Celeb poker hits the jackpot

Celeb poker hits the jackpot, by Sue Facter
(Credit: USA Today)

LOS ANGELES — No bluffing: Poker is the hottest game in Hollywood.

Celebrities from Ben Affleck to Mimi Rogers to Sara Rue are placing their bets on the card game.

Whoopi Goldberg runs a weekly game on the set of her NBC sitcom, Whoopi, and cast and crew watch televised poker games during breaks.

David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston and George Clooney host poker parties at their homes.

"I play poker to relax," says Rue, star of the ABC show Less Than Perfect. "I hate to say it, but it's an addiction." She's a poker hostess every two weeks and stocks up on Trader Joe's nibbles for her guests. "I love the strategy."

During her single days, Rue used poker as a dating tool. "If I met a cute guy, I'd invite him to a Saturday night game. It's a safe way to get to know someone with your girlfriends there. You can find out a lot about a person by the way they play."

Chef Ben Ford, owner of Beverly Hills eatery Chadwick, craves the game. He's a chip off the old block. "Every time my dad (Harrison Ford) walks into a casino, he has to play."

Affleck is the star with the most recognizable poker face.

The actor brought his love for the game to Live With Regis and Kelly last month when he co-hosted with Regis — who beat him at cards on the air.

Like many stars, Affleck has appeared on popular TV poker games such as Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown and Travel Channel's World Poker Tour. Some of the celebrity games are played for charity.

"Ben loves the game," says Mike Sexton, PartyPoker.com host and commentator on World Poker Tour. "(Jennifer Lopez) accompanied him to several games when they were together, but she never played. She wasn't too thrilled with his gambling. He's a half-million-a-night guy, and he's good."

James Woods is part of an elite group that includes Affleck that plays privately on Monday nights with a $5,000 buy-in. Woods shares his new passion with girlfriend Dawn DeNoon (a co-producer for Law & Order: SVU). There's talk of him directing James McManus' book about poker, Positively Fifth Street.

Last month Woods sailed to the Mexican Riviera to try for a million big ones on Card Player Cruises on Holland America. It was one of 14 tournaments filmed by the Travel Channel leading up to a championship show that will air June 30. (Woods' game airs June 16.)

"They took all my money. I have nothing left," he said.

So why do stars play? Says Vikrant Bhargava of PartyPoker.com: "Celebrities are drawn to poker because it involves skill, psychology and luck, all things they deal with in their professions. Some are quite good at it naturally."




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