10 Successful Celebrity Poker Players

By in Casino & Gaming on

The attraction of celebrities to poker and gambling isn’t something that just started happening over the last 2 or 3 decades.

In fact, you can look back over the last few centuries and find that famous noblemen and royalty have been attracted to gambling. So much so that some royals and nobles build casinos for use of their peers.

In modern times, we know of the Rat Pack that gambled regularly and iconic comedian Lucille Ball was a big craps player, sometimes dropping $6 million in a single sitting.

The reason it seems like celebrities are the latest to jump into the poker craze is due to the press and media. In the 70s, we had 3 or 4 main channels on television to watch. Jump ahead 40 years and we’ve 500 channels with thousands of more websites dedicated to “celebrity news” and “infotainment”.

While lots of celebrities try their hands at poker, not all have become successful at it. But some have risen to the top to become quite accomplished in the game.

1 – Gabe Kaplan

One of my favorite shows in the 1970s was Welcome Back Kotter. I was upset when Mr. Kotter only appeared in a limited fashion in the last season. I was a big fan of the silly uncle jokes he told at the beginning and end of each episode.

When the show ended, Kaplan seemed to disappear.

Years later I found out that Kaplan had become a very astute poker player.

Gabe Kaplan

Kaplan became a fixture at Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker. The SBOP was the second most prestigious poker tournament at the time, second only to the World Series of Poker.

Between 1980 and 1985, Kaplan made the final table at the SBOP 3 times. One of those times, in 1980, he won the tournament, positioning himself as one of poker’s elite players.

Over the years, Kaplan appeared in the World Series of Poker many times. His first appearance was in 1978. He has had 11 cash finishes in the WSOP totaling $539,159. His best finishes include a 13th place finish in the Main Event in 1991, a 9th place finish in the 2007 $50,000 World Championship HORSE event, and a 2nd place finish in the 2005 $5,000 Limit Texas Hold ‘Em event.

In addition to playing in the WSOP events, he served as a commentator for the televised 1997 and 2002 events.

Kaplan’s gameplay led him to the World Poker Tour in 2004. He finished 3rd in the no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em tournament winning more than $250,000.

Kaplan has also made several appearances on NBC show Poker After Dark. He appeared in 2007, 2008, and 2010. In these appearances, Kaplan won each time. They included:

  • 2007 – Winning a $20,000 no-limit Texas hold ’em winner-take-all sit-and-go
  • 2008 – Winning a tournament during “Cowboy’s week” defeating Chris Ferguson, Andy Bloch, Chau Giang, Hoyt Corkins, and Doyle Brunson.
  • 2010 – In what was called the greatest comeback in the show’s history, Kaplan defeated Howard Lederer, Joe Sebok, Ali Nejad, Mark Gregorich, and Kara Scott. He ended the 2nd day of the tournament with only 2,500 chips and defeated players that had as many as 5 times that amount to win the tournament.

Kaplan’s live poker tournament winnings as of 2019 are just under $2 million.

2 – Jennifer Tilly

Whether you recognize her from the “Chucky” film series or as Joe Swanson’s wife Bonnie on Family Guy, Jennifer Tilly is a popular actress and a skilled Poker player.

It was a film that Tilly appeared in that piqued her interest in poker. The 1989 film Let It Ride, a gambling comedy, led Tilly to start playing poker with friends.

By 2003, Tilly had become proficient enough in the game to start entering tournaments.

One of the first televised tournaments Tilly entered was the World Poker Tour – Hollywood. In this tournament, the players were playing for charity. Tilly came in 2nd and earned $5,000 for her charity, the Dream Foundation.

In 2005, Tilly entered her first World Series of Poker. She won her first bracelet in the $1,000 ladies no-limit Texas hold ’em event.

Later in 2005, she won the 3rd World Poker Tour Ladies Invitational Tournament.

Since these wins, Tilly has appeared in several more WPT and WSOP tournaments (where she’s had 16 money finishes), as well as the GSN Poker Royal series and on the Bravo TV network, show Celebrity Poker Showdown.

