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Even Celebrities Take Shots At The Poker Table

by Houston Curtis |  Published: Dec 16, 2020

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Shot takers come in all shapes and sizes. Many of the shot takers you see at the casino are doing it out of an act of desperation, and others only after spending an ample time gaining somebody’s trust and confidence. But the celebrity-filled, high-stakes, private games that I have frequented over the years have had their fair share of shot takers as well.

For the uninitiated, let me set the stage. You are playing poker at your local casino, and you see a guy who you’ve sat across the table with for months. He sits down and suddenly realizes that he left his wallet at home. He asks if the dealer can lock his seat up while he runs home to get it, and the dealer makes no such promise since others are waiting to play. You recall this guy buying you the occasional beer, and decide to be a gentleman by offering to cover his first stake in the game. You could be handing him $500 or $5,000, but whatever the amount is, you are confident that by the end of the night, you’ll have your money back.

Cut to three months later, and you are now chasing this seemingly nice guy for the stake he owes you. But you can never catch up to him, and when you do, he always has a story or an excuse.

In an act of desperation, the guy “took a shot at you” knowing you would trust him, and now you’ll be lucky if you ever see that money again. One interesting psychological aspect of taking a shot at someone, and why it’s often impossible to make an accurate read on the situation until it’s too late, is the fact that often the shot taker starts out with the best of intentions. It’s when things go south that those intentions go out the window.

When the guy goes bust, he looks you straight in the eye and says, “I’m going to run home to grab my wallet so I can pay you back.” You thank him for being honorable. Hell, he might have even been telling the truth about forgetting to bring his wallet. Maybe he’s truly planning on doing the right thing for the entire drive home. But then, when he finally grabs his tattered old wallet, and only sees 200 bucks, and then logs into his bank account to find all he has waiting for him there is an overdraft fee… well, guess what? He won’t be coming back with your money! And somewhere deep in the back of his mind, he knew the only way he could pay you back would be if he won using the loan you floated him. Or even worse, he might have known from the beginning that a day would come where he would take a shot at you, and you would be sucker enough to oblige him.

Now imagine a similar scenario, but this time you are in a high-stakes, invite-only, private poker game. The host of the game announces that a famous actor is stopping by and would like to play. The brutal bitch about getting scum bagged by a celebrity is the fact that confidence doesn’t need to be established for these cats to take a shot at you. Their fame is all the confidence they need to know that the ball is in their corner. Nobody in their life says no to them! They live in this beautiful little fantasy land we call Hollywood and whatever they want, they get. Most of the time anyway.

I’ve witnessed several Tinseltown shot takers in action over the years who used their celebrity status to try and screw over a poker game. Some of them were trying to take a shot at me directly, while others just wanted to freeroll on their fame without worrying about who was going to take it on the nose at the end of the night when it was time to settle up.

Some celebrity shot takers were small time scum bags. One night I was playing poker at some hotel near Silverlake and in walks this kid who was one of the actors from the movie Swingers, (the cult classic that launched the careers of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau.).

I loved Swingers. It was close to my heart because I was coming up in Hollywood when that film came out and I could relate to so many things that happened in it. I used to live in the same area Favreau’s character lived in, I went to all the same bars they frequented in the movie, and I even ate breakfast at the same diner where Vaughn embarrasses himself playing peekaboo with a woman and her baby.

So when this actor (whose name I won’t reveal) sat down to play, I had no problem extending him credit. He didn’t have to post like everyone else, because that would have been an insult. After all, this guy was a star of one of the greatest pop culture independent films of the ‘90s! I just wish I would have thought to ask him what other films he had been in lately, because the answer would have been NONE! This guy probably hadn’t worked in ten years. There’s no telling what he was doing for a living at this point, but that night, his fading fame got him a freeroll into the game. He owed me $10,000 within the first hour, and minutes later he was out the kitchen door, never to be seen again.

Another world class shot taker was the delightfully charming Amir Vahedi, God rest his soul. At this time Amir was coming off a great run that took him deep in the 2003 World Series of Poker main event on ESPN, making him, Sammy Farha and of course Chris Moneymaker household names. He was the guy who first brought Ben Affleck to the Hollywood Park pot-limit game which I’ve written about previously.

I staked Amir one time in a cash game, against my better judgement. He told me he busted out with a bad beat, but someone else told me he used the stake to enter himself into a tournament. So the next time Amir came to me asking to stake him in a Legends of Poker event, I politely declined. He ended up winning it, but allegedly had sold 200 percent of himself prior to the tournament beginning. So, in that case, he took a shot and it backfired on him.

