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Why I prefer celebrity poker players to be bad at the green felt

Jack Beresford was pleased to see Victoria Coren Mitchell’s win but has a soft spot for celebrity losers.

Victoria Coren Mitchell’s victory at the European Poker Tour Sanremo Main Event in Italy was huge for the profile of the game in the UK but for me, there’s always been something reassuring about watching a celebrity flounder at the green felt.

Call me heartless if you will, but the idea of A-listers transferring their success in sports or the silver screen to the world of poker and a game I have spent years trying and failing to master is a little galling.

And after a particular poor session, there are few things more tempting than a celebrity poker fail – something that gives me the kind of guilty thrill usually reserved for the Daily Mail sidebar of shame.

Coren Mitchell represents something of a special case of course– she has been playing poker since her teens and is arguably as recognised for her achievements in poker as she is for her writing and television work.

Instead, my ire is directed at the likes of Tobey Maguire – the man once known as Spiderman who has seemingly become more adept at spinning up winnings at the poker table than on the cinema screen.

Not content with allegedly winning some $10-million across a series of celebrity-only competitions, the Cider House Rules star also faced litigation over allegations of winning a further $300,000 in a series of underground Hollywood games.

A successful actor, good-looking and a brilliant poker player to boot? I had always hoped I would at least have the latter to beat down the likes of Maguire with but I guess I’m wrong.

There’s definitely something reassuring about seeing an A-lister flounder and show some of their human side when it comes to poker.

Take this clip of Matt Damon trying and failing to sucker some fellow players in during a tournament game. Having seen and fallen in love with his 90s poker-centred cult favourite “Rounders” I expected great things from Will Hunting.

However what follows is a masterclass in how not to bet on the river, with Damon – in possession of a strong hand – failing to value-bet in a way that will convince your opponents to call, getting a few more chips out of the table in the process.

Damon isn’t an isolated case either – there are plenty of big names who have tried and failed with poker. US champion swimmer and winner of some 22 Olympic medals Michael Phelps may have an incredible 18 golds to his name but he’s failed to shine at the green felt, with winnings of just over $5,000 to his name, despite an increased interest in the game. Little wonder he’s now returned to swimming.

But while Phelps’ achievements are reasonable, the best celebrity players are the downright crazy ones and few are more crazy than straight-up loopy Lethal Weapon star Gary Busey.

Famed card-playing blogger Nolan Dalla recently recalled a meeting with Busey during a celebrity poker event in which the actor delivered a performance worthy of his most villainous of movie roles, making no friends with his fellow competitors but at least bringing a smile to this poker player’s face.

“Totally oblivious to normal poker etiquette when players out the hand talk softly, if at all, Busey behaved like he was the life of the party,” Dalla said on his blog.

“He ignored players and the betting action completely – even when they were all in. Busey would laugh openly after players took a beat and ask completely irrelevant questions while others were pondering a critical decision.”

Unlikely to be invited to any future poker events, Busey represents a dying breed of the less-than-savvy celebrity poker star with the likes of Jennifer Tilly, Maguire and even Batman himself Ben Affleck flexing their muscles at the green felt.

Here’s hoping they get a few duff hands.

 

 


Image ‘Macro shot of bright green tennis ball fel’ by Horia Varlan

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