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The Worst Issue Ever

The Chips Hit the Fan

Post-9/11, Americans all know that living is a gamble.

Post-9/11 [


], Americans all know that living is a gamble [tell me about it!—Ed.]. When the World Poker Tour debuted three years back, it caught onto the cultural zeitgeist of a country that had officially SEEN IT ALL [

true dat!—Ed

.], and every year since its $12 million debut, the prize money has doubled, with no signs of slowing down. As season three kicks off this fall, $70 million is up for grabs [


where do I sign up!?—Ed.

]. With more championship green than the PGA (or any other pro sport), tournament poker has become the most lucrative phenomenon in America [

and the most addictive!—Ed.]


The tour comprises a circuit of multimillion-dollar events where only one letter separates "hi stakes" from "mistakes." It takes a certain type of player to be comfortable under the extreme pressure of the WPT [

choke! (no, just kidding!)—Ed.

]. Not surprisingly, many celebrities, so used to real-life stress, feel at home hunched over the green felt of Lady Luck. Ben Affleck was one such arrival, doing for the game of poker what Thomas Edison did for the tungsten filament—simply



Mike Sexton, host of the World Poker Tournament on the Travel Channel, was there the night Affleck clinched the WPT victory in Los Angeles [

I just had to jump in here—Ed.

]. "He told me nothing was more exciting in his life than winning that tournament," Mike recalls. "Even when he got the Academy Awards, it didn't mean as much to him as winning this tournament." Instantly, poker was a four-alarm cultural fire [

ring de alarm!—Ed.]


A regular player in a weekly private game with Affleck, Mike remembers, "He took the cash out of the casino, $362,000, and put it in a paper bag and he brought it to the game the next day. And he put his trophy in the center of the table. ‘Boys,' he said, ‘you're looking at the California state poker champion!'" Jesus, I got goosebumps just typing that last part! [


And I did just reading it!—Ed.


Those who live dangerously close to the edge find the thin-air of high-stakes poker familiar territory. The Vegas Rock Star Poker Tournament pitted notorious music wild men like Dave Navarro and Tommy Lee in a balls-out, ultimate winner-take-all championship against poker royalty. Unfortunately, Carmen and Pamela weren't part of the wager [



Wanting to tap a player's insight into the thrill of laying it all on the line, I picked up my cell phone. I caught the pro rushing out of LAX's baggage area, en route to a limo bound for a million-dollar game in downtown L.A. Surprisingly, it's neither Navarro nor Lee on the phone, but Annie Duke, a mother of four and guru of the game, who spent months instructing Affleck [



"Now, people really do view me like I'm a rock star," she chuckles. Despite knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, Annie has one title that doesn't fit her: "gambler." She insists that pro poker players don't belong in Gamblers Anonymous. [

Tell that to my sponsor!—Ed.

] To her, it's a financial market, requiring occasional luck and razor-sharp skill. With over $300,000 won halfway through this tour, she can't be disputed. [


"You can sort of romanticize the story of my life, of going from a house that cost $11,000 and having a single strand [of] electricity… to, you know, the very first year that I entered the World Series making $70,000 in a month."


Sure, anyone can play guitar [

oh really? Let's see you try!—Ed.

], but where's that going to get you? A seat on the WPT Celebrity Showdown, maybe? Mike points out that the aspirational potential of poker has eclipsed most arena-rock dreams. "It's just like signing a big contract if you're a musician. It's that same thing. Big bucks. Mega bucks. A chance to make it to the top, right away, at a young age."

And the beauty of poker is that it's open to the public, allowing anyone to make it big. All you need are 52 cards and some skillz [

"skillz to pay the billz!"—Ed.

]. Mike runs the internet's biggest poker room,, with over 50,000 players online at any moment, playing with cash.

Could you be the next Affleck? "I'll tell you how he got so good," Mike clues us in. "He lived, breathed, talked poker many, many hours every single day. I mean, he analyzed hands, he did computer simulations, he reads all the books that are out on poker. And because of who he is, he gets to talk with all these top professional players." And to think—you don't even have to worry about the distraction of the world's most beautiful women. You've got it lucky compared to Ben!

And where is this all going? [



Magazine, natch!—Ed.

] Can it be $140 million next year? Will Celebrity Convict Poker (vs. rodeo bulls) be the next craze? Will Navarro and Lee finally up the ante and put their women on the table? Who knows… we're just going to have to stay tuned and see how this hand plays out. [


Good one!—Ed.