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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

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Poker pros and celebs discuss their respective trades at Ante Up for Africa event

2 Jul 2008

By Gary Trask

LAS VEGAS – Poker and celebrities. It's a marriage that was consumated during the "poker boom" and the result has been events like Wednesday's Ante Up for Africa tournament that took place at the Rio All Suites and Casino at the World Series of Poker.

Annie Duke and Don Cheadle hosted the second annual tournament in an effort to raise awareness and funds for the humanitarian crisis in Dafur.

Casino City had a chance to speak with some of the celebrities and poker professionals as they entered the event and asked each one a pair of questions:

1. What is it about poker that attracts celebrities to the game?

2. Would it be possible for a poker professional to make the crossover and become a good actor or actress?

Here are their answers, which were both diverse and entertaining and, in some cases (Charles Barkley), downright honest and hilarious:

Jason Alexander
Jason Alexander
"Celebs are attracted to poker for one thing: ego. We have a lot of ego (Laughs). But most actors have bumped into the game because when you're waiting around on a film set, you're going to find a poker game. It's a very dramatic game with very colorful characters and somehow we think we fit into all of that. The truth is that some of my colleagues are very, very good players. And there's guys like me who are just here to have a fun time."

"Absolutely. The poker pros could be great actors. One guy – and I say this not just because we're good friends – but I keep asking [Joe] Hachem, 'How are you not a movie star?' He's got the look. He's the most charming guy on the planet. I mean, there are such great characters in the poker world. If I had a great sitcom idea I'd cast 10 of them and say, 'How is this not going to work?'"

Matt Damon
Matt Damon
"Poker is a fascinating game. It's easy to learn, but the more you get into it the more you realize how intense and how interesting it really is. I'm not a very good player but I've spent a lot of time trying to learn and I've read a lot of books about it."

"I think the poker professionals could definitely be great actors. It's like any trade. It looks a lot easier than it really is. And once you get into it, you get that same kind of addiction as in poker or a sport like golf because you never stop learning and you can always get better."

Shannon Elizabeth
Shannon Elizabeth
"I think it's a natural because there's a lot of acting involved with poker at the table. I think there's a natural progression there. You just sit down at the table and act like you have something or act like you don't. It's a fun and easy game that actors can play in between sets to kill time. It's a very social and fun thing to do."

"I think it would be a lot different for a poker player to go the other way because there's a lot of different types of training involved and a lot of the poker players are really uncomfortable in front of the camera. They avoid it at all costs."

Howard Lederer
Howard Lederer
"[The celebs] love it because it's the greatest game on earth. It's the American game. It's a game that's varied and interesting, fascinating and frustrating; it's about human emotion, guts and all that stuff. I think that kind of risk taking in a very well-defined atmosphere is really attractive to anyone. And I don't think that actors or celebrities have taken to the game more than anyone else in the general public has. We just happen to notice Hollywood a little bit more than, say, people in Iowa."

"As far as poker players becoming actors, haven't you seen my eight lines in the TV show 'Vegas?' (Laughs). A couple of us have had our chances at cameos and you know what? What the actors do is a craft and they work at it and what we do is also something special and we've all be doing it for years. The bottom line is that they aren't that good at poker, even though some of them think they are. Although I have heard that Tobey Maguire is pretty good so he might be the real deal. But I know he's worked very hard at it."

Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley
"I think the celebrities like to gamble. That's why they like poker. It's not brain surgery, bro. The celebrities like to gamble. They got a lot of money. We don't want to leave it for our family. We like to gamble. We don't want to leave all this money for our freeloading-ass family. Understand?"

( When asked how much gambling he's done since arriving in Las Vegas, Barkley had this to say: "None. I'm not allowed to gamble. The media is such jackasses and they made such a big deal about my gambling that I'm not allowed to gamble for a while." )

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck
"I think poker is a game that everybody likes to play. Look at today for example. To perfectly honest, charity events are usually a huge drag. You've got to come out, go through a bunch of motions and usually it really isn't a lot of fun. But if you get to play poker, that makes it fun. It's a really good draw and this event has a really great cause."

