Turn the channel to any high-stakes poker event, and chances are high that you’ll see at least one Hollywood celebrity in the thick of the action. With flexible schedules and larger-than-average bankrolls, celebrities have both the time and inclination to hone their poker playing skills in tournaments around the world. Some, of course, never rise above the rank of amateur, but others go on to become familiar faces in the world of poker. What follows is a list of ten of the best celebrity poker players in the world (listed in no particular order).
Ben Affleck – It’s hard to argue Affleck’s status as one of the best celebrity poker players in the world after he won the California State Poker Championship in June of 2004 (where he won $356,400). When he’s not acting in movies such as Daredevil or Armageddon, Affleck collects vintage video-arcade machines and has been known to take poker lessons from pros like Amir Vahedi and Annie Duke. His win at the California Championship also qualified him for a seat at the 2004 World Poker Tour final tournament.
Patrick Bruel – Patrick Bruel is a well-known French singer and actor, having performed in over 40 television and film productions and recorded numerous top-selling albums. He also happens to be a world-class poker player. So while he may go unrecognized by American movie audiences, poker players from around the world will instantly recognize his face. Why? Well, in 1998 Patrick picked up a World Series of Poker bracelet for winning the 1998 $5000 Limit Hold’em event. He has also placed in the money numerous times in WSOP events, and earned over $750,000 in live play events.
Jennifer Tilly – This Oscar-nominated actress has starred in such hits as The Fabulous Baker Boys and Bullets Over Broadway. However, she has publicly stated that she’s becoming more interested in poker than acting. One look at her accomplishments in the poker world and it’s easy to see why. In June of 2005, Tilly outlasted 600 other players and won her first World Series of Poker bracelet (and $158,625) in the Ladies’ No-Limit Hold’em event, becoming the first celebrity to do so. She has also won the World Poker Tour Ladies Invitational Tournament and competed in Poker Royale, Poker Superstars, and Celebrity Poker Showdown.
Josh Malina – With acting credits such as Sports Night and The West Wing, Malina is a respected actor of both the stage and screen. He is also an avid poker player. In fact, when he was struggling to get his career off the ground, he would often play poker in order to have enough money to pay his rent. Now that he’s financially secure, Malina is spreading his love of poker by producing Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown.
Matt Damon – After starring in the poker film Rounders, you might expect the world-famous Damon to know his way around a deck of cards. He’s a regular entrant in the annual World Series of Poker, and his most interesting WSOP story occurred back in 1998. Miramax Studios entered both he and Edward Norton in the WSOP Main Event ($10,000 buy-in) to promote the upcoming Rounders. Damon played well, but he was eliminated on the first day by poker legend Doyle Brunson after Damon’s pocket kings failed to beat Brunson’s pocket aces.
Tobey Maguire – In October of 2004, the star of the Spider-Man franchise demonstrated his poker skills by winning the first-ever Phil Hellmuth Invitational Poker Tournament. He also picked up $95,480 for the win, causing Andy Bellin to remark to Phil Hellmuth, “This kid could be a legitimate pro.” He has finished in the money in several other events and has received lessons from poker pro Daniel Negreanu. And keep in mind that he’s only been playing seriously since 2004.
James Woods – Having starred in movies such as Salvador and Another Day in Paradise, James Woods is one of America’s most respected actors. And not only is he a familiar face in poker rooms across the country, he’s also the face of a new poker site. Their selling point is that players have a chance to match poker wits with top stars like Woods. Not that matching wits with Woods is a good idea, considering he has a 180 I.Q. In 2006, Woods finished in 24th place out of 692 at the L.A. Poker Classic for $40,000.
Mimi Rogers – When she’s not starring in hits like Lost in Space and Austin Powers, Mimi Rogers moonlights as a pretty darn good poker player. Tom Cruise’s ex-wife took first place on an episode of Hollywood Home Game, and also finished in the money during the World Poker Tour’s Shooting Star Championship.
Wil Wheaton – One of the stars of Stand by Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation, Wheaton plays in big-money games in Los Angeles all the time, is a frequent participant in online poker rooms, and was even invited to play in the World Poker Tour Championship. He is also a member of Team PokerStars and played in the 2005 World Series of Poker.
Gabe Kaplan – Best known for his role on Welcome Back Kotter, Gabe Kaplan is such an accomplished poker player that most no longer regard him as a “celebrity” player. His first World Series of Poker appearance came in 1978. In 2004, he finished third at the World Poker Tour’s No Limit Hold’em event, winning more than $250,000 in the process. He has also taken second place in the World Series of Poker Limit Hold’em event. His career tournament poker earnings exceed $680,000. He also serves as an expert poker commentator, having appeared on such shows as the National Heads-Up Poker Championship, Intercontinental Poker Championship, and High Stakes Poker.