10 celebrities who you may not know are serious poker players

Poker’s origins, like many card games, are a bit of a mystery. Scholars do know that France refined the game, changing its name to “poque.” It eventually made its way to French-colonized Louisiana in the early 1800s, where it was called “poker.” It wasn’t until 2003, however, when the card game entered what’s considered a modern “poker boom.”

Many credit the 1998 movie “Rounders” and the introduction of real-money online card rooms like Planet Poker as the catalysts for the centuries-old game’s resurgence, but it was a Tennessean accountant named Chris Moneymaker who opened the floodgates when he won the World Series of Poker’s prestigious Main Event after gaining entry through an online qualifying tournament with an $86 buy-in. He cashed $2.5 million, proving anyone could win big.

In 2003, the Main Event drew 839 entrants, and by 2006, that number grew more than tenfold to 8,773. The poker boom attracted anyone and everyone, including celebrities who had the added benefit of deep pockets for high-stakes games.

While some celebrities racked up debt thanks to their poker habits (Pamela Anderson once lost $250,000 in a single night), others are quite skilled at the game. Comedian Kevin Hart has been sponsored by well-known poker brands and (in)famously won $40,000 after misreading his hand, while “Rounders” star Matt Damon participated in the WSOP in 2009.

Clubs Poker compiled a list of 10 celebrities you may not know are serious poker players, using data from The Hendon Mob. Every name on the list has cashed out more than $100,000 in total live earnings, with two eclipsing $1 million.

Nick Cassavetes speaking into a microphone.
Michael Tullberg // Getty Images

Nick Cassavetes

– Total live earnings: $146,838

After making us cry with 2004’s “The Notebook,” director Nick Cassavetes hoped to make gamblers shed a few tears at the poker table. He collected his first live earnings in 2005 when he cashed out for $77,710 during a World Series of Poker event. In 2014, he cashed at the WSOP again, earning $6,353.

Brad Garrett playing poker.
Ralph Notaro // Getty Images

Brad Garrett

– Total live earnings: $121,696

Brad Garrett is a famous stand-up comic and one of the stars of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” He also made a name for himself in the poker world after winning Season 5 of “Celebrity Poker Showdown” in 2005, which earned him $100,000, most of his total live cash. He also competed in the World Series of Poker in 2017 and 2019.

Arden Cho
David Becker // Getty Images

Arden Cho

– Total live earnings: $374,432

Arden Cho is a multihyphenate in the entertainment world, finding success as an actor, singer, and model, but she has another skill that’s often left out of her bios: she’s an excellent poker player. Cho won money in her first World Series of Poker event in 2013 and has had a successful career ever since. In January 2024, she finished second in the PokerGo Tour Championship, earning her an impressive $200,000.

Shannon Elizabeth at a poker table.
Gustavo Caballero // Getty Images

Shannon Elizabeth

– Total live earnings: $247,484

Shannon Elizabeth was a beloved actor in the ’90s after starring in teen comedies like “American Pie” and “Scary Movie,” but in the aughts, she was playing poker professionally when she wasn’t shooting movies. She made more than half of her total earnings at one event after raking in $125,000 for coming in third place at the 2007 National Heads-Up Poker Championship and was the runner-up at the 2010 Ante Up For Africa charity event.

Mekhi Phifer giving the peace sign at a poker table.
Michael Bezjian/Getty Images for The Peace Fund // Getty Images

Mekhi Phifer

– Total live earnings: $110,000

From 2002 to 2008, Mekhi Phifer was best known for playing Dr. Gregory Pratt on the medical drama series “ER,” but what’s less known is that the actor was also a star at the poker table during the same time. In 2004, during the TV series’ peak, Phifer won the fourth season of “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” taking home $100,000. That same year, he came in first place in the World Poker Tour “Hollywood Home Game” event, winning $10,000.

James Woods speaking onstage.
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for WGAw // Getty Images

James Woods

– Total live earnings: $427,197

James Woods has won numerous acting awards, including three Emmys and a Golden Globe. He’s also devoted to poker and, as of January 2024, has played in 125 tournaments. Woods’ best live cash came in 2006 when he earned $39,859 for coming in 24th place at the Los Angeles Poker Classic.

Ben Affleck.
Phillip Faraone // Getty Images

Ben Affleck

– Total live earnings: $365,400

Ben Affleck has a bit of a notorious poker history. The actor got banned from Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Casino in 2014 after being accused of counting cards, but if you ask him, he’ll tell you they kicked him out for being too good at blackjack. Before the incident, the actor earned a whopping $365,400 when he won the 2004 California State Poker Championship.

Gabe Kaplan in a cowboy hat.
Ethan Miller // Getty Images

Gabe Kaplan

– Total live earnings: $2,015,776

In the 1970s, Gabe Kaplan was famous for creating the sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter,” starring alongside John Travolta. Shortly after the show’s end in 1979, Kaplan’s poker career began. In the decades since, the actor-turned-poker pro had some impressive wins; his best live cash came in 2014 when he earned $258,390 for coming in eighth place at a Super High Roller Bowl event in Las Vegas. In addition to playing, Kaplan had been an iconic poker commentator since the 1990s until he retired in 2023.

Tobey Maguire.
Neilson Barnard // Getty Images

Tobey Maguire

– Total live earnings: $218,858

Tobey Maguire is a famous actor and an infamous poker player. Believe it or not, the “Spider-Man” star actually inspired 2018’s “Molly’s Game” when he started an underground poker ring in Hollywood in 2005. He’s had plenty of success in legitimate poker games, too, participating in World Series of Poker events and more between 2005 and 2007.

Jennifer Tilly at a poker table.
Gabe Ginsberg // Getty Images

Jennifer Tilly

– Total live earnings: $1,056,898

Jennifer Tilly is famous for her voice acting—soaring into scream queen status for playing Tiffany Valentine on the 2021 “Child’s Play” series revival—and she’s also a star in the poker world. In 2005, the actor won the World Series of Poker’s ladies’ no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em event, winning her $158,335, making her the first celebrity to win a prestigious WSOP event. In the decades since, Tilly’s had so much success that she’s earned more than $1 million and was inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame in 2022.

Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Lacy Kerrick.

This story originally appeared on Clubs Poker and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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