If the next 10 days go perfectly for Derrick Cavaco and he wins the 2018 WSOP Main Event, he will pocket exactly zero dollars. If he busts before the money bubble bursts, it will have cost him exactly zero dollars.
Cavaco, who hosts a poker radio show in Houston, Texas, is playing the Main Event to raise awareness – and hopefully money – for Camp Hope, a peer-to-peer counseling group for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The $10,000 buy-in was paid for by Jim McIngvale, a Houston-area businessman you might actually know better as “Mattress Mack”. Anything Cavaco wins goes straight to Camp Hope.
“What they do is they bring in vets from all over the country and they house them there, and it’s peer to peer counseling with only other vets. They don’t take government funding at all, it’s purely privately run,” said Cavaco, who has been playing poker for over 15 years. “They don’t take government funding at all, it’s purely privately run. Mattress Mack and other people like that are guys that help fund this place.”
Cavaco is well aware that just 15% of the field is going to make the money and that just one of the 7,000+ players will get to walk away with the top prize and title of World Champion, so also he’s using his time in Las Vegas to try and bring awareness to the cause.
“I’m spending this whole week out here advocating and fundraising and trying to get anybody out here to either give a percentage or something that they can give to these vets to help them fight their mental scars of war. Or to at least help me raise awareness,” said Cavaco. “So my way, my small way to try and raise awareness, in front of the WSOP entrance every night at 2200 hours, I’m doing 22 pushups for 22 days to just help people understand that these represent 22 veterans lives every day that have taken their lives.”
Camp Hope is an important cause for Cavaco because his good friend, Tyler Wolf, served four tours of duty and was dealing with PTSD after coming home. Wolf found his way to Camp Hope where they helped him through the transition back into civilian life. Cavaco visited Camp Hope and left with an appreciation for what it is all about after talking with some of the people who were there.
“Most of them aren’t there because of what they specifically dealt with themselves. They’re there because they spent days walking, weeks walking with their buddies, trying to keep Al Qaeda and those bad guys away from us. And then one day they hear a mortar shell blow up, they look to the right and it’s a red mist, and their guy’s gone,” said Cavaco. “They’re thinking what could I have done differently? Why did I do this? They trace every step and they can’t stop replaying it in their head.”
Cavaco first connected with McIngvale through his radio show, Poker Lab Radio. That conversation eventually lead to McIngvale putting Cavaco into the Main Event to help raise money and awareness for the cause. This isn’t the first charitable thing that McIngvale has done though. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey last August, he turned his furniture stores into shelters for those who were displaced by the storm.
He’s also found the Houston poker community to be more than willing to jump in and help. Cord Garcia and Ray Henson have been two of Cavaco’s biggest advocates, helping spread the word about Camp Hope and the work Cavaco is doing.
“Ray’s a huge charity guy. He loves helping the vets and that’s how I met him. He jumped on board and everything I’ve done since that day, whether trying to build poker tables to auction off for these vets, trying to do charity events, Ray’s helped me every step of the way,” said Cavaco. “When (Garcia) heard I had a show on poker on the sports station in Houston, he found me and we started talking, and he was my first guest. When he found out about what I’m doing with Camp Hope and Ray, he jumped on board, too.”
Despite having played the game for so long, this is Cavaco’s first time playing the WSOP Main Event. Poker has always been a part-time pursuit for him, but one that has allowed his family to have a bit of financial freedom they otherwise might not have.
“I had a family, so I couldn’t play a lot. So I just studied, studied, studied, and then it got to a point a couple years back where I said, ‘Look, I’m gonna get back in the game.’ I took $100 lost it, $100 lost it, then took $100 and ran off that for the next three years. into about $35,000-$40,000, on my own, playing $100 cash games. Little bits at a time. Throughout that time, I’m buying my groceries for my family out of that. My wife’s being able to keep 100% of my paychecks from my day job.”
Playing for a cause so important to him gave Cavaco a chance to reflect on how his normal approach to tournaments might not be optimal in this situation. While he’s normally prone to playing tight early and then amping up the aggressive as the bubble approaches, Cavaco is focused on getting into the money before opening things up.
“This game’s a little different, I’m taking someone else’s money and trying to raise money for charity, so I’m playing tight and right all the way to that bubble, trying to get that minimum cash,” said Cavaco. “I want to make $30,000 for these guys and then I’m gonna go hard and try and make $8 million for these guys. So, it’s a little different strategy.”
Visit ptsdusa.org for more information on Camp Hope.