Rapid Response Ukraine: Poker Players Step up in a Big Way for New Humanitarian Organization

  • Poker’s Fergal Nealon has raised €130,000 ($136,381) for Rapid Response Ukraine so far
  • Speaking with VSO News, Nealon said the charity stemmed from helping a Ukrainian colleague
  • The poker community has donated €50,000 ($52,462) along with other vital contributions
  • Nealon said the organization utilizes Ukrainian volunteers to deliver much-needed supplies
  • Through this work, Nealon demonstrates the cowboy persona seen in his earlier playing days 
Fergal Nealon
Irish poker player Fergal Nealon (pictured above) has raised €130,000 ($136,381) for his new Ukraine humanitarian organization with a lot of help from the poker community.

Some positive news 

During a week when poker stories are aplenty, my editors are likely wondering why I’m not covering Hellmuth’s mind-blowing ninth victory in ten High Stakes Duels, the various high-stakes cheating scandals, or the multimillion-dollar goings-on at Triton Madrid. The truth is those stories are being amply covered by others and, on a personal note, I am trying to convince my fellow VegasSlotsOnline News writer Dara O’Kearney that I’m not (always) an ambulance-chasing, mud-slinging member of poker’s gutter-press. 

he has galvanized the poker community to help him

So, this week, I want to shine a spotlight on an old friend, the incredible work that he has been doing, and the way that he has galvanized the poker community to help him with his mission. In just a few short months, Fergal Nealon has launched his own humanitarian organization called Rapid Response Ukraineworking directly with a team of volunteers to deliver much-needed medical supplies to the head of the health department in Kharkiv.

Nealon has fundraised for the past couple of months, including at the recent Irish Poker Open and at the Party Poker event in Dusk Till Dawn. So far, his tireless work has reaped €130,000 ($136,381) with over €50,000 ($52,462) of that coming from the poker community. 

Nealon’s Rapid Response

Seven years ago, Nealon quit full-time poker to pursue a new career in the world of start-ups. Storytracks was his first vision, an app that gathers up the local stories across Ireland, preserving the folklore for the next generation and sharing it with curious visitors. Nealon spoke to VSO News, explaining how his work on that project directly led him to create Rapid Response Ukraine: 

the head of the health department in Kharkiv was requesting body bags.”

“My Storytracks colleague Nazar is from Kharkiv. When Russia invaded on February 24, he had to flee the city with his pregnant wife. Once he got to the relative safety of West Ukraine, I asked him how we could help and it snowballed from there. I started looking at what goods we could bring over which would be of value. I was really struck when he said that the head of the health department in Kharkiv was requesting body bags.”

It was a sobering request but Nealon actually had an existing connection with someone in Ireland who could help:

“I knew where to get these supplies so off we went. With the help of our brave partners in Poland and Ukraine, our first trip was a success, and perhaps more importantly, we had created a supply line that could be used to get goods to places that the larger organizations could not reach.”

Nealon’s extraordinary first journey received mainstream press coverage in The Sunday Times

Poker players have an innate need to give back 

Poker and charity have long gone hand in hand with many players and sites very engaged with charitable giving. The amount of money and important resources the community has provided since Rapid Response Ukraine began accepting donations is evidence of this fact.

Irish Poker Open organizer JP McCann not only made a sizeable donation but also opened his contact book up to Nealon. This allowed Rapid Response Ukraine to quickly expand its network. Also moved to help was Tigerfruit, the design company that provides The Chip Race graphics. The firm reached out to Nealon to make a donation and put the design business at his disposal. 

When asked about the reasons for such generosity, Nealon pointed to the independent wealth within the game along with another theory:

“Playing cards doesn’t exactly contribute much in terms of society so maybe there is an innate need in people from the poker world to give back and contribute how they can, especially if they make some quick cash which can make a real difference in the right hands.”

Nealon’s pledge to deliver supplies, particularly medicines, as efficiently and effectively as possible has struck a chord with the poker community at a time when five million Ukrainians have been forced to leave their country, a quarter of the population has been displaced, and those who remain are living in a war zone.

Rapid Response Ukraine delivers that last mile 

The term ‘Poker Hero’ normally describes a player from the upper echelons of the game, a role model who has made a reputation for himself as someone who time and time again makes correct decisions under pressure. However, sometimes, it is used to describe a person who makes an above-the-rim outside-the-box play, correctly diverging from game theory.

Rapid Response Ukraine bears the hallmarks of its creator

Nealon was one such player in his pomp and it appears that Rapid Response Ukraine bears the hallmarks of its creator. Speaking to a packed room at the Irish Poker Open last month, Nealon likened the work of his organization to that of the French resistance. VSO News asked him to elaborate on that statement:

“We are able to deliver that last mile, which is the most difficult. Using back roads and volunteers with local knowledge, we can get the goods where they are most needed without involving ourselves in geo-political debates or red tape.”

Nealon explains how the larger organizations are handcuffed both by their size and their understandable need to protect their staff:

“The Ukrainian volunteers who work with us avoid front-line fighting by providing these deliveries so they are willing to take the necessary risks with loads. We are the warm-blooded mammals that are currently outrunning the dinosaur legacy organizations!”

The Rapid Response Ukraine Twitter page recently shared an update, confirming 12 successful deliveries so far:

Only room for one cowboy

Nealon is a guest on the latest episode of The Chip Race, offering Dara and I the chance to catch up with our old pal and a former contributor to the show. In one section, Nealon treated us to a fantastic retelling of an interaction he had at the table during the early levels of the 2012 Irish Poker Open. 

At the time, Nealon was a regular on the UK and Ireland circuit and well known by his online screenname ‘midnitekowby.’ His opponent on that fateful day was Wade Townsend, a swash-buckling, cowboy-hat wearing, no-nonsense Texan, who, on this occasion, almost matched Nealon’s loose-aggressive style. The pair got into one of those ‘click-wars,’ very popular in the era. 

there’s only enough room for one cowboy on this here table!”

When Nealon opened in late position, Townsend came with the 3-bet. Nealon eyed up his opponent before cutting out a 4-bet. Townsend took a moment before raising Nealon once more, this time for the absolute minimum amount. Unperturbed, Nealon announced all-in, a 6-bet, and a colossal show of strength that could surely only mean pocket Aces. Townsend shook his head and released his hand. Nealon walloped down his hand… 7-2 offsuit, the worst hand in poker, before uttering the immortal line: “there’s only enough room for one cowboy on this here table!”  

O’Kearney gave his own recollection of the aftermath of the hand, explaining how his skepticism as to the wisdom of the play had been met by Nealon’s blunt and impenetrable counter-point. 

“I had catchphrase equity!” 

Perhaps the fact that we were discussing the hand over a decade later proves him right. I guess some people see the goal and just figure out a way to get there. Lots of people wear cowboy hats but there are only a few genuine cowboys. 

If you would like to donate to the cause, go to www.rapidresponseukraine.com

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