Celebrities Turned Poker Player
There have been many celebrities turned professional poker players. Perhaps the allure of beating the immense odds yet again and rising to the top of a crowded field of talent is just too much for some people to pass up. Perhaps they want to prove they’re more than just a good looking person who can deliver a few lines. Perhaps they just have a lot of money to play around with a poker starts out as a fun way to kill time between movies. Whatever the reason celebrities turn to poker, there are quite a few of them with certainly more to come in the future.
Perhaps the most successful actress turned poker player is Jennifer Tilly, who reached the high of her fame in the mid to late 1990s with roles in Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Bound (1996), Liar Liar (1997), and the Bride of Chucky (1998). She has also done popular voice over work in Monsters, Inc. (2001) and Family Guy, where she plays the seemingly forever-pregnant Bonnie Swanson. This Academy Award-nominated actress has been or record saying winning her 2005 Women’s Championship bracelet was “better than an Oscar.” Along with her coveted bracelet, the greatest non-monetary prize a poker player can win, Tilly also won $158,625 in the Ladies’ No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em event, beating 600 other players. In that same year, she also won the Ladies Night Invitational of the World Poker Tour, making her the first woman to win both titles in a single year.
While Tilly may have accomplished the most on the felt tables, there are other, more prominent celebrities who also moonlight as poker players. Tobey Maguire, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck are some of the most well-known movie actors who have turned into poker players.
According to poker pro Phil Hellmuth, the record holder for the most World Series of Poker bracelets, Maguire has won over $10 million in games against his Hollywood compatriots. Maguire learned a lot playing on his own, but has also been tutored by perhaps the greatest poker player alive, Daniel Negreanu.
While Maguire’s start in poker may have been self-interest, Matt Damon originally learned to play the game for his leading role of the 1998 movie, Rounders. Damon played a law student who not only lost his tuition while playing poker but his debts to a Russian mobster forced him to stay in the game. To convincingly play his role, Damon trained under Hellmuth. In the decade and a half since the movie, Damon has joined numerous poker tournaments.
Affleck’s interest in the game was sparked by his long time friend, Damon. He has seen great success in the game too, winning the 2004 California State Poker Championship with a nice purse of $356,000.
James Woods is yet another celebrity turned poker player. The long time actor has starred in over 70 motion pictures over his career, with notable performances in Once Upon a Time in America (1984), The Gambler (1974), and Casino (1995). In a 2006 interview with ESPN, Woods talked about his love for poker and his Hollywood archrival in poker: “I have to say Ben Affleck, and I play Ben a lot. Ben’s a really good player… He knows all the math — but I can still tell when Ben is bluffing and when he’s not. He’s an excellent, excellent player, but I can read him.”
If there’s one thing the amount of celebrities who play poker can tell us is that the reasons for playing extends far beyond money. They play because they love the game, the strategy, the competition, not because they’re chasing the huge payouts.