Each summer in Las Vegas, the World Series of Poker (or WSOP) takes place and brings together card sharks and poker fish from all corners of the globe. Among the regular big-time winners, often you will find famous people that made their name, not in poker, but in other celebrated professions. Chief among these are the worlds of sports and film.
With that said, we thought, who are the most famous to take part in the pro-poker circuit. Here, we have listed a few of the famous names to have graced the felt of Las Vegas during the WSOP, despite being famed for talents that lay elsewhere.
John Arne Riise
Former Norway and Liverpool footballer John Arne Riise plays the $10,000 Main Event year after year, and although he has yet to cash in, it won’t stop him from trying. Last year, Riise — who won the Champions League title with Liverpool in 2005 — came in second place in the €600 Buy-In JP Masters at The Irish Poker Open Festival in Dublin and took took home roughly €15,000, his best-ever live poker cash.
Robert Iler, known for his portrayal of A.J. Soprano in the hit series The Sopranos, first entered the WSOP in 2009 and is another celebrity that is now a regular. Born in New York City, Iler hasn’t worked on TV since the HBO show stopped filming in 2007 and has even admitted to not even so much as looking at a script since that time. Instead, he moved full-time to Las Vegas to partake in his favorite pastime: poker. While he is steadily improving, even making it to some Day Twos on occasion, he has yet to make any real money from the series.
In a world where not all poker films are decent, Matt Damon is arguably the star of the game’s best film portrayal, 1998’s Rounders. In real life, Damon played in a WSOP Championship event in the same year, which saw him busted out by Hall-of-Famer Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson. For the record, Brunson — who also penned one of the great poker strategy books — has “retired” from the game and is one of the most entertaining characters poker has ever produced. As well as playing poker for Africa in games organized by Oceans’ co-star Don Cheadle back in 2007, Matt makes regular appearances at other WSOP events, too.
Damon was also among the celebrities (see below) known to have been involved in the infamous Hollywood home games, as detailed in the memoirs of Molly Bloom. Dubbed Hollywood’s Poker Princess, Bloom has now seen her best-selling book turned into an Oscar-nominated film, via 2017’s Molly’s Game, making it perhaps another great poker film. And, it would seem, the skills Damon perfected at Bloom’s tables were transported over to Las Vegas.
Another movie star to feature in Bloom’s illegal games is the former Spider-Man actor Tobey Maguire. According to Bloom, he was one of the biggest winners during the seven years she hosted the game and one of the most demanding. While some celebs have come out of the book with reputation intact, Maguire did not. So poorly did she consider his attitude to be that many were keen to see how the movie adaptation would portray him. The film mostly skipped over the accusations made in the book and named him only as “Player X,” played by Michael Cera. For the record, his demands included wanting to know beforehand who was invited, adjusting the buy-ins and blind levels, insisting on and then charging for the use of his personal card shuffler and making her climb on the table and bark like a seal to earn her tip.
The actor, who received coaching from professionals, is also considered one of the game’s highest-ever earners, although details cannot be disclosed. The actor played in several WSOP events in 2004 and 2005, but has mostly withdrawn from poker since 2007.
Former heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis is another to have given the WSOP a shot. The London-born fighter, who won the Olympic gold while representing Canada, turned up in Vegas in both 2006 and 2007 to play in the $10,000 Buy-In World Series Championship event, although he never made any money. In his first year, he was sent packing by Carlos Mortensen’s wife Cecilia, while his second trip also ended rather abruptly where he left empty-handed, leaving us only with this quote: “In boxing, you know what cards are going to be dealt. In this, you don’t.”
Canadian-American actress Jennifer Tilly, perhaps best known these days as a voice artist on “Family Guy,” is a well-established poker player and a familiar face on the circuit. So much so, in fact, that out of everyone in this article, she is the only one to have won a WSOP bracelet. In 2005, Tilly won said bracelet (plus $158,625) in the $1,000 Ladies’ No-Limit Texas Hold ‘em event, beating off 600 others. In the same year, she also took down the World Poker Tour Ladies Invitational tournament at the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, California. Her boyfriend is professional player Phil Laak, who she met at the World Poker Tour Invitational tournament at the Commerce Casino, and now, she has banked well over $992,501.
At the end of the day, though, all poker players dream of a WSOP bracelet, and following her 2005 win, Tilly credited Laak with teaching her everything she knows about poker. Tilly and Laak are still considered to be one of the most iconic couples in the game and are regularly seen at the Series each summer.