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Poker Stories Podcast With Houston Curtis

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Aug 26, 2020


Poker Stories is a long-form audio podcast series that features casual interviews with some of the game’s best players and personalities. Each episode highlights a well-known member of the poker world and dives deep into their favorite tales both on and off the felt.

To listen, visit or download it directly to your device from any number of mobile apps, such as Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, or Spotify. Catch up on past episodes featuring notables such as Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Jennifer Harman, Justin Bonomo, Nick Schulman, Barry Greenstein, Michael Mizrachi, Bryn Kenney, Mike Sexton, Brian Rast, Chris Moneymaker, Maria Ho, Joe Cada, Freddy Deeb, and many more.

You won’t find the name Houston Curtis on any poker leaderboards, but for a brief period of time during the height of the boom, he was among the biggest winners in the game. Curtis made his way to Los Angeles by way of Illinois, hoping to make it in the music business. He transitioned to TV production after doing audience warm up for Showtime At The Apollo, later working on shows such as Jerry Springer and The Dating Game, and as an executive at MTV. His Best Of Backyard Wrestling videos in the early 2000s made him a millionaire, and he went on to produce poker strategy videos for Phil Hellmuth, and the Ultimate Blackjack Tour.

By chance, Curtis was seated next to SpiderMan star Tobey Maguire one night while playing poker at the Commerce Casino. The two hit it off and became friends, moving their action from the casino to private high-stakes games filled with the Hollywood elite. The games were chronicled in the movie Molly’s Game, as well as the book it was based on written by Molly Bloom. But according to Curtis and his book, Billion Dollar Hollywood Heist, it was actually he and Maguire, not Bloom, who ran the game while it was in L.A., taking upwards of $1 million per month from players that included celebrities such as Nelly, David Schwimmer, director Todd Phillips, Don Cheadle, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Pete Sampras, Jon Landau, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Leonardo DiCaprio, before it all came crashing down.

Highlights from this interview include shooting music videos in the desert, being “related” to Minnesota Fats, Fortress: Stronghold Of Rock to Mind Over Matter, warming up crowds at Showtime At The Apollo, Jerry Springer and Backyard Wrestling, hiding his sleight-of-hand skills, car washing with Steve Perry, the ultra-competitive and eccentric Tobey Maguire, separating fact from fiction in Molly’s Game, The Viper Room, Todd Phillips and Old Spice, $800,000 bluffs at $200-$400, integrity and honesty from Rick Salomon, telling Layne Flack and his bag of cash to go home, Leonardo DiCaprio and his Armani furniture, the disappointing poker skills of Matt Damon, why David Schwimmer is such a Ross, Don Cheadle at the Playboy Mansion, losing seven figures in one night, playing on the set of SpiderMan 3 and in a sex dungeon, a Cheech and Chong nightmare, hustling a weight loss prop bet, and the sounds of Norm Macdonald.

The Transcript Highlights

On How Much Money Was Really Won In Those Private High-Stakes Games

Houston Curtis: He just tried to not go out in public a lot. You got to remember, this was during the time of SpiderMan, so he was at the height of his celebrity. He couldn’t go anywhere without getting noticed. So being in places like the Four Seasons and the Beverly Hills Hotel, and playing with people who are wealthy and discrete, was the perfect scenario for a guy who is basically just like any other Commerce hood rat jonesing for some cards. He loved the action just like anyone else. But that was the setting, and the setting just happened to be very profitable.

Julio Rodriguez: In the book you said that Tobey won about $1 million a month for three years. That would put him among the biggest poker winners of all time!

HC: Yeah, definitely.

JR: So… you stand by it, huh? That’s a crazy claim, $36 million!

HC: Yeah, that’s about right. I probably grossed about $15 million myself, but I was funding my entire life and business operation, whereas Tobey just put it in a little side account, his poker account. (laughs)

Why The Pros Weren’t Allowed In The Game

JR: There were a couple of poker pros that actually got into the game, but they weren’t named. Would these be people we know?

HC: The first pro that tried to make it in was Layne Flack. He showed up at the Viper Room with a bag of cash, but he didn’t even make it back to say hi to us… and I’m friends with Layne.

The doorman came back and said, ‘Yeah, it’s Layne Flack, and he has a bag of cash.’ And we just said, ‘Tell him to go away.’

JR: So they couldn’t even come in and watch?

HC: Poker was getting big on television, and a lot of these guys we were playing with were fascinated by what they were watching. We didn’t want them wanting a bunch of pros coming in all the time, we were taking care of that with the celebrities. So we kept the pros away, but there were a few guys…

Phil Ivey came to the game one night. He’s so good, but it was just like an honor… it’s like letting a guy play at your golf club when he’s not a member, you know what I mean? And he came and played, and took the game for about $300,000. Hell, he was to my right and all night he made the exact same raise, showing crap like 8-6 offsuit. I just waited and waited and waited, and I finally pick up two jacks. He made the same raise, I popped the hell out of him, he repopped me, we pushed, and he had aces.

Hellmuth played one night, and he crushed it too. A lot of people give Hellmuth crap about his cash game skills, but that guy can crush a game full of amateurs. He chopped it up real good.

So yeah, we didn’t want to have a lot of that going on. They were basically taking money out of our pocket.

On Playing With The Wolf Of Wall Street

JR: How would you rate Leonardo DiCaprio as a player?

HC: I don’t know, I never saw him play anything other than aces and kings. (laughing) How do you rate that?

JR: You had a funny story in the book about touring his house, and how all he wanted to do was brag about the stuff he got for free.

HC: It was so funny. He was really giddy, showing me all of his furniture. He said, ‘Check this out, Giorgio Armani is going to reupholster all of my furniture in custom Armani leather.’ I didn’t even know such as a thing existed, so I said, ‘Really? That’s cool.’

And he said, ‘Yeah, and all I got to do is wear an Armani suit to three different events, and that’s all I wear anyway!’ ♠

You can check out the entirety of the interview in the audio player at the top of the page or download it directly to your device to play on the go from Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app.

Catch up on past episodes featuring notables such as Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Jennifer Harman, Bryn Kenney, Justin Bonomo, Antonio Esfandiari, Nick Schulman, Barry Greenstein, Michael Mizrachi, Mike Sexton, Jamie Gold, Chris Moneymaker, Maria Ho, and many more. If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe to get the latest episodes automatically when they are released.