinking about how to expand this mindset into the wider poker community. I was in Zurich with Igor before EPT Vienna, and we met with some guys from the meta-charity/research institute GBS Switzerland (//gbs-schweiz.org/). We were absolutely blown away by these extremely intelligent, articulate people who truly believe in the idea of effective altruism. It was a concept I was unfamiliar with, but their explanation resonated with me. It is defined as a philosophy and social movement that uses evidence and reason to work out the most effective ways to reduce suffering and improve the world, and to act in the way that achieves the maximum positive impact from each dollar that is given.

This led us to the idea of doing something similar within the poker community. Not only would we donate a portion of our own winnings, but we could also do our own “movement building” by encouraging others to do the same. We’d be able to help others less fortunate than ourselves and simultaneously gain a long term satisfaction from playing poker knowing there’s a greater good coming from it.

We came up with the idea of “Raising for Effective Giving” or “REG”, — reg-charity.org — a charity that enables poker players to sign up and pledge to donate a small percentage (2%) of their gross quarterly winnings. With research and guidance from the folks at GBS Switzerland, the funds will be directly donated to the charities that are ranked as the most highly effective at the time. Right now there are several charities ranking the highest, according to charity evaluator GiveWell. They include Give DirectlyDeworm the World, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative which also focuses on deworming and preventing various diseases, with a few others on the list as well. The site also has a regular blog about topics on effective altruism and charitable issues. It will also focus on rationality, decision-making and improving one’s mindset in general.

I’m so excited about the launch of “REG” and how it can provide us, you, and anyone else in poker with a way to make real, positive contributions to society, and to distribute financial aid to the causes that have the most positive impact, wherever on the planet they may be.


Liv Boeree is a member of Team PokerStars


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