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The Ten -- Poker's Best Celebrity Players

The Ten: Poker's Best Celebrity Players

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Oct 19, 2011

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In this new Card Player series, we rank things in the poker world in an attempt to stir up some debate.

This week we take a look at the best celebrity poker players, who even without their celebrity status would be noteworthy in the poker community. Although, some probably wouldn’t have the bankroll to be a force in the biggest cash games and highest buy-in events around, but that’s besides the point. Celebrities help to legitimize the poker industry to casual outsiders of the game. Here are some of the best at doing this task:

Gabe Kaplan1. Gabe Kaplan: It’s hard to think of any celebrity in poker more skilled than Kaplan. The 66-year-old New York native, arguably best known for his role in the 1970s sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter, transitioned himself into quite the card shark, eventually landing a gig as the host of GSN’s High Stakes Poker in 2006. In addition to the cash game notoriety, Kaplan has cashed for more than $1.1 million in tournaments, $131,000 of which came at the final table of the 2007 World Series of Poker $50K H.O.R.S.E. Kaplan is the Phil Ivey of celebrity poker players.

Tobey Maquire2. Tobey Maguire: The Spider-Man star is so good compared to his celebrity peers, he was sued. Well, not exactly. Maguire, who is currently facing litigation for more than $300,000 in poker winnings at a series of underground Hollywood home games, is allegedly a $10-million winner lifetime in these celeb invite-only affairs (11-time WSOP winner Phil Hellmuth tossed out the figure in a 2007 episode of Poker After Dark). It seems fair to assume that the 36-year-old actor has won more on the felt than any person on this list.

Jennifer Tilly3. Jennifer Tilly: As perhaps the most accomplished tournament player on this list (with the exception of Kaplan), Tilly does boast a WSOP $1,000 ladies championship bracelet. The former actress has accumulated nearly $600,000 in career tournament earnings, despite some notoriety for mistakes made in televised cash games. Along with her bracelet, she won a $5,000 event at the Bellagio last summer for $124,455 and a WPT invitational tournament in 2005 for $25,000.

Rick Salomon4. Rick Salomon: The son of a former Warner Bros. executive vice president is a poker aficionado, but perhaps best known for his supporting role in 1 Night in Paris. Despite tabloid stardom, Salomon has found time to rack up $237,000 in career tournament earnings, which includes a win in a 2006 Bellagio Cup event. To this day, he can still be found in some of the biggest cash games in Las Vegas and around the country. His results in these games are unknown, although for what it’s worth, he did manage to dust off a $50,000 buy-in at a Rio cash game this summer — in about 30 seconds.

Sam Simon5. Sam Simon: Although you might be drawing dead to notice him in a crowded poker room, The Simpsons co-creator has quietly amassed quite the list of poker accomplishments. He has won three no-limit hold’em tournaments over the past three years, totally more than $100,000. Combined with a deep run in this summer’s WSOP main event, Simon has collected $344,000 in lifetime earnings. Interesting fact: Simon was married to Jennifer Tilly from 1984-1991.

Ben Affleck6. Ben Affleck: With a $10,000 buy-in major no-limit hold’em title on his poker resume, the movie star has accomplished what many seasoned pros are still longing for. Despite the $356,400 win in the 2004 California State Poker Championship, Affleck has not parlayed the experience to tournament stardom. He outlasted a meager field of 90 players en route to capturing his one and only big-time poker tournament win, and if it wasn’t for his run-good back in 2004, the poker community might associate him more with his best friend; Rounders star Matt Damon (who reportedly is awful at competitive poker). Affleck is also an alleged participant in the high-stakes Hollywood home games, and mixed reviews of his results have come forth.

Nick Cassavetes7. Nick Cassavetes: A participant on PokerStars’ The Big Game and GSN’s High Stakes Poker, the director of the quintessential chick flick, The Notebook (2004), has proved to be anything but gooey with emotion at the poker table. In addition to holding his own against the top cash game players in the world, Cassavetes has cashed for $142,000 lifetime in tournaments. He was close to a WSOP main event final table in 2005, finishing in 93rd place for $77,000. Like Maguire, the director is also being sued for poker winnings.

Bruce Buffer8. Bruce Buffer: Buffer has racked up $259,047 in prize money on the felt and he has also appeared on Poker After Dark. The Bruce Buffer Poker Room was also named in his honor at the Luxor in Las Vegas, as his accolades in the poker world have been adding up since his breakout tournament performance where he made the final table at the 2005 World Poker Tour Celebrity Invitational.

Shannon Elizabeth9. Shannon Elizabeth: “So uh, ‘grinder’ is the expression?” – The former American Pie actress plays a lot of tournament poker, and has some results to justify the hours at the felt. Elizabeth finished third in the 2007 NBC National Heads-Up Championship (invitation only) for a score of $125,000. Unfortunately for her, 2007 has, up until this point, been the peak of her poker career.

Michael Phelps10. Michael Phelps: Although he has just one final table and a measly $5,213 in career tournament earnings, the millionaire Phelps could become a force on the circuit once his Olympic career winds down. In a Card Player interview a while back, Phelps, who is also a backer, said he loves the game, and is excited about improving on the felt in the near future. Not much is known about his skill level, but he should have the time and the resources to take a shot in retirement.

Honorable Mentions (based on career tournament earnings):

Teddy Sheringham ($249,055), Fatima De Melo ($233,269), Alexia Portal ($160,762), Orel Hershiser ($90,000), James Woods ($65,504), Boris Becker ($61,315), Lou Diamond Phillips ($51,476), Jason Alexander ($29,107), Trishelle Cannatella ($20,000), Ray Romano ($18,176), Norm MacDonald ($15,208), Ricki Lake ($7,732), Cornell Iral Haynes, Jr. (a.k.a. Nelly), Brad Garrett.