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Unlikely Celebrities Who Play Poker

The Emmy-grabbing HBO series, The Sopranos, brought the mafia lifestyle into our living rooms. We were privy to the dealing, the stealing, the pimping and the murdering. We also got a good look at gambling in more ways than one; the later seasons featured mob boss Tony Soprano’s regular poker games, at which celebrities like David Lee Roth and Lawrence Taylor made classic cameo appearances. Just as the show reflected some measure of the realities of organized crime in New Jersey, the fact of the matter is that many celebrities really do love to play poker. Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Alexander, James Woods, Ray Romano, Jennifer Tilly and other A-listers have been spotted in big-time poker tournaments. Poker is an egalitarian pastime, though, and below are some of the more unlikely celebrities ever to pull up a seat and say, “Deal me in.”

Mark Twain. One of America’s earliest celebrities (defined in the dictionary as “a famous person”), Twain’s love of cigars and poker were legendary. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the great writer and raconteur applied his wry sense of humor to cards as much as anything else, saying, “Learning to play two pairs is worth about as much as a college education, and about as costly.” That’s still true today.

Richard Nixon. While President Nixon wound up losing the ultimate gamble of his political career, he’d been a poker player since his days in the Navy during World War II, even using his poker winnings to help finance his 1946 Congressional campaign. “Tricky Dick” was said to have taken poker very seriously, even in so-called friendly games, with his lust for victory exceeding even his Quaker upbringing where cards were concerned.

Bruce Buffer. The brother of the most recognized boxing ring announcer in the world (Michael Buffer, whose trademark phrase “Let’s get ready to rummmbllle” has made him millions) is Bruce Buffer. He’s also in the fight game, announcing boxing matches as well as MMA bouts. He has seen some of the most compelling competitions of all time, which carries over to his poker-playing life, as he is a regular on the high-stakes circuit.

Walter Matthau. Co-star of The Odd Couple and the headliner in many other feature films, the dour Matthau didn’t just play poker as rumpled sportswriter Oscar Madison. In fact, this grumpy old man had one of the greatest all-time poker quotes:  “The game exemplifies the worst aspects of capitalism that have made our country so great.”

Ellen DeGeneres. People go to Las Vegas to gamble and to see the stars. From Elvis Presley to Don Rickles to Celine Dion – not to mention the Rat Pack of yesteryear – the biggest stars have always been drawn to the bright lights of Sin City. If you hang out in the right casino, there’s a good chance you’ll see Ellen DeGeneres at one of the poker tables. Cameron Diaz credits DeGeneres with having turned her on to poker as well.

Don Cheadle. It may seem natural for yet another cast member of Hollywood’s Oceans franchise would love playing poker. What many people don’t know is that actor and producer Don Cheadle directs his skills in a generous direction, partaking in numerous charity poker tournaments, and generally being a fine ambassador for the game.

Tobey Maguire. The man behind the Spiderman mask loves his cards as much as his fellow matinee idols Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, with whom he played in a regular private poker game (which is legal in California). The problem was that the event was being hosted by a crooked hedge fund manager who was taken down for running a Ponzi scheme. Some of the winners (such as Maguire and Welcome Back Kotter’s Gabe Kaplan) wound of being sued after the whole house of cards collapsed.

Paris Hilton. The fabulously wealthy young socialite, who is famous just for being famous (along with a few well-publicized indiscretions), is also a regular in gaming venues where the high-stakes poker players go. She has been seen seated at the tables with some of the best; even if being a blonde presents a learning curve – and there’s no real evidence that it does – she’s got the money to learn the hard way!

Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittendon. Teammates on the NBA’s Washington Wizards 2009-2010 roster, “Agent Zero” (Arenas) and the lower-profile “J-Crit” (Crittendon) played Texas Hold ‘em to the tune of $10,000 a hand on team flights. When the big star didn’t want to pay his $25,000 poker debt, he tried to intimidate the third-year player by placing several guns on a table next to his locker, with his insane invitation to duel being obliged in a guns-drawn standoff… Arenas apparently didn’t know who he was messing with, as Crittendon was arrested for murder in Atlanta last year.