When playing Tilly has a number of advantages. First, she’s dating poker play Phil Laak, whom she credits with having helped her hone her game. Second, she takes advantage of her looks by wearing outfits that accentuate her figure such as low cut tops. Third, her acting skills help her in limiting the showing of any “tells” while playing.

Tilly’s career live tournament winnings total nearly $1 million.

3 – Telly Savalas

“Who loves ya, baby?” was the question that Savalas’s character Lt. Theodore Kojak would repeat during the iconic 1970s detective television series. But it was obvious, the man playing him, Telly Savalas loved poker.

Although he lived in California, Savalas was a fixture in Las Vegas and was well known for his love of the city.

Telly Savalas

Savalas was a world-class poker player and appeared in several World Series of Poker events.

His top appearances in the WSOP were:

  • 1985 – 3rd place $1,000 Limit 7 Card Stud Hi/Lo
  • 1987 – 5th place $1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split
  • 1992 – 21st place $10,000 No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em World Championship

In the 1990s, Savalas became synonymous with gambling to the public by starring in commercials for the discount travel club Player’s Club International, which was a program that provided discounts on hotels, food, and flights to gambling destinations. The commercials usually showed Savalas standing in front of the Riviera Hotel and Casino sign.

Savalas didn’t have huge lifetime poker earnings from live tournaments. He only totaled over $40,000. But he played regularly and was recognized as a skilled poker player by many in the industry.

Savalas died in 1994 of bladder and prostate cancer. It was the day after his 70th birthday.

4 – James Woods

Actor James Woods is an avid poker player. He’s been playing competitively in tournaments since 2004. He’s participated in over 200 tournaments in the last 15 years.

Woods travels around the US playing in tournaments. Among the tournaments that Woods has appeared in are:

  • Grand Slam of Poker
  • California State Poker Championship
  • Foxwoods New Year’s Day Festival
  • Borgata Poker Open
  • WPT L.A Poker Classic
  • The Commerce Poker Series

In addition to these tournaments, Woods has been a regular in both the World Series of Poker Circuit tournaments and the main WSOP tournament event since 2006.

Over his career, he’s had 21 money finishes in the WSOP circuit and event tournaments. His best finishes were:

  • 2018 – 17th place $1,500 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo
  • 2015 – 7th place $3,000 No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em Shootout
  • 2018 – 5th place $1,500 Dealers Choice 6 Handed

Woods is also a big player on the World Poker Tour. During his many appearances, he’s had cash finishes 3 times. These money finishes were:

  • 59th place in season 2014-2015 WPT Borgata Poker Classic
  • 24th place in season 2005-2006 WPT L.A. Poker Classic
  • 4th place in season 2003-2004 WPT Hollywood Home Game III

In his WPT appearances, Woods has earned $51,856.

In his WSOP appearances, Woods has earned $129,697.

Wood’s live total poker earnings in tournament play is just over $300,000 for his career.

5 – Shannon Elizabeth

Shannon Elizabeth has appeared in such films as Scary Movie, American Pie, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. But acting isn’t all she’s known for.

She’s also a shrewd poker player. While she started playing poker with her family as a child, she didn’t start playing professionally until she became friends with fellow actress and poker player Jennifer Tilly and her professional poker player boyfriend Phil Laak.

Over the next few years, she would appear in tournaments in Los Angeles, Celebrity Poker Showdown and in Calvin Klein’s 2nd Annual Celebrity Poker Tournament. In the Calvin Klein tournament, she placed 6th overall.

She made her first WSOP appearance in 2005, where she entered the Main Event. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it past the first day of competition.

By 2006, Elizabeth was playing poker several times a month and finding success. She placed 6th in the West Las Vegas Poker Invitational.

Elizabeth has had 5 money finishes at the WSOP. 3 of them came in 2007. Her results were:

  • 2006 – 201st place Event #17: $1,000 No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em
  • 2006 – 35th place Event #42: $1,500 No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em
  • 2006 – 33rd place Event #44: $1,500 No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em
  • 2007 – 150th place Event #25: $2,000 No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em
  • 2010 – 2nd place: Ante Up For Africa Poker Tournament

During the 2006 WSOP, she played representing Full Tilt Poker.

