Jennifer Tilly

Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Tilly is perhaps best known, nowadays, as the voice of Bonnie Swanson in the Fox animated sitcom ‘Family Guy’. Born in California, but raised in British Columbia, Canada, Tilly was formerly married to the late Sam Simon – co-creator of ‘The Simpsons’ and also a highly accomplished poker player – between 1984 and 1991. However, Tilly became serious about poker in the mid-Noughties –unsurprisingly, not long after meeting long-term partner Phil ‘The Unabomber’ Laak at the World Poker Tour (WPT) Invitational, at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles in 2004 – and has since accumulated just over $1 million in live earnings.

Tilly won her first WSOP bracelet in the $1,000 Ladies Only Event at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in June, 2005, and followed up that victory with another, in the WPT Ladies Night event at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles. Tilly admitted that, early in her fledgling poker career, she was more interested in playing the game but, in late 2008, announced that she would, in future, treat poker ‘more like a hobby’.

Nevertheless, she returned with a bang when winning Bellagio Cup VI at Bellagio, Las Vegas in July, 2010 – and with it $124,455, her second-best live cash ever – and has been a regular participant in high-stakes events, at home and abroad, ever since. Indeed, her best live cash since her return from ‘retirement’ was the $98,000 she collected for a seventh-placed finish in PartyPoker Premier League VI at Aspers Casino, London in March, 2013.

Shannon Elizabeth

Texas-born actress Shannon Elizabeth is probably still best known for her role as foreign exchange student Nadia in the Universal Pictures ‘America Pie’ franchise from the late Nineties onwards. However, for a few years in the mid- to late Noughties, she flirted with what she described as a ‘second career’ as a poker player.

Elizabeth played draw and stud poker from an early age, but came to Texas hold’em much later, thanks in no small part to her friendship with the likes of Jennifer Tilly, Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari. In 2005, under the auspices of Daniel Negreanu, she entered the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event but, although she performed with credit, finished out of the money.

On New Year’s Eve 2006, Elizabeth beat 83 celebrities and professional poker players to the $55,000 first prize in the Pure Nightclub Presents the Opening of the Caesars Palace Poker Room event and, as a representative of Full Tilt Poker, cashed three times, albeit for small amounts, in the WSOP during the year. The following year, she achieved far and away her best live cash so far, when collecting $125,000 for a third-place finish in the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship, also at Caesars Palace. Indeed, Elizabeth achieved her last major cash, nearly $80,000, when finishing runner-up to Phil ‘Tiltboy’ Gordon in the WSOP Ante Up For Africa event at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in 2010 and has cashed just once since. Even so, with a net worth estimated at $9 million, Elizabeth hardly needs to play poker for a living.

Kevin Hart

Philadelphia-born Kevin Hart is a highly successful stand-up comedian, actor and producer, arguably best known for playing high school security guard Ben Barber in the Universal Pictures comedy film ‘Ride Along’ in 2014 and its sequel, ‘Ride Along 2’, in 2016. However, notwithstanding his loss, on a points decision, to underdog Antonio ‘The Magician’ Esfandiari – a three-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner – in a three-round boxing match in April, 2019, Hart does have form against professional poker players.

Indeed, at the last count, he had just shy of $48,000 in live earnings, just over $20,000 of which he collected for winning the Larry Flynt’s Challenge Cup at the Hustler Casino in Gardena, California in 2010. In recent years, Hart has been a regular participant in PokerStars Championship events worldwide, including in the Bahamas, Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

In the PokerStars Championship Cash Challenge at Monte Carlo Casino, which aired on television in January, 2018, Hart misread his hand, possibly mistaking the three of spades for the jack of the same suit, which would have given him a straight. Consequently, Hart re-raised his opponent, qualifier Mila Monroe, on the turn and called her all-in bet on the river, despite holding only king-high. Miraculously, for Hart, Monroe was bluffing, with only six-high to show, so he ‘accidentally’ won the pot of €40,000. Although strictly against the rules, Hart returned €15,000 to Monroe, without complaint from the other players, who included Team PokerStars professional Daniel Negreanu, so that she could continue playing.

