When the first World Series of Poker was held in 1970, just seven players were involved. Things have changed. The WSOP Main Event now draws close to 7,000 people from all walks of life, including more than a few celebrities. It is Las Vegas, after all, and many of these celebs can easily afford the $10,000 buy-in. Let’s take a moment to look back at some of the famous players who’ve popped up at the tables over the years.
Kaplan was a fixture on TV in the late 1970s, starring on Welcome Back, Kotter. His acting career peaked in 1979 with the basketball movie Fast Break, but Kaplan had better things to do. He first appeared at the World Series of Poker in 1978, and by 1980, Kaplan was good enough to finish sixth out of 73 players in the Main Event. His best WSOP result on record is second place at a limit Hold’em event in 2005.
The man who became famous as Kojak was an Academy Award-nominated actor before hitting the small screen. He also graduated with a degree in psychology from Columbia, and he put those brains to good use on the felt. Savalas made three WSOP appearances, in 1985, 1987, and finally in 1992, when he finished 23rd out of 201 entrants at the Main Event.
Matt Damon and Edward Norton (and Ben Affleck)
The two primary stars of the film Rounders entered the 1998 WSOP main event at the behest of Binion’s Horseshoe, the host casino at the time. Their appearance drew plenty of publicity and essentially kicked off the celebrity poker boom as we know it today. Both Damon and Norton crashed out on Day One. Damon and his Good Will Hunting co-star Affleck have made multiple appearances since then.
Not long after his success with the Spider-Man franchise, Maguire took up tournament poker under the tutelage of Daniel Negreanu and made his WSOP debut in 2005. Maguire also appeared in 2006 and again in 2007, where he placed No. 292 out of 6,358 players in the Main Event. That was good enough for nearly $40,000 in pocket change.
Tilly, who’s otherwise most famous for her work in the Child’s Play film series, is easily the most successful tournament player from the celeb circuit. She won a bracelet at the 2005 Ladies’ no-limit Texas Hold‘em event. Tilly is a regular fixture at the WSOP and has earned close to $1 million in tournament poker thus far.
Lastly, we pay tribute to Tilly’s former husband and the co-creator of The Simpsons, who passed away of cancer at the age of 59. Simon first played at the World Series of Poker in 2007 and finished behind Maguire in the Main Event at No. 329. Then he placed 20th at a pot-limit Hold‘em event in 2009 before bowing out at No. 500 in the 2011 Main Event. God speed, good sir.
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