Perhaps best known for her starring turn in Hollywood's American Pie series of teen comedies, Shannon Elizabeth is beginning to make a name for herself in the poker world as well.
The Texas-born actress has established her table presence in a number of celebrity tournaments, including the 4th edition of Celebrity Poker Showdown and the 1st Annual Nicky Hilton New Year's Eve Poker Tournament at Caesars Palace, in which she outlasted 91 other celebrities and poker professionals to claim first place and the largest chunk of the $120,000 prize pool.
An only child, Elizabeth was born Shannon Elizabeth Fadal on September 7, 1973 in Houston, Texas, to a father of Syrian/Lebanese descent and a mother who was part English, part French, and part Cherokee. Elizabeth attended high school in Waco, Texas, where she was a cheerleader and aspired to become a professional tennis player until she landed a role in a music video being filmed in her hometown.
This first taste of fame led to a modeling career in New York, which led to acting gigs on TV shows like Arli$$ and Hang Time, which then led to her breakout role as Nadia in American Pie in 1999. These days, Elizabeth has over 35 film and television acting credits to her name, and even lent her voice to the 2004 video game, James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing.
Elizabeth got her start playing poker at a young age, playing stud and draw games with her family in Texas. It wasn't until she'd established herself in Hollywood, however, that the actress was introduced to Texas Hold'em - and she hated it. Turned off by the lack of opportunities to discard or draw new cards, Elizabeth didn't warm to the game until 2003, when she befriended poker professionals Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak (along with fellow-actress Jennifer Tilly) and began to hone her skills under the tutelage of some of poker's best teachers.
With the Magician and the Unabomber as her guides, Shannon Elizabeth took to poker in earnest, playing in home games in Los Angeles and appearing on Celebrity Poker Showdown and in Calvin Klein's 2nd Annual Celebrity Poker Tournament, where she notched a sixth place finish. In 2005 Elizabeth entered the Main Event at the World Series of Poker, where, under the guidance of Daniel Negreanu, she survived the first day of competition and barely missed landing in the money.
Unabomber and the Magician guides for Shannon Elizabeth
Following a number of successful finishes in early 2006, including a sixth place finish at the W Las Vegas Poker Invitational, and her win at the Nicky Hilton New Year's Eve Poker Tournament, Shannon Elizabeth publicly admitted she is addicted to poker. "I'm in Vegas two or three times a month these days, playing every other night sometimes," she said. "Poker has become my second career."
Shortly after her admission, Elizabeth scored her first cash in a World Series of Poker event, finishing 201st in a $1,000 No-Limit Hold'em event, and followed up with two more cashes during the final days of the WSOP.
During the 2006 WSOP, Elizabeth competed as the newest representative of Full Tilt Poker, joining the company of 47 professionals in whose company the actress is looking more and more at home. Underlining her commitment to the sport, Elizabeth signed a poker marketing representation agreement with Poker Royalty, the poker world's foremost player marketing and representation agency.
On June 15, 2002, Elizabeth married her longtime boyfriend, actor and celebrity poker player Joseph Reitman. Reitman had appeared with Elizabeth in movies like Tomcats and American Pie 2, and the two dated for seven years before finally tying the knot.
Unfortunately, the marriage was not fated to last, and in March of 2005 the couple separated, filing for divorce in June of that year. Reitman has since begun dating UltimateBet pro Annie Duke, while Shannon Elizabeth has been linked to poker player Joe Sebok.
Elizabeth enjoys spending her free time working with Animal Avengers, the charity she founded in 2001 as a means of finding good homes for abused and abandoned animals. She also likes to snowboard and is an expert in Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defense technique somewhat akin to kickboxing.
Shannon considers herself a very spiritual person, and feels that her spirituality helps her at the poker tables. In addition to a belief that a pleasant and outgoing personality will breed good karma and thus bring good cards her way, Elizabeth makes sure to always bolster her energy by lighting sage before a tournament. She feels that it keeps her fresh and calm enough to compete at the high level demanded by every top-tier poker tournament.
Elizabeth has also found a way to bring her dual careers together. In 2006 she starred in the Burt Reynolds movie Deal, about an ex-gambler who returns to the World Series, where he must face his hot-shot protégé at the final table; and, in 2007, The Grand, an improvisational poker-themed comedy featuring Jason Alexander, Woody Harrelson - and Doyle Brunson.
Clearly Shannon Elizabeth is finding ways to feed her addiction and keep on top of her movie career, and given her track record there's no reason to think she'll slow down in either field.