In 2007 it was announced that Shannon had signed with Poker Royalty, a poker player marketing representation agency.

Since 2010, Elizabeth has only cashed in one tournament, Seminole Hard Rock 2013 Poker Open where she placed 165th. Other than that, she’s been out of the poker scene since.

Her total live tournament earnings as of 2019 are just over $235,000.

6 – Teddy Sheringham

If you’re an English Football fan, then you know the name Teddy Sheringham. He played for over 2 and a half decades on various English teams, with the most notable stints being the 11 years he played for Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.

Upon his retirement from the sport, he increasingly drifted towards poker.

Sheringham became very impressive on the local London scene, playing and cashing in a number of tournaments between 2005 and 2012.

His biggest win came on the European Poker Tour. He played in the €5,000 + 300 No Limit Hold ‘Em – EPT Main Event where he won just over $118,000 in 2010.

He’s found a lot of success on the EPT. His top finishes on the tour were:

  • 2009 – 49th place £5,000 + 250 No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em – Main Event – $18,466
  • 2010 – 103rd place €10,000 + 600 No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em – Main Event – $26,625
  • 2010 – 5th place €5,000 + 300 No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em – EPT Main Event – $118,346
  • 2010 – 61st place £5,000 + 250 No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em – EPT Main Event (UKIPT Grand Final) – $20,343

In addition to the European Poker Tour, Sheringham has played in the World Series of Poker in both Las Vegas and Europe.

He competed in the 2012 WSOP in Las Vegas in the $10,000 World Championship – No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em event. He placed 388th but took home $28,530.

He’s not had any activity where he’s cashed since 2012 and in 2014 returned to football as a coach for West Ham United and has worked for different teams since then.

As of 2019, his lifetime total live tournament winnings total $329,475.

7 – Mimi Rogers

You may know here from the movies Someone to Watch Over Me or Lost in Space. You may know her as the 1st wife of Tom Cruise, but lots of people know her as a poker player.

Rogers started playing poker in high school and started playing competitively in 2003.

Mimi Rogers

While she doesn’t have a lot of money finishes (her lifetime tournament total is only $19,462) she’s appeared in a few notable tournaments, these include the WPT’s 240 player Shooting Stars’ main event No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em tournament and the 2006 $1000 Ladies’ No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em WSOP event.

While you may not see her at the tables as much nowadays, you can find her behind the scenes as a member of the World Poker Tour’s Board of Directors.

8 – Tobey Maguire

You may know him best for his role in the movie Spiderman, but among Hollywood elite, Maguire is known as an avid poker player.

Tutored by poker player Daniel Negreanu, Maguire started playing in tournaments in 2004. Since he started, Maguire has appeared in such tournaments as:

  • The National Championship of Poker
  • The WPT Mirage Poker Showdown
  • The Grand Slam of Poker
  • The WPT Legends of Poker

In 2004, Maguire won the Phil Hellmuth Invitational No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em event at the National Championship of Poker.

He’s also played in several WSOP events. He’s had several money finishes including:

  • 2005 – 54th place $2,000 No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em
  • 2007 – 292nd place $10,000 World Championship Texas No-Limit Hold ‘Em
  • 2007 – 66th place $5,000 No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em – Six Handed

Along with the tournaments, Maguire liked playing high stakes private games. He spoke with Darin Feinstein, the owner of the Viper Room about holding these games. He agreed. Over the next 4 years, the games moved and were held in hotel rooms and actors homes.

These high stakes games would see millions of dollars wagered in one hand.

Maguire took over the running of the games from the person in charge of the events Molly Bloom, who was recruited by Feinstein to run the games in the Viper Room. This happened after Maguire got some bad press about making Bloom degrade herself by barking like a seal for a $1000 chip tip.