"A lot of these [poker professionals] are good actors already. Most of the ones I've played with are good actors and good liars. Johnny Chan is one of the most brilliant actors in the world because the great actors do nothing. They do absolutely nothing. And having played with that guy, you see he literally does nothing. It's aggravating. But that's what makes him great."

Don Cheadle

Don Cheadle
"Poker is an opportunity to sit down and face the pros and try to take them on man-to-man. You can't do that in something like basketball. You're not going to be able to suit and go play against Kobe Bryant. But to get the chance to sit down and go up against some of these players at the poker table is great. You get to walk away and say, 'Hey, I bluffed Doyle Brunson out of a pot. He crushed me. But I got him on that one hand.'" That's what makes it so cool."

"I don't know if any of these poker pros would make good actors, but I will say that Mike Matusow's voiceovers for FullTilt are real good."

Annie Duke
Annie Duke
"They love it because poker is a great game. And it's a game of skill. There's only a certain amount of attraction to something that's gambling like roulette because I think in the end people get bored with it because I think they realize that they don't have any control over the outcome. Poker is something that people love to do because you have so much control. And obviously big celebrities are driven individuals and poker is a real good match for someone like that because you have to have a lot of drive to really sit down and learn the game."

"As for acting, I'm a soooo bad at it. It's pitiful. They've put me in some TV shows before and I think they have deep regrets about it now. Ironically, the toughest thing to teach an actor about poker is to not act at the poker table. As good as they are at acting, you can't do it with poker. And when people do that, we call it 'Hollywooding.'"

Andy Bloch
Andy Bloch
"Poker is a lot different from acting. In acting you have a script that you have to follow, but poker is more like improv. It's such a different experience. I think a lot of actors over act when they're at the poker table and you can't do that. Poker brings a lot more pressure than people think, especially when you play on TV and you know that everybody is going to see your hole cards and be able to tell you how stupid you were."

"There are some poker players that are already very good actors but some of them I don't think could ever be good at it. Guys like Phil Hellmuth and Mike Matusow because I don't think they can control their emotions."

Montel Williams
Montel Williams (with wife Tara Fowler)
"Well, poker's attractive to a lot of people because it's a fun game. The celebrities are into it, not because of the money but because a lot goes into it. There's the mathematics, the strategy -- it takes a strong mind to play it and be good. When you have something that's as narcissistic as this and then turn it into something for a good cause like today, it becomes a lot of fun. I won't walk the red carpet with a guy like Jason Alexander at one of his movies and talk smack to him about his character, but I'll tell him right now that I'm about ready to take him out once we get out there on the tables."

"Are the poker pros trainable [for acting]? Yeah, there's a couple. Daniel Negreanu is one. He's got the character. And you know what I'd love to do is get Chris Ferguson in a movie with me and we'd play like old school dirty dudes from like 1905 and play poker in some back alley. He'd be the perfect character for something like that."

Jen Tilly
Jennifer Tilly
"I think a lot of times celebrities have a sneaking suspicion that they aren't taken seriously and people don't think they're smart. Poker players are the smartest people in the world and I think actors like to get in and rub their elbows with the smart people and that it rubs off."

"I absolutely think that the poker pros could become great actors. My boyfriend (Phil Laak) has been in several movies. Antonio Esfandiari is another who would be a natural."

Phil Laak
Phil Laak
"The actors love poker because I think they love the battle against the probability gods who treat everyone the same and that's not something that they're used to."

"I think a lot of poker players would struggle as actors because they would show up and see just how much work and how much time it actually takes to film something. If they had a 9 a.m. shoot and someone told them to be there at 5 a.m., I think most poker players would say, 'What's the point of this?' and then just pack it in. So it's a moot point."

Michael DeMichele
Poker pro Mike DeMichele
"The great thing about poker is that every one starts the game with an even amount of chips. So a celebrity doesn't necessarily have the same advantage that they often do in real life. I think that's a real enticing reason for them to come and play."

"I would love to one day take up a career in acting. I think I have a little bit of potential, but I'm sure if that were the case I would need a lot of training because these actors have spent their entire lives trying to perfect their trade."

(All photos by Vin Narayanan/Casino City)

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