One of the funniest stories of a celebrity shot taker came from the time Tobey Maguire played Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst in a game of Backgammon for $100. Fred lost, but I think he figured since him and Tobey were both celebrities and it was only a hundred bucks, that Tobey would just forget about it. Of course, Tobey didn’t forget about it and even went as far as calling Fred’s publicist to shake him down for the debt… which Fred eventually paid.

But one of the ballsiest shot takers I ever came across actually took shots for a living! He was a professional basketball player for the Detroit Pistons that I mention in my book. This guy used his fame to penetrate a big game featuring myself, Tobey Maguire, The Joker and The Hangover director Todd Phillips, and others.

The first and only time he ever played in our game, he lost $40,000, and then walked out the door assuring everyone he would settle up the next day. But when the next day came, he called Molly Bloom and told her he felt he was cheated and therefore didn’t feel he had to pay! Of course, I’m sure if he would have won, he would have had no problem collecting.

I was owed about $25,000 from his loss, so I was pretty pissed at the time. He was the only player who ever stiffed our game. But I got him back over a year later at a completely different game in what I can only describe as a “double shot” of redemption.
There was a game in the valley that was hosted by a shrewd, but greedy dude who I’ll refer to today as Gringo. Gringo had been wanting me to bring big players to his game in exchange for inviting me to lay with the lambs. One night I invited El Drunko, a guy I knew who provided lots of action.

I got to the game and the Pistons ball player who had stiffed me a year ago was there, as was a few other celebs including comedian Kevin Hart. El Drunko went off the rails that night, dumping pot after pot to Mr. Piston. I was in a business deal with El Drunko at the time and owed him just under $40,000 on a royalty that was due in about a week. So when he lost 38 grand I immediately got up and cashed out. I instructed El Drunko to tell Gringo, “Houston owes me some money, so collect my $38,000 loss from him the next time you see him.”

I had previously told Gringo that the ball player was on my blacklist and to never invite the two of us to the same game. I swore to Gringo that this guy would eventually cause a major problem for his game, but he didn’t listen. So when Gringo asked for me to pay up what my El Drunko owed the game, of course I told him that he had broken our pact, and that he would need to deduct El Drunko’s loss out of the ball players winnings along with a reminder about the $40,000 debt he owed from the night he lost to me, Tobey, and Todd. Damn, that felt good!

But not every table loan story ends badly. A perfect example would be when Billionaire banker Andy Beal floated Rick Salomon a few million to play against him in his own house! Rick went on to Beat Andy for what was rumored to be around $40 million! I’m not saying that Rick wouldn’t have found a way to pay him back the buy-in if he would have lost… but you just got to love the balls it takes to beat someone over the head in their own house, with their own money for $40 million!

For all of my readers out there who have been stung in the past by someone who took a shot at you, allow me to provide you with a fun little video tutorial of a classic card hustle that you can use as payback. Either that, or it will help take your mind off the fact that you donked off some dough to an angle shooting scum bag!

Remember, there’s always going to be somebody out there trying to take a shot at you. So stay sharp! Stay KardSharp!

Houston CurtisHouston Curtis, founder of KardSharp.com and author of Billion Dollar Hollywood Heist has lived a successful double life as both a producer and high stakes poker player for nearly 30 years. His credits include executive producing gambling-related TV shows such as The Ultimate Blackjack Tour on CBS, The Aruba Poker Classic on GSN and pioneering the poker instructional DVD genre with titles featuring poker legend Phil Hellmuth.

Barred for life from Las Vegas Golden Nugget for “excessive winning” at blackjack, Houston is one of the world’s most successful card mechanics and sleight-of-hand artists of the modern era. Curtis, who rarely plays in tournaments, won a 2004 Legends of Poker no-limit hold’em championship event besting Scotty Nguyen heads-up at the final table before going on to co-found the elite Hollywood poker ring that inspired Aaron Sorkin’s Academy Award-nominated film Molly’s Game.

Curtis now resides in Columbia, Missouri while maintaining offices in Los Angeles, and Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to running a production company and independent record label, Curtis also consults as a poker protection expert to clients across the globe seeking insight into master level card cheating tactics via advanced sleight-of-hand technique. In addition, Houston is now available for in-person and online speaking engagements, private sleight-of-hand instruction, and a variety of media creation/production services. Houston can be contacted directly at stacked@kardsharp.com.