Robert Iler, known for his portrayal of A.J. Soprano on The Sopranos, took a seat in the 2011 Main Event on Saturday.
Unlike many celebrities, however, it wasn’t his first trip to Las Vegas for the world’s biggest poker tournament.
Iler first entered the WSOP in 2009 and he’s been back every year since.
“The World Series of Poker is the best tournament I’ve ever played in,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. The structure is great. Everything about it is great.”
Born in New York City, Iler has been playing poker for nearly his whole life. His grandmother taught him to play Five-Card Draw and Gin when she was watching him.
Iler Discovers Online Poker
Iler got into Texas Hold’em when he was about 18. Several of his friends were hosting games and he started to play the game frequently.
A couple years later Iler discovered online poker and was hooked, particularly on online tournaments.
Of course at this point Iler was starring in the hit HBO series The Sopranos as Tony Soprano’s underachieving son A.J. and he eventually managed to reduce the time he spent playing online poker.
He did start playing live poker, however, and frequented many of the underground New York poker clubs.
After being on hand for a raid of one such poker room in 2005 he wasn’t as motivated to play in those games.
“I just stopped going,” he said. “It was literally like once a week these places would get shut down.
"For like two years it was great but then they really started cracking down on them.”
Poker With Sopranos Co-Stars
Because Iler resides in New York he never got a chance to play in the famous Hollwood home games, but he did hit the felt with a few of his Sopranos co-stars on several occasions.
“Yeah I played with The Sopranos guys a few times,” he said. “When we’d go out for the Emmys and stuff like that we’d all be in big groups and we’d go play.”
According to Iler the majority of the cast preferred gambling games like blackjack and roulette, which worked out well for Iler the few times they did play poker together.
“I did pretty good in those games,” he laughed. “For the most part they were just recreational players.”
Iler was also one of the many players affected by online poker’s Black Friday, where major sites PokerStars and Full Tilt were forced out out of the U.S. market.
“Black Friday really sucked,” he said. “I won a tournament on Full Tilt like four days before everything went down. Full Tilt sent me a check, which I tried to cash at the bank but it bounced.
"So not only did I not get my money but I also had to pay the bank for the check bouncing.”
Iler Progressively Better at WSOP
Iler’s performances have gotten progressively better at the WSOP with a Day 2 appearance in 2009 and a Day 3 run in 2010.
This year Iler has his sights set firmly on a deep run in the massive tournament.
“I just want to make the money and then go from there, you know?” he said.
Iler had a scare in the early stages of the day when he had some bad luck and fell down to just 15,000 chips.
“I wait all year for this day and to be the first out … I was having some bad thoughts,” he said. “I’ve been down here for nine days and I’ve yet to be dealt pocket aces. I lost to pocket aces twice in the first level.”
Fortunately Iler was able to recover and by the dinner break he was up to over 40,000, which is up 10,000 above the starting stack. No matter what happens in the Main Event it’s apparent that Iler considers himself more of a poker player than an actor these days.
“Everybody asks me what I’m doing and I just tell them I’m playing poker and I love it,” he said.