Poker Playing Celebrities and Sports Stars
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You never know who you will bump into at the poker tables. Playing cards against opponents from all walks of life is one of the best things about this crazy game. In one seat, you may have a doctor; there may be an armed forces veteran in another. On occasion, you get to take on Hollywood A-listers and your sporting heroes because poker is a universal game open to everyone.
Unlike in, say, football, where the Average Joe has zero chance of stepping onto the field with elite professional players, or in the acting world where hardly anyone has the opportunity to showcase their thespian talents with silver screen stars, poker is a level playing field. You pay your money; you take your chance. It is as simple as that.
Spider Senses Are Tingling
Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore
It is no secret that Spider-Man star Tobey Maguire loves playing poker. Maguire became a Hollywood star in 2020 when he portrayed Marvel Comics superhero, Spider-Man. Despite his newfound fame, Maguire entered poker tournaments in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, including making several appearances at the World Series of Poker (WSOP).
Maguire’s first result of note came in the $10,200 Mirage poker Showdown in Las Vegas in 2004. The Seabiscuit star finished 24th from 281 entrants for $16,201. Poker royalty such as Freddy Deeb, Allen Cunningham, Antanas “Tony G” Guoga, Scotty Nguyen, John Juanda, Gabe Kaplin, and eventual champion Eli Elezra were in the field, making Maguire’s in-the-money finish quite remarkable.
Three months later, Maguire won the $2,080 Phil Hellmuth Invitational at the Hollywood Park Casino in Inglewood, California, for $95,480, which remains Maguire’s largest live tournament score. However, he may consider his best performance as his 292nd-place finish in the 2007 WSOP Main Event, a tournament with 6,358 entrants.
Was Maguire Player X in Molly’s Game?
Image courtesy of the World Poker Tour
Maguire’s love for high-stakes cash games is well documented, although never 100% confirmed. It is widely believed Maguire is the infamous Player X as depicted in Molly Bloom‘s “Molly’s Game” book and subsequent film. Bloom was arrested in 2013 and charged with being a part of a $100 million money laundering and illegal sports betting operation. Bloom openly admitted to running underground poker games. It is believed Maguire was instrumental in getting the high-stakes poker games off the ground.
Other Hollywood stars that reportedly frequented those games included Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Rounders star Matt Damon, and Home Alone‘s Macaulay Culkin. Of those names, only Damon and Affleck have results listed on The Hendon Mob Database; Affleck has almost $400,000 in cashes.
Football’s Stars Love Poker
Image courtesy of the WSOP/Tomas Stacha
Football players, that’s soccer players to some of our readers, have a lot of downtime after training and while travelling to and from games, earn obscene sums of money, and can’t do anything like us “normal” folks because they get mobbed by would-be paparazzi when the try. This leads to many of them taking up poker, with some players excelling at playing cards.
Former German national team striker Max Kruse scored almost 150 goals during his career, but he now hunts poker trophies. Kruse almost won a WSOP bracelet in 2014 when he finished third in the $1,500 Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball event; he finished fourth in the same tournament three years later!
Kruse captured a gold WSOP bracelet in 2022 at the WSOP Europe festival in Rozvadov. The German took down the €1,650 No-Limit Hold’em 6-Max event for €134,152.
You may recall that Kruse hit the headlines in 2016 after leaving €75,000 in cash in the back of a taxi. Kruse reportedly left the money in the back of a cab in the early hours of the morning after helping Wolfsburg beat Hoffenheim. Wolfsburg fined Kruse €25,000. Kruse left the club for Werder Bremen shortly after, while the then-national team coach, Joachim Low, never again picked ruse for international duty.
Tony Cascarino was one of the original poker-playing footballers. The former Republic of Ireland striker hung up his boots in 2000 and began playing poker semi-professionally. He cashed in several events, including the PartyPoker Football & Poker Legends Cup in 2006, but he shot to poker fame in 2008 when he won the GUKPT Bolton Main Event for £52,850. Amazingly, Cascarino won the 2009 GUKPT London Grand Final for £168,800 only 12 months after finishing sixth in the same tournament. “Cas” only plays sporadically now, partly because he is busy being a presenter with TalkSport.
Neymar Jr and Gerard Pique
Image courtesy of Antoine Dellenbach
No list of poker-playing footballers would be complete without mentioning Brazilian sensation Neymar Jr. Although his results are less than stellar – he has $32,131 in winnings – Neymar attracts tons of attention whenever he enters an event online and live.
Neymar’s former Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique recently retired, so we may see more of him at the poker tables in future. The former Spain captain has more than $660,000 in live winnings, an impressive sum helped by his runner-up finish in a €25,000 buy-in high roller event at the 2019 EPT Barcelona stop. Pique picked up €352,950 that day.
One former player that is meant to be a massive winner in Las Vegas poker games is Denmark’s Thomas Gravesen. Gravesen played 141 Premier League games for Everton before a surprise move to Real Madrid came his way in January 2005. The tough-tackling midfielder only stayed for one season before heading to Celtic in Scotland in 2006. Gravesen earned a reported £41,000 per week at Celtic but agreed to a £1 million payoff to leave in 2009 after only 22 appearances.
This is where things get a little strange because several years after his retirement, newspaper stories broke that Gravesen was living in Las Vegas, had a net worth of $100 million, and made a fortune playing poker. One newspaper reported Gravesen lost $54 million in a heads-up battle against an unknown opponent. Neither Gravesen nor his Czech wife Kamila Persse, who is also meant to play poker, have a single recorded cash on The Hendon Mob Database. Furthermore, no story about Gravesen’s cash game prowess or the supposed $54 million heads-up loss has ever become public. Sure, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but the story seems as fabricated as playboy Dan Bilzerian apparently winning hundreds of millions of dollars playing poker, although nobody of note has ever seen him win anything!
Which celebrities or sports stars have you bumped into while playing poker?
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