This week Commerce Casino drew 692 players, each contributing $10,000 to compete for the first-place Poker Classic prize

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I'VE BEEN invited to join the Bride of Chucky, Bum Garner and Deacon Jones tonight for the three-day World Poker Tour Invitational at Commerce Casino and the chance to win $10,000 for charity, and $100,000 for the wife's shopping problem.

The tournament organizers, though, might as well have sent a car to pick me up with Kevin Brown driving.

Jones, of Fearsome Foursome fame, still owes Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA $100 because he couldn't hang with Page 2 in last year's event.

In fact the Welcher rolled over 25 minutes into the tournament, the first player to get the boot in a field of 232, while Page 2 placed 22nd, hanging around for eight hours and obviously well past Jones' bedtime.

NEWS FLASH: Jones just pulled out of the event. Wonder why.

THE WORLD Poker Tour continues to gain in popularity, beginning its fourth year on the Travel Channel on March 8, and frankly, the poker craze is hard to explain. This week Commerce Casino drew 692 players, each contributing $10,000 to compete for the first-place Poker Classic prize of $2,391,550. Actor James Woods placed 24th, earning $39,000. Woods will join the World Poker Tour Invitational field along with Laker owner Jerry Buss and Jennifer Tilly, both the Bride of Chucky and the Unabomber's girlfriend, and you think you have a complicated life. The field will also include Maverick, the old grouch, who is also known as James Garner. A few years back, Bob Newhart introduced me to Garner, who began swearing at me as soon as he heard my name, and while that makes him no different from most, I thought he was kidding and told him of "all the old actors out there, you're the wife's favorite." The next day I found the grouch's real name on the Internet, wrote a column about "Baumgarner," only to hear he was really mad now -- because it's "Bumgarner." From then on, he became Bum Garner here, and now when we run into each other, he just growls. I'd bet Bum $100 for Mattel's benefit, but if I won, I wouldn't like my chances of collecting

TODAY'S LAST word comes in e-mail from Mike Kilgore: "I read the words 'horse racing' someplace near the start of your column, my eyes glazed over, I nodded off on my keyboard, the drool running out the corner of my mouth, shorting the keyboard out."

Lucky me -- you were able to get it fixed.


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