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Poker heats up in Hollywood
Poker's big boom may have been six long years ago, but A-list celebrities, actors, musicians and sports stars continue to flock to the game.
A glimpse of the celebs into the game is available every year at the World Series of Poker, the World Poker Tour Celebrity Invitational and various charity tournaments, but many celebrities also scratch their poker itch at home games and online.
Anthrax lead singer Scott Ian has been playing poker for years and has seen several celebrity friends converted into players first hand.
"Keanu Reeves just recently got into Hold'em," Ian told PokerListings. "A few months back he said to me, 'Hey man, I was playing a lot of poker with this director on my last movie and he was just constantly taking my money."
Ian said Reeves is learning more and more about Hold'em and has become a semi-regular at a private game in Santa Monica.
"I know tons of people who play and when I'm home we all try to get together and play as much as we can," Ian added.
Keeping a weekly slot open for a real-life home game is tough for Hollywood types and rock stars on the road - a predicament that led Ian to move his home game online to Ultimate Bet.
"The first one had Kirk Hammett from Metallica, Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, Slash, Vinnie Paul from Pantera and John Dolmayan from System of a Down," said the Anthrax frontman.
"What it means is just a lot of my friends in bands, these 'rock star' guys, who like to play Hold'em. It is a way for us to get to play together since we don't get to play together physically because of everyone's schedules."
Actor Lou Diamond Phillips has had a semi-regular home game running almost as long as he's been in show business.
Phillips put the skills he learned in that home game to good use this summer finishing 186th out of 6,494 at the WSOP Main Event.
"The home game has been crazy," Phillips told PokerListings. "It's been going on for 20 years."
Over two decades his game has seen a rotating group of actors and entertainers.
"George Clooney used to hang back in the day," Phillips recalled fondly. "Brad Pitt before he got Thelma and Louise, all the 90210 kids."
Like a lot of Hollywood home games the stakes are anything but astronomical, and the level of play is anything but professional.
"No, it's a lot of bullshit is what it is," Phillips laughed. "We're drinking a lot of beer and going, 'My two-three offsuit will kick your kings' ass.' "
Low stakes and a casual yet competitive atmosphere seem to be the norm in celebrity home games.
Actor and Simpsons cast member Hank Azaria has a regular game at his Soho, New York, residence where the buy-in is reported to be a modest $500.
Simpsons creator Sam Simon shares a similar attitude, one that he's taking to television this year with Sam's Game on the Playboy Channel.
Juxtaposing his casual home-game style with serious shows like GSN's High Stakes Poker, Simon is recreating the home game experience and expects to tap into viewers' natural love for the format.
While HSP relies on big names and big dollar amounts, Sam's Game uses the same things we all love about home games - Jokes, food, beer and a little bit of poker.
While celebrity home games are mostly about good times, poker's popularity in Hollywood circles could have a real effect on the vitality of the game.
With Seinfeld actor Jason Alexander and Phillips both running deep in the 2009 WSOP Main Event, much was made about what a celebrity at the final table could mean.
In 2003, Chris Moneymaker's victory catapulted poker into the public's consciousness.
Now, with the four month break before the Main Event final table, players are given an even bigger opportunity to take the poker word to the masses.
WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack says having a poker pro like Phil Ivey at the final table this year will surely help grow the game, but the exposure someone like Alexander would garner in mainstream media could be staggering.
"I think anytime a big name makes the final table of the Main Event it's good for poker and good for the WSOP," he said. "At the same time, any personality that can crossover in that setting would also be great.
"Phil Ivey will be great, Jason Alexander would have been great and, last year, Tiffany Michelle would have been great. You have a top poker pro, a big Hollywood celebrity and a compelling newcomer.
"All three are different and all three have the capacity to crossover and that's something that's always attractive to have."