Top 10 Celebrity Poker Players

4 years ago
Top Celebrity Poker Players
12 May

Everyone plays poker. Everyone!

We, the plebeian masses, cram around our kitchen tables exchanging dice and chips or toddle down to the local casino to grind it out with a 50/50 mix of cabbies and hoodied students. Even my friend’s parakeet has a PokerStars account.

Some of us ‘normals’ go on to our 15 minutes; playing on ESPN, surrounded by logos for beef-jerky and American beer.

But on occasion, the demigods descend into the casino pit and throw in a little of their fame-money in with our filthy lucre. Movie stars, directors, athletes, comedians, and writers all do it, even educated fleas do it. They all play poker.

At least these 10 celebrities do:

Ben Affleck

This dimple-chinned actor, Oscar-award winning writer/director, and chief lightning rod for anger over Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor has a reputation for being a solid and classy card-player too.

Although not so much of an enthusiast he was willing to waive his $1m appearance fee to attend a tournament. If only homeland security hadn’t made it too difficult to helicopter him out to the cruise ship, he might even have got his hands on that money.

Having said that, he seems a pretty good guy to play with. In the Molly Bloom exposé for Vanity Fair on the big Hollywood game she hosted for several years, Affleck is one of the few players who doesn’t come across as a cock-womble.

He, and a select few actors and producers, would squeeze into one of those cramped luxury Hollywood villas and duke it out in cash games with minimum buy-ins in the$50,000-$100,000 region.

You know who also attended and really does come across as a bit of a cock-womble in Bloom’s piece? Well…

Tobey Maguire

Despite Toby being something of a shark at the table, or perhaps because of it, he seems like a spectacularly unpleasant player even when compared to the wider poker field.

Bloom pretty much moulded the games she ran around him, a game he was one of the biggest winners in, and he still pinched pennies over using his favorite shuffling machine, tipped poorly, and at one point he tried to get the Bloom to climb on the table and bark like a seal for a $1,000-chip. Allegedly.

Despite all this, I still stand by him as Spider-Man (your thoughts on this in the comments).

There is a coda to the Bloom story. A number of players, including Maguire were sued for the winnings they took off ponzi-schemer Brad Ruderman.

In Maguire’s case this is only $300k, but after the fuss he made over $200 a game for his shuffling machine, he is probably still hurting, one imagines and hopes.

Jennifer Tilly

The Bloom game alone could throw up a few other names of greater note – you may, for example, have heard of Leonardo DiCaprio. And a few of lesser note – Rick Solomon of One Night in Paris ‘fame’ anyone?

But the world of film has given us plenty of other players, some of whom have become more noted for their poker wins than their onscreen careers.

For example, at the time of writing, I believe Jennifer Tilly is the only person to own a WSOP bracelet, an Oscar nomination, and a maintain a recurring character on Family Guy. A rare case of balance between hobby and career success.

Nowadays she is probably known better for her appearances at the card table, than for her role in, say, Liar, Liar, or the rather dismal attempt to remake The Hustler as the poker movie: Deal.

Speaking of which…

Elizabeth Shannon

The female lead of Deal was American Pie alumni, Elizabeth Shannon, another person who seems better known around the baize than for her movie roles. After taking third in the 2007 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship, it looked like she might be heading for a break-out into the poker scene, but so far that is pretty much all she wrote for big wins.

There are a slew of other actors, Matt Damon, Edward Norton, James Woods, even UK national treasure Stephen Fry is supposed to have been a regular in a private game at the Groucho Club.

Nick Cassavetes

No Oscars yet for Nick Cassavetes, but he does have a Palm D’Or nomination and lets face it, his real kudos come from all the tears we collectively shed while watching The Notebook.

Cassavettes has had a couple of reasonable cashes in WPT and WSOP events, and a half-dozen episodes of High Stakes Poker in which an awestruck Esfandiari asks him over and over how anyone could possibly have written Blow.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal signed with PokerStars a couple of years ago, presumably so he could have them sponsor a dealer for his home game.

The international tennis whizz went up against Negreanu and others in a big publicity match last year but his actual tournament performance is rather lacking. According to the Hendon Mob his lifetime earnings are $0.00 to date.

Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps plays poker.’

‘I know. What a fish!’

‘Yeah, and he’s quite good at cards too.’

You’re welcome, Internet. I’m here all week, try the veal, it's excellent.

In all seriousness though, Phelps has 22 Olympic medals, all of them for swimming, and one DUI – which is also liquid based. However, only the DUI can be linked to his interest in poker: he was coming from a game at a Maryland Casino when he got caught.

His tournament results aren’t huge, a few thousand here and there, but he has been interviewed by Card Player, spotted at the World Series, and hangs out with Antonio Esfandiari, so he is at least around poker even if he isn’t crushing it yet

Shane Warne

Cricket is the dullest sport invented. Fact. Which might be why notorious lothario, Shane Warne, resorts to high-stakes gambling in his time off.

Although how ‘off’ that time is may be debatable as he is sponsored by 888 Poker . I would love to see the morality clause in that contract. Still he’s famous, so on the list he goes.

Vicky Coren Mitchell

These last two people may suffer some parochial bias on my part. The UK’s stars may be smaller but they punch fairly hard.

Vicky Coren: writer, host of Only Connect, and regular on the UK panel show circuit is one. She somewhat blurs the line between between being a poker playing celebrity and a celebrity poker-player as she is kind of a pro. But semantics are uninteresting, she makes the list.

Martin Amis

He may have a somewhat bare HendonMob page, and his only public game of poker was a celebrity episode of Channel 4’s Late Night Poker in which he, Fry, Coren, and Ricky Gervais among others, played on what was, at the time, a novel thing for the UK viewer: a table with hole cam. However, Amis has always talked eloquently of his teenage obsession with the game, and his ongoing love of ‘the cool ostentation of poker’ with its ‘clandestine, male-supremacist, and incurably Yankophone’ language, and he did play the 2006 WSOP championship event for an Australian Magazine.

There have been a number of other writers through the years who played poker, some of them great. Hemingway played as you might imagine he would, saying ‘Never call; either raise or put it down.’ While Ian Fleming, though a player, admitted to being too much of a drinker and smoker to win much at the game.

Living writers too have had their affairs with the game. Most famously Anthony Holden and Al Alvarez both slipping away from their more literary pursuits for a year in order to write their respective books about poker: Big Deal and The Biggest Game in Town, and David Mamet set his first screenplay around a card table so that he could shoot it with his poker-buddies. But in terms of celebrity, it is hard to imagine a poker-playing author alive who gets more press than Mart does.

These lists are always more interesting as sources of random trivia than as definitive rankings; have I missed some notable public figure who pokers? Let me know in the comments.

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Jon is a freelance writer and novelist who learned to play poker after watching Rounders in year 9. He has been giving away his beer money at cards ever since. Currently he is based in Bristol where he makes sporadic donations to the occasional live tournament or drunken late night Zoom session. He ...Read more


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