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Ben and Me

by Vince Burgio |  Published: Mar 22, 2005


During the first part of January 2004, I was in Tunica, Mississippi, for the World Poker Open. One morning as I was having breakfast in the buffet, my good friend Chuck Thompson came in for breakfast. Naturally, I asked him to join me, and he did. Chuck and I have been friends it seems forever. Chuck is the executive host at Bay 101 Casino in San Jose, California. He's a great public relations guy and has a big hand in the annual Shooting Star tournament held there.

I guess I should back up a little and say that I have been chosen the last seven years to be a "star" at the Shooting Star tournament. It has been something that has been an honor for me to do. Generally speaking, the list of people chosen to be stars has not changed that much over the years. But last year, due largely to the tremendous television exposure of poker, there were some changes. It's not necessary to be specific, but I'll just say that a few of the old standbys were replaced by new poker stars and real movie stars.

So, with that background, let's get back to my breakfast with Chuck Thompson. After Chuck and I exchanged pleasantries, he told me that Bay 101 had decided to try to get some of the people who had won big tournaments the previous year and also some bona fide movie stars who play poker to be stars. Also, he said the Shooting Star tournament would be a World Poker Tour event. The event would, of course, be televised for the Travel Channel, plus, the local television people who always come in with their cameras would probably stay a lot longer, because they'd have the chance to shoot some movie stars.

I knew that the decision-makers were Marko Trapani, Matt Savage, and Chuck, and I also knew where my conversation with Chuck was heading. A couple of seconds later, I found out that I was right, because the next words out of Chuck's mouth were to the effect that they wouldn't be asking me back. I sensed that Chuck was having a little trouble telling me that because we are such good friends. He soon found out that he would not have any trouble with my acceptance of the fact that I would not be a star. I tried to express my gratitude for the preceding years that I had been chosen as a star. I told him I could not have been treated any better or with more class than I had at the previous Shooting Star events at Bay 101.

I told him I would be there to play the tournament just as I had every other year, regardless of my status as a non-star. With that part of the conversation out of the way, Chuck went on to say that Ben Affleck had been chosen as my replacement. I told Chuck that was great, and that it should make the tournament very exciting and make for great television for the World Poker Tour.

Over the next few weeks, this became great fodder for many conversations I had with friends. I thought it made me sound pretty important, that I had been replaced by Ben Affleck.

A month or so later, I got a message from Chuck at home asking that I give him a call. Chuck and I talk frequently, so it certainly didn't seem unusual. When I got back to Chuck, he told me that Ben Affleck couldn't make the Shooting Star tournament. He then asked me if I would again be a "star." Of course, I accepted. So, Ben Affleck was out, and I was in. (As a passing note, I think Ben was romantically involved with a Jennifer something or other at the time.)

As usual, the 2004 Shooting Star tournament came off wonderfully. It was bigger and better than ever. A few months later, at the end of August 2004, I got a letter from Marko Trapani at Bay 101 Casino. The gist of the letter was that I would not been asked back for the Shooting Star tournament in 2005. Marko was very kind in the letter and thanked me for all of my years of participation as a star. At the very end of the letter, there was a short sentence stating that even though I would not be a star in 2005, I would be the first alternate. My reaction was the same as it had been in January. It had been an honor for me to be a star over the previous several years.

Are you beginning to guess the rest of the story? It shouldn't be too difficult.

Chuck Thompson called me a few weeks later. Could lightning strike in the same place twice? It most certainly could. Chuck told me that one of the movie stars couldn't make the tournament due to other commitments. Of course, you guessed it, it was Ben Affleck. So, as first alternate, I got the job.

I guess that in an odd sort of way, you could consider me Ben's understudy. OK, OK! He's younger, taller, better-looking, and wealthier, but other than that, you can't tell us apart. Let me conclude by letting you in on a little secret. Up until now, this has been between just Ben and me, but I'm gonna let you in on it. You see, we kind of have this agreement: If Ben can't be somewhere, he tells the powers that be that they have to use Vince Burgio.

For what it's worth … spades