All In for Their Poker Lives, with Eli Elezra

Within the often heart-wrenching narrative of Israel’s Gaza Envelope kibbutz communities, a remarkable story of resilience and passion has emerged. Amid the upheaval and devastation brought about by the tragic events of October 7th, a group of long-time friends, bonded by their love for poker, has seized upon an unexpected ray of hope and joy. These men, aged between 32-42, all married with children, have been displaced from their homes and have been living for the past nine months at the Shfayim Hotel, in central Israel, desperately trying to find a semblance of normalcy amidst their shattered lives.

The group’s connection to poker is not just a hobby; it is a lifeline that has kept them together through thick and thin. For the past 15 years, they have gathered for their regular No Limit Texas Hold’em home game with modest 1/2 shekel ($.30/$.60) blinds, creating a camaraderie that transcends the game itself. The tragic loss of Dvir Karp, the 12th member of their poker circle, who was brutally murdered alongside his partner in Kibbutz Re’im, weighs heavily on their hearts. Karp’s two children, who witnessed the horror but whose lives were thankfully spared, are a living testament to the unspeakable violence that tore their world apart. Dvir, a hero until his final moments, fought bravely against the Hamas terrorists.

Gaza envelope communities map

Gaza envelope communities map | Image credit: The Media Line

Amidst the sorrow and chaos, a few weeks ago these poker enthusiasts reached out to Israel’s national poker hero, Poker Hall of Famer Eli Elezra, with a heartfelt plea. They shared with Eli their lifelong dream of traveling to Las Vegas to participate in a few events at the World Series of Poker (WSOP). They sought Eli’s help with the overwhelming costs of such an endeavor.

Eli Elezra WSOP 2024

Elezra at the 2024 WSOP

Elezra, a former officer in the IDF Golani Brigade, took command and responded without hesitation. He sprang into action, reserving three rooms at a top Las Vegas Strip hotel for two weeks, ensuring that the group would be comfortably accommodated. Eli’s words, “if you need more, I’ll get you more; anything you need!” resonated deeply with the group, offering a glimmer of hope and a promise of an unforgettable experience.

WATCH: Interview with Eli Elezra

A Shared Bond Turns Tears to Laughter

The group landed late Monday night, June 24th, and immediately took to the felt. To help kickstart their journey, Eli treated the group to a lavish dinner the following night at Kusa Nori at Resorts World, to which I was also invited. Eli spared no expense, essentially ordering everything on the menu. Two members of the group, still alive in their respective deepstack tournaments, were unfortunately unable to attend, but enough food was consumed by all “to account for their portions” as well.

The atmosphere was electric, filled with laughter, camaraderie, and a profound sense of celebration. For a brief moment, the group was transported from their painful reality to a place of joy and connection, savoring the opportunity to clear their minds and immerse themselves in the game they loved.

Eli Elezra group Israeli dinner

Eli told over tales from his many years at the felt, both at the World Series of Poker as well in the various high stakes cash games he’s frequented over the past three decades. In turn, the group members shared stories from their home game as well as about their lives, and how their worlds turned upside down on October 7th.

Amidst the laughter and toasts, it was clear that these men carried an immense burden of loss and trauma. Their happy exterior masked the intense emotions simmering beneath the surface. I found myself sitting next to a person who had lost his brother, and across from someone whose sister is still being held hostage by Hamas. I couldn’t help but be amazed at how they managed to smile and carry on despite the weight on their hearts and minds. I myself could barely hold back the tears as I spoke with them in their native tongue.

These men’s ability to live and love life, to seize this incredible opportunity to play poker in Las Vegas, was nothing short of extraordinary. It was a testament to their resilience and the healing power of friendship and shared passion.

Heroic Wives Holding Down the Home Front

Equally remarkable, though not present at the dinner, were the wives of these men, who, despite enduring the same hardships and losses, encouraged their husbands to go, live, and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience in Las Vegas together. Holding down the proverbial fort back home, they’re exhibiting a strength and selflessness that is truly heroic. Numerous “L’chaims” were made throughout the group dinner, toasting life, their wives and children, the hostages, and those who were cruelly gunned down, their memories a blessing that will never be forgotten.

Eli Elezra group Israeli dinner

This journey to Las Vegas was not just a poker trip; it was a tribute to Dvir Karp, a beloved friend and hero whose spirit will forever be part of their game. The 11 remaining members of the group, Dean Zohar from Erez, Ido Lulu Shamriz, Yonatan Lulu Shamriz, and Tom Damari from Kfar Azza, Omri Jacov from Mefalsim, Lee Cohen, Yohai Alia, and Tamir Gafner from Re’im, Udi Ben Zvi from Be’eri, Hadar Hason from Gevim, and Yubal Elmkias from Mivtachim, embarked on this journey with heavy hearts but hopeful spirits.

Their story is a poignant reminder of the enduring power of human connection and the healing potential of shared passions. In the midst of tragedy, they’re finding solace in each other and in the game that brought them together. As they hit the felt here in Las Vegas, they’re not just poker players; they are symbols of resilience, friendship, and the indomitable human spirit. Their journey, brought to life with the help of Eli Elezra — a poker legend both on and off the felt — will forever be etched my memory and theirs as a testament to the strength and unity that can emerge from the darkest of times.

Eli Elezra group Israeli dinner



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Written By.

Robbie Strazynski

Robbie founded Cardplayerlifestyle.com in 2009. A veteran member of the poker media corps, in addition to writing and video presenting, Robbie has hosted multiple poker podcasts over the years, including Top Pair, the Red Chip Poker Podcast, The Orbit, and the CardsChat Podcast. In 2019, Robbie translated the autobiography of Poker Hall of Famer Eli […]

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