Chatting with James Woods at the 2006 World Series of Poker

Today was a good day for James Woods. Earning himself a seat in Day 2 of the $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em Shootout and his first ever WSOP cash, Woods rolled over the other five players at his table and played "the best poker of his life."

 A gifted character actor, Woods has thrown himself head-first into poker with the same embracing commitment he has shown in his preparation for the screen.

I had the pleasure of watching Woods as he cut the competition down to size, and he was gracious enough to speak with me about his play today and his feelings about the game in general.

Poker is One of the Most Sophisticated Games

James, you just made your first WSOP cash. How do you feel?

It feels great. I'm only going to play two events this year because of my television series "Shark." We're starting shooting next Monday. Last night I was at the Rose Bowl until midnight doing press, and then I got up at 4:30 this morning and drove from L.A. I was punch-drunk tired, and I thought "I'm just going to sit back, be really calm."

My brother Michael actually helped me. I was playing really aggressive and he said "You know, just limp with some big hands, I don't give a **** what everybody says, just limp with some big hands." I limped with kings, the flop was Q-Q-A, I laid them down and it cost me a quarter. One guy had an ace and one guy had a queen. I limped once with jacks, and I made a full house, that worked really well for me.

James and Michael Woods

Is your brother also a serious player?

Well, actually Michael runs Hollywood Poker online, and every Thursday night, we have the Michael Woods Celebrity Invitational. He got his job because when we started the site, it was struggling, and he was on every night helping people, and my partner said, "You should get your brother to work for the site. He's fantastic - people love him," and now he runs the site.

Were there any really pivotal points in the match today?

There was a crucial hand with the guy who had all the chips who was steamrolling everybody. The flop was A-7-A and this guy just talked about his hand. "Oh I have a monster. I have great hand" and all this stuff, and I thought "Man, he's just talking too much. I think my jacks are good." And I just kept calling, and when he pushed all-in after the river, I called and he said "Oh man, good call." I turned over the jacks, and he was so steaming from knowing that I just crushed him.

What kind of a player are you? What do you feel the strong points in your game are?

I'm so mathematically oriented, I get too locked-in to the math. Lately I've just started paying attention to what everyone does, how they think, what they say. I just watch their eyes as they watch the flop, and I'm a pretty good reader of people now. It's a skill I didn't know I had.

David Ulliott and James Woods

One of the things I do is everything that I feel I'm weak at I try to focus on the next time. For example, if I feel I'm not paying enough attention, I'll really focus. If I'm getting lazy and not calculating odds, I'll do it on every hand whether I'm in the hand or not. In other words, I take opportunities at the table to do exercises that will make it possible for me to become a better player.

What got you into poker to begin with?

I can tell you exactly what it was. A friend of mine, John Myrick, and I used to come here all the time to gamble, and I was so tired of losing, and mathematically, you can't win. He told me I should learn Hold'em. He said it's about reading people, it's about math, it's a very subtle game, and so I sat down and played $5/$10 Limit, and I won like $300.

I said, "You know this is a pretty interesting game." I said, "I'm going to play it. But you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to learn everything I can about it, every possible way. I'm going to talk to pros everyday, I'm going to play, I'm going to read." And I've become a pretty good amateur.

James Woods

What is it about poker that you're so passionate about?

I tell you, I think it's one of the most sophisticated games. I majored in political science when I was at MIT, and the area I majored in was defense analysis. Defense analysis is based on what was then the very early and young science of game theory and poker is about that. It's all about limited information and trying to get a complete picture when your life is at stake. It's like being in the CIA trying to get as much information as you can and then having to make crucial decisions.

Many of your roles as an actor have had to do with gambling and that kind of scene. Has this stuff been a big part of your life or was it something that you researched exclusively for those films?

I will tell you this, when I was a kid in Illinois, my family went to the bookies in Charleston when I was 4 years old. The place got raided by the cops, and my grandmother and my mother grabbed me and went down the fire escape. My uncle and my dad both got caught, so we've had a little history in my family with gambling - I just love it.

Thanks a lot James, and good luck tomorrow.

In our interview Woods exhibited an intelligence and a realism that is invaluable in life and in poker. Showing respect to his fellow players, James Woods is the kind of person who can take you for every chip you have and somehow make you enjoy the experience. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the second stage of this event.

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