Former Dolphin Jason Taylor mows down poker opponents

Jason Taylor’s football success has been well-documented (six Pro Bowls with the Miami Dolphins) as well as the respect from the public he has earned for being an all-around good guy (2007 Walter Payton Man of the Year, “Dancing With the Stars.”).

Wednesday night we got a look at his poker skills, which are quite considerable.

Taylor finished third among 124 entrants in his own tournament, which raised more than $17,000 for the Jason Taylor Foundation, a children’s charity.

The Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown series is under way this month, and each year the casino and the World Poker Tour conduct a charity tournament, since the Hollywood property is full of players itching for action. This year, they selected to help Taylor’s foundation.

Half of each $300 buy-in went to the Jason Taylor Foundation, which aims to “facilitate the personal growth and empowerment of South Florida’s children in need by focusing on improved health care, education and quality of life.”

Chiropractor John Virga, a longtime friend of Taylor’s and a foundation supporter, defeated WINZ-940 AM  host Andy Slater around midnight. Virga earned $5,035 and a free $3,500 entry into the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown on Friday.

In addition to Slater, ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez and Dan Le Batard showed up, WPT announcers Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten, and WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage. Local name pros included Jessica Dawley and Chance Kornuth. Leroy Hoard, a former NFL running back, also played.

I ended up contributing significantly to Taylor’s chip stack after being fortunate enough to make the final table. I was dealt a pair of kings and shoved all-in with my 65,000 or so chips. Taylor called with A-K of spades. An ace hit on the flop, Taylor snagged my chips and I hit the exit.

(It’s customary in poker to complain about bad luck – I was a 65 percent favorite on that hand – but then I’d have to mention the two all-ins that I survived by hitting the card I needed on the river, and I wouldn’t want to do that.)

Taylor’s poker-playing goes back to the early days of the Seminole Hard Rock, back before they had a poker room (or blackjack) and the games ran in the middle of the main slot floor. He also has held other poker events in the name of his charity including one two years ago at Smoke on the Water in Weston.