Poker is a great egalitarian game. The barriers to entry are pretty much a deck of cards and a few bucks that you can risk losing while you play the game. Still, it does take some level of skill to be good at playing poker, which makes it surprising that for these celebrities who excel at the game, professional poker is their second career.
There are so many celebrities who not only play poker, but excel at it. It just seems like the hustle and bustle of a star’s daily life would not leave a lot of time for analyzing table math, studying position, or poring over betting tables. With that said, more than a few celebs have added poker to their lifestyle.
While there’s a veritable cornucopia of celebrities out there playing poker, we narrowed down the list to 10 celebrities we found particularly interesting for their poker-playing acumen.
1 – Gerard Pique
If you’re not into either European football or international celebrities, you may have never heard of Gerard Pique. Pique plays defender for one of the largest, most popular clubs in the world (Barcelona). He also plays for his national team (Spain), and when he’s not busy doing that, he’s married to Shakira. Despite all this, he has managed to rack up an impressive poker career.
Pique learned to play poker during his time at Manchester United where he played prior to moving to Spain.
That’s not a lot for a world-class footballer, but it’s not too shabby when poker’s not his full-time job.
Also, it’s interesting to note that former teammate and Brazilian international Neymar and all-everything Cristiano Ronaldo are also big poker fans, though neither has reached Pique’s level of earnings.
2 and 3 – Ed Norton and Matt Damon
Ever since they starred in Rounders together, when it comes to poker, the names Edward Norton and Matt Damon are inextricably linked… at least in my head, anyway. Regardless, it’s interesting to note that both Norton and Damon found games like their characters would play in while researching their roles. This love of poker has stayed with them ever since.
Damon has continued to play and was famously outed as one of Molly Bloom’s players in the famous “Molly’s Game” poker tables. Fortunately, he seems to have inspired none of the scumbags in the movie and was a gracious player to be around.
Norton’s poker life hasn’t been quite as extensive as Damon’s, but he has gone on to some interesting run-ins with the game. For instance, a game with Norton was recently auctioned off (for charity) by Leonard DiCaprio with the winning bid going for $130,000.
4 – Ben Affleck
It makes sense that if Matt Damon is doing something, Ben Affleck is sure to follow, right? In all seriousness, even without the close connection the two share, Affleck has a love for poker going back to his younger days. He was allegedly thrown out of a casino for reading cards at the table when playing blackjack.
After that, he received coaching in professional play and has earned over half a million dollars playing in poker tournaments, including one big score of almost $360,000 in 2004. Interestingly enough, Affleck was also a player in Molly Bloom’s cash games and, as one might expect, was a very nice guy at the table.
What’s more surprising is Affleck’s reputation for cautious play and small buy-ins. Even though he makes a half-million dollars for one-eighth of a movie (or less), he doesn’t like to lose his money at the table. There’s probably a lesson to learn there.
5 – Jennifer Tilly
Some people may not know that Jennifer Tilly is anything other than a poker star given that a lot of her celebrity sightings have been related to poker in the last few years. However, Tilly was once an actress in a number of A-list films like Liar Liar and The Haunted Mansion and others that are slightly less safe for work such as Embrace of the Vampire and Bride of Chucky.
Today, her IMDb page shows that she’s still active in a number of projects and until recently, was a voice actress on Family Guy. What’s really important is that she has a WSOP bracelet, a WPT win, and nearly $1 million in total wins. She’s a winner at the poker table and on the big and small screens.
6 – Shannon Elizabeth
Like her acting career, Shannon Elizabeth’s poker career has somewhat slowed down. In fact, by her own admission, she was never a hardcore competitive player on the poker circuit. Still, wherever she went, Elizabeth was sure to make an entrance and be noticed.
Despite not being a major force in competitive play, she has earned over a quarter million dollars like some of the other celebrities on the list, including a third-place finish in a major national competition. All in all, this is no small feat of poker prowess.
7 – Tobey Maguire
The former Spider-Man actor, Maguire has been playing poker for over 15 years. Since then, he has gained a reputation as a tough opponent at both live and online events. Still, unlike some of the other players on the list, his poker reputation carries a bit of a dark side. It’s rumored he won’t play without a special deck shuffler (that he paid for and owns).
Also, while playing in extremely high stakes games with Affleck and Damon, Maguire is rumored to have been quite a jerk to people like Molly Bloom, whose games he played in. Those rumors don’t bear repeating here, but suffice to say, if he hadn’t brought in some big players those games, it’s hard to see him continuing to be allowed to play.
8 – Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps is a true competitor who has partially replaced victory in the pool with victory at the poker table. He learned poker from Jeff Gross, a former roommate, who has since gone on to be a professional poker player. Phelps himself has yet to become an active, professional poker player but, by all accounts, he has the chops to do so and has several decent finishes even as a less active professional.
9 – Brad Garrett
Stand-up comedian Brad Garrett has long been a fan of playing poker while starring as Ray Romano’s brother in Everybody Loves Raymond and the voice in a lot of live action and cartoon shows. Despite an impressive list of movies on his IMDb profile, Garret still finds time to be a semi-active professional poker player.
Over time, he has risen to prominence in the poker world enough to earn a slot in Poker Night in America where he held his own against others at the table. He also got into a pretty famous argument with Phil Helmuth, but there are lots of celebrities and non-celebrities who would be more than happy to do that.
10 – Jason Alexander
While his most famous role George Costanza rarely won much of anything, Jason Alexander has made poker into a second profession. To date, he won Celebrity Poker Showdown, pulling down a lot of money for his favorite charity. He has also made numerous appearances in other poker shows where he has built a reputation as a fierce poker competitor.
Fortunately, he rarely plays like Costanza, but according to one of his interviews, did play a George Costanza-like match and actually rode it to victory. There was probably some luck involved, but I’m always happy to see anything related to George win.
Poker is a great game that draws everyone from all walks of life. It’s also a great equalizer in that you have to be good at the game to win. As the celebrities in the list above can attest, being rich or famous doesn’t ensure your victory (though clearly being rich probably isn’t much of a hindrance).
Still, no one really needs another reason to throw down some chips at a table. If you could rub elbows with non-poker celebrities while earning some money at the table, that’s not a bad motivation for playing poker, now is it?
Even better, the list above includes just 10 celebrities out there who know their way around the table. There are hundreds more just waiting to get their game on. Can you imagine how cool it would be to say you took a pot off a movie star? So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and play!