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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Jennifer Tilly

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

While looking at a list of possible subjects for our “Where Are They Now” series, I begin to think about what route I’ll have to take to find the most adequate information about each poker player.  Profiles on Doyle Brunson all but write themselves.  Other profiles, like 1979 World Series of Champion Hal Fowler, are a bitter harder to write, but equally enjoyable.  The one thing that links nearly all poker players that have had any kind of success in the game is where you would find information about them, poker sources.  A few times I have mentioned a few players who have somehow become unique in a unique world of poker, and I believe Jennifer Tilly fits that billing.  The list of poker players that have been nominated for an Oscar award and won a WSOP bracelet currently stands at one, and that is the definition of unique.  

Tilly, born as Jennifer E. Chan, on September 16, 1958, was the second of four children.  She was born in Los Angeles, California, but her stay there wouldn’t be long, as her car salesman father and teacher and former actress mother would end up getting a divorce when she was just five years old.  Tilly’s mother would remarry and end up taking the family to British Columbia, Canada. Despite her mother getting another divorce just a few years later, the family would remain in Canada, eventually ending up in Victoria.

As a child Tilly was known as a quiet student, which was attributed to the fact that she was moving quite a bit and having to attend new schools.  Perhaps because of her quiet personality at the time she took up writing, and by all accounts she was very good at it.  When she got to Stephens College, an all women’s school in Columbia, Missouri she used her writing skills to earn her extra income by providing stories to magazines, and also won some awards in local writing competitions.

It was also at Stephens College she began to come out of her shell, and began to pursue acting.  Stephens is known for its acting program, as some famous actresses such as Annie Potts and Joan Crawford attended there.

The next 20 or so years have been nothing short of success for Tilly.  After a few years of struggling, a common occurrence for both would-be actors and poker players, Tilly originally earned a reoccurring role on the hit show “Hill Street Blues.” Shortly after this, Tilly married the writer/producer of “The Simpsons,” Sam Simon, but they were divorced in 1991.  After that she made appearances on a number of hit shows, including “Cheers” as one of Dr. Frasier Crane’s love interests.  She would also appear on his character’s spin off, “Frasier,” a decade later, “Remington Steele,” and “Stir Crazy.”  Tilly’s big break on the big screen came when she was specifically sought after for a role in “The Fabulous Baker Boys” in 1989.  

Five years later she appeared in Woody Allen’s “Bullets of Broadway,” where she played an aspiring, but very untalented, actress.  Her portrayal was so believable that it earned her an Academy Award nomination.  Other films came her way, including the drama “Bound,” and the comedy with Jim Carrey, “Liar Liar,” and a variety of other roles.  She has also lent her voice to a number of successful for animated movies, including the wildly popular “Monsters INC.”  Despite the success in Hollywood, Tilly started pursuing other interests, and one of them that has seemed to stick is poker.

Tilly started getting invited to some celebrity and charity poker events, and even though these tournaments didn’t have the strongest fields, Tilly was getting compliments on her good play.  Some of Tilly’s earliest televised poker “performances” were on shows such as “Hollywood Home Game,” and “Celebrity Poker Showdown.”  

Another fact that helped progress her game in short order was that her boyfriend is Phil “The Unabomber” Laak.  Because of that association, Tilly has earned the nickname “The Unabombshell.”  Oh, and her attractive looks may have something to do with that as well.  Tilly has gone on record saying that Laak has “taught me everything I know…through osmosis,” equaling the quirky personality of her boyfriend.

Tilly wouldn’t have many struggling days as a professional poker player, as she went on to win the $1,000 Ladies Only Event in 2005 taking home $158,335.  A couple of players she outlasted in that tournament were Beth Shak and Cecilia Reyes, who are well respected, but still a large part of the poker tournament treaded her success as “beginners luck.”  Just to put those critiques to rest, it seemed, Tilly went on to win the World Poker Tour “Ladies Night Only Event,” just three months later.  On that table she outlasted Reyes once again, and respected pro Isabella Mercier.

Tilly’s detractors once again pointed out that the events she was winning were women only events, so she once again had to prove her worth in the poker world. At the 2006 WSOP she finished in the money of two events, and she also finished 15th in a WPT Championship Event.  In December of 2006 she won the Fifth Annual Five Diamond World Poker Classic, her first non charity win in an open field.

For a few years Tilly concentrated mainly on poker, but in 2008 she returned to the world of acting, including lending her voice to the hit television show “Family Guy.”  She is also in two movies that are scheduled to be released in 2009, “The Making of Plus One,” and “Renaissance Girl.”  Filming these didn’t get in the way of her having continuing success on the poker table.  In 2008 she placed in a handful of tournaments, including a 12th place finished in February at a WPT championship event, netting her $61,610.

Despite these solid finishes in major events, Tilly announced to Bluff Magazine in December of 2008 that she has retired from trying to becoming a professional poker champion.  She said while she isn’t giving up the game completely she is going to treat it more like a hobby than a career.  

Tilly’s pursuit may have been a short one, but she accomplished more in a short period of time than it takes thousands of others to achieve in a lifetime, and that includes men and women.  Her forthcoming film, “Renaissance Girl,” is a perfect title for a woman who has proven she can have success in multiple areas. 

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