I have Vince Van Patten’s money. I took it from him in Las Vegas, and what happened there, stays here.
Finding myself with a few days off recently, I went to The Mirage to relax and play some poker. The hotel happened to be hosting a big tournament as part of the World Poker Tour. I wasn’t there for that, just some regular poker room action, but I did take a look around to see which big names had showed up.
If you’ve watched the WPT, you’d have recognized some of the faces and names (Daniel Negreanu, Scotty Nguyen, Thomas Keller, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, and others).
If you’ve never watched the WPT, you still would have recognized at least one of the players: Tobey Maguire. Yes, Spider-Man was playing in the tournament, and he did very well — 24th out of 281 players, earning a prize of $16,201. At least he’ll be able to pay the mortgage this month.
I won’t give away any more about the tourney, in case you’ll watch it on the Travel Channel next season, but I will tell you that Maguire was not the highest-finishing celebrity. A certain former sitcom star turned his $10,000 investment into over a quarter-million by finishing third.
Meanwhile, I was playing at a non-tournament table in the Mirage poker room. Four of the other players at the table had played in and busted out of the WPT event over the previous two days, so there were lots of stories going back and forth.
After a couple of hours, I looked over my shoulder and saw four guys walk by our table and head for the poker room supervisor. I immediately recognized one of them as James Woods. His hair is now steel gray and he had an easy smile that meant he was at home in a poker room. Woods has a reputation as a pretty good poker player. He plays a lot of tournaments, including this WPT event — although he didn’t end up anywhere near the top — and I bet it’s eating at him that Ben Affleck recently won the California State Poker Championship and Woods has yet to finish in the money in a major.
Standing with him were Vince Van Patten, his father Dick, and a guy I didn’t know. They were asking the supervisor to open up a table for some high-stakes no-limit action. She told them it would take a little while to get it going but, in the meantime, if any of them wanted it, there was an open seat at our table. Vince looked at James, who shrugged and let Vince take it.
This was a little surreal. I’ve been playing poker for many years, in home games and in card rooms all over the place. I’ve seen the game explode in popularity thanks to the television exposure. I’ve seen tens of thousands of people playing simultaneously on internet poker sites. But this was the first time I’d sat at a table with someone that everyone recognized, while an Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated actor stood at the rail and watched us.
Vince bought some chips, and then proceeded to fold the first couple of hands. On his third hand, I raised with a pair of red nines in middle position. I’d been playing fairly tight and taken down some nice pots so far, so everyone else folded — except Vince, who put on a pair of dark sunglasses and called from late position. The flop came 8-3-2 rainbow, and I bet right out. Vince called, throwing his chips into the pot casually. The turn card was a 6, and I bet it again. Vince paused for a moment (he might have been looking me over, but I couldn’t tell through the sunglasses), showed his cards to Woods, and folded them. Woods leaned over and asked, “Why didn’t you call him?” Vince replied with a laugh, “You call him!”
The dealer pushed Vince Van Patten’s money towards me.
There’s a scene in the movie “Rounders” in which Matt Damon’s character, Mike, is telling another player about the night he sat down at a table with the legendary Johnny Chan and bluffed him out of a big pot. From the tone of the story, Mike seems to think he’s a better player than Chan because of that one hand. Any real poker player knows that’s not true, anymore than saying you’re a better golfer than Tiger Woods because you beat him on a single hole. The question is, can you do it again, and again, and again?
I never got the chance to find out, because Vince got up a short while later and plunked $5,000 on the high-stakes no-limit table they’d finally opened up. The guy next to me turned and jokingly said, “I think he’s afraid of you.”
He’s not, of course. Still, I have some of Vince Van Patten’s money, and he has none of mine. So, James Woods, you wanna piece of me next?