Everybody has favorite actors that they enjoy watching on TV or the big screen, just as those of us who play poker have favorite poker players who we follow and root for. But what happens when the two are blended and actors become poker players?
The result is that we can watch our much-admired Hollywood stars on the felt as well as on the screen. And some of those actors have done quite well on the poker tables! Others, well, not so much.
I’ve made a list list of my seven favorite poker-playing actors. Would these same players make your list?
Who can forget Elizabeth’s performance in “American Pie” as Nadia, a Czechoslovakian exchange student who is lusted after by the movie’s main character, Jim (Jason Biggs)? A sexual encounter between Nadia and Jim is secretly filmed via a hidden webcam that Biggs accidentally broadcasts to the entire high school.
A stunningly beautiful Elizabeth is too much woman for the inexperienced high school boy, who can’t successfully lose his virginity when he ejaculates much too soon in front of all his high school classmates on the webcam. Sure, it’s a goofy high school coming-of-age comedy, but one of the funniest ever.
Elizabeth makes men lose their chips too soon at the poker tables as well, having recorded lifetime earnings of $235,866. She has cashed in five WSOP tournaments, including 2nd place in the $5,000 Ante Up For Africa Charity Event in 2010.
I grew up watching Gabe Kaplan play high school teacher Mr. Kotter on the sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter.” Another silly comedy, but a classic, nonetheless. Kaplan attempts to keep his “Sweathog” students such as Epstein, Horshak, Freddy “Boom Boom” Washington and Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta) in line.
Kaplan has enjoyed a remarkable career in poker, both as a player and commentator. The Hendon Mob lists his live tournament earnings at just under $2 million. Kaplan has made a bunch of WSOP final tables, including 6th place in the Main Event won by Stu Ungar in 1980.
A talk show host for over a decade, Lake appeared in a number of films before her daytime gig on “Ricki Lake” from 1993-2004. She was a favorite of Director John Waters, appearing in the likes of “Hairspray” and “Cry-Baby.” Fans of “The King of Queens” also know her as Doug Heffernan’s sister on the show.
In 2011, Lake came in 6th place in the $1,100 Women’s Event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas for $5,587. She also cashed in a couple smaller events in L.A. the year before. Lake’s lifetime poker earnings are a modest $7,732, but she was the youngest ever talk show host at age 24 until that record was broken a couple years ago.
Woods is a newcomer to my list thanks to his performance at the 2015 WSOP that included 7th place in $3,000 NLHE Shootout for $28,832. He’s been playing live poker for more than a decade and has earned $168,833.
Woods has taken on all kinds of roles and amassed film and TV credits too lengthy to list. Some of his best work – other than the 2015 WSOP – included “Diggstown,” “True Believer” and “Ghosts of Mississippi.”
The multi-talented Azaria participated in the Super High Roller Celebrity Shootout and almost made it to the heads-up showdown against one of five poker pros for the $1 million winner-take-all prize. But Azaria couldn’t get past fellow actor Kevin Pollack and was sent to the rail.
Anyone who is a fan of “The Simpsons” has heard Azaria, as he does dozens of voices of the beloved characters, including police Chief Wiggum, bartender Moe Szyslak, Dr. Nick Riviera, and Snake the jailbird. But Azaria is known in Hollywood for more than his voice work, starring in such films as “Grosse Point Blank” and “America’s Sweethearts.”
Azaria’s poker resume may not equal that of some other actors, but his love for the game prompts him to use poker in charitable efforts. He has raised money for the Geffen Playhouse, as well as Determined to Succeed, which assists low income students in their academic pursuits.
Lou Diamond Phillips
Six years ago, Phillips finished 186th in the WSOP Main Event for a prize of $36,626. Not a bad showing for the star of 1987’s “La Bamba.” Phillips also appeared in “Young Guns” and “Young Guns II” alongside Kiefer Sutherland and Emilio Estevez.
On the poker tables, Phillips cashed in a few other tournaments. He landed in both 2nd and 3rd place at the Commerce Casino in $300 buy-in events in 2003. His lifetime poker earnings total $51,476.
“You get two pair and the whole table knows it,” Gary (Jon Lovitz) said to George Costanza (Jason Alexander) in a “Seinfeld” episode. Indeed, Alexander’s inability to present a successful poker face may be hurting him at the poker tables.
Always a mainstay at the WSOP Main Event, Alexander’s cashes have been few and far between. Three career trips to the cashier’s cage dot his poker resume, the best a 5th place finish in $350 NLHE at a WSOP Circuit event in Atlantic City for $16,933. At least he won a contest as George (but had to lie to do so)!