Among the celebrities involved in the games were:

  • Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Alec Gores
  • Macaulay Culkin
  • Matt Damon
  • Ben Affleck
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Nelly
  • Mary-Kate Olsen
  • Ashley Olsen
  • Phil Ivey
  • Rick Salomon
  • Gabe Kaplan

The games were shut down in 2011 as part of a bankruptcy investigation regarding hedge fund manager Bradley Ruderman, one of the players. Ruderman would be sentenced to 8 years in prison for his part in

Bloom was charged along with 33 others in a $100 million money laundering scheme regarding Ruderman’s involvement in the games. She pled guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to one year of probation, a $200,000 fine, and 200 hours of community service.

For Maguire’s involvement, he was sued (along with other players in the private games) by one of the Ponzi scheme victims. Maguire settled with the victim for $80,000 in late 2011.

The story of the events regarding Maguire and Bloom’s games are told in the 2018 Academy Award-nominated film Molly’s Game which was directed and written by Aaron Sorkin.

Maguire’s live WSOP lifetime tournament winnings total $51,669.

His lifetime tournament winnings total $223,645.

9 – Ben Affleck

Academy Award winner Ben Affleck is ubiquitous in the movie industry. From early movies like Clerks, Mallrats, and his Academy Award-winning Good Will Hunting to his more modern films like Justice League, Affleck is one of the busiest stars in Hollywood.

But he’s not so busy that he can’t find time to get in some poker.

Affleck isn’t a “tournament” guy. As a matter of fact, he’s only one tournament finish to his credit. And in that tournament, he won. In 2004 he won the California State Poker Championship the No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em Championship where he took home $356,400. He also qualified to play in the 2004 WPT but didn’t have a cash finish.

But he’s a regular in casinos in California and Nevada. Except the Hard Rock. The Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas asked him to “refrain” from playing blackjack at their casino because they suspected he was counting cards. While it isn’t illegal, casinos can ban you for it.

Affleck is also known for participating in high roller VIP private games. He was involved in the games that Tobey Maguire and Molly Bloom ran for many years.

While Ben is successful by means of just one win in tournament play, his buddy Matt Damon, who’s also a regular poker player isn’t very successful as a player so he didn’t make our list. Matt has a lifetime live tournament total of just $540.

10 – Sam Simon

The man who, along with Matt Groening, developed the Simpsons, was a tremendous poker player. Sam Simon like played Texas hold ‘em since he was a child playing the game with his grandfather. In the mid-2000s, he started playing weekly games with friends and learned strategies for the game and was encouraged to start playing in tournaments.

Between 2007 and 2011, he competed in the World Series of Poker. He was very successful during these years. He had 6 money finishes:

  • 2007 – 16th place – Event 52 – No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em
  • 2009 – 20th place – Event 45 – $10,000 World Championship Pot-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em
  • 2008 – 41st place – Event 5 – No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em with Rebuys
  • 2008 – 53rd place – Event 44 – No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em with Rebuys
  • 2007 – 329th place – Event 55 – World Championship No-Limit Texas Hold Em
  • 2011 – 500th place – $10,000 WSOP Main Event

His WSOP lifetime live tournament winnings total $144,280.

In tournament play, Simon would go on to have 22 money finishes for a lifetime live tournament total of $344,425 with 3 first place wins.

Simon died of cancer in 2015 at the age of 59.

Conclusion

More celebrities play poker every day. Many didn’t make the list because, while they play, they don’t play in tournaments, so there’s no way to tell how successful they are.

Names like Milton Berle, Wilfred Brimley, Ed Norton, Jr., Tony Curtis, James Garner, Lennox Lewis, Danny Masterson, Laura Prepon, Norm McDonald, Mena Suvari, and Anne Heche have been all known to play poker and have even participated in the WSOP, but they never made any money in tournament play.

That doesn’t mean that they aren’t successful in private games. Just not in tournaments.

One thing we do know is that celebrities are attracted to poker and more will be in the future. In 10 years, this list may include celebrities that win the Main Event of the WSOP or have multiple bracelets.

There may even be more like Gabe Kaplan who change their primary job from entertainer to professional poker player.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...

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