Neymar

Superstar striker Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, usually known simply as Neymar, joined French champions Paris Saint-German from Barcelona for a world record transfer fee of €222 million in 2017. The move did not work out as envisaged, for either party, but the Brazilian – who has scored more goals for his country than anyone bar Pele or Ronaldo – remains one of the most exciting footballing talents on the planet.

Still only 27, Neymar has just over $21,000 in live earnings as a poker player, all of which he collected when finishing sixth of 288 entrants in the R$7,000 No Limit Hold’em – High Rollers event in the Brazilian Series of Poker (BSOP) in Sao Paulo in 2018. However, according to his friend, and coach, Andre Akkari – a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner in 2011 – Neymar is intent on becoming a professional poker player at the end of his football career and plays studiously, even in the private games he hosts at home.

Neymar made his PokerStars debut in the at the European Poker Tour (EPT) $25,000 High Roller event at Casino Barcelona, playing alongside then teammate Gerard Pique, in 2012. He officially joined Team PokerStars in 2015, appearing alongside Christiano Ronaldo in a series of television advertisements, but left in 2017 when PokerStars retired their entire roster of brand ambassadors. He also appeared in the WSOP in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, famously winning a seat at the WSOP Main Event in 2016.

Ben Affleck

Oscar-winning American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter Ben Affleck explored the dark side of online gambling when co-starring, alongside Justin Timberlake, in the 2013 Hollywood movie ‘Runner Runner’. However, away from the silver screen, Affleck is a serious poker player. He has, however, repeatedly denied press accusations of a gambling addiction which was, allegedly, responsible for his split from his wife of 10 years, Jennifer Garner, in 2015.

In December, 2003, Affleck won $4,000 for his chosen charity, A-T Children’s Project, when finishing third, of six celebrities, in the World Poker Tour (WPT) Hollywood Home Game IV at the Hollywood Sound Stage, but failed to win a $25,000 buy-in to the WPT Championship, which was the first prize. Nevertheless, the following June, Affleck beat a field of 90 players, including fellow actor Tobey Maguire, to the $356,400 first prize in the California State Poker Championship. That victory did earn him a seat at the WPT Championship the following April, but he failed to win any of the $10,961,000 prize money on offer at Bellagio, Las Vegas.

More recently, Affleck, along with other celebrities, including Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, is rumoured to have been involved in the illicit, high stakes poker games run by former cocktail waitress Molly Bloom – dubbed the ‘Poker Princess’ – at ‘The Viper Room’ nightclub on Sunset Trip in the late Noughties. The 2017 movie ‘Molly’s Game’, starring Jessica Chastain as Bloom, is loosely based on the goings-on at the secretive, $50,000 buy-in games.

Matt Damon

In his first starring role since ‘Good Will Hunting’ in 1997, Matt Damon headed a gifted cast as gifted poker player Mike McDermott in the cult classic ‘Rounders’ – described by Elvis Mitchell, film critic at ‘The New York Times’, as ‘mischievously entertaining’ – in 1998. In so doing, he played a part in the poker ‘boom’ of the early- to mid-Noughties, insofar as several poker superstars, including Chris Moneymaker, who the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in 2013 as an online qualifier, cite ‘Rounders’ as the inspiration for their early interest in the game.

Damon reportedly spent $25,000 on ‘researching’ his role in ‘Rounders’ and has since enjoyed playing in various poker tournaments, although with little financial success. Indeed, his live earnings amount to just $540, which he collected for finishing forty-fifth in the World Poker Tour (WPT) $250 No Limit Hold’em – Deepstack Bounty event at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in 2011. Described by ‘Poker Princess’ Molly Bloom as ‘modest’, ‘down-to-earth’ and ‘gracious’, Damon reportedly turned up just once for the exclusive, high-stakes poker games for which she was indicted in 2014.

Damon was criticised for his ‘acting’ in the 2009 WSOP Ante Up For Africa event in which, having made a speculative call with 10-6 offsuit from the small blind, he flopped a full house. After an initial tell-tale ‘jolt’, Damon tried to feign disinterest in the board and the action and, when opponent Scott Wilson, on a pair, bet $6,400 on the turn, seemingly agonised over the call. Rather than ‘pulling the trigger’, Damon checked again on the river but, unimpressed, Wilson simply checked, leaving the Hollywood star shaking his head at his missed opportunity.

1 2