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.
Over the last few weeks we’ve started to explore a niche of poker players that are known for something entirely different all together – being movie stars. It’s sort of a surreal experience when you see these giants of Hollywood participating in events with the giants of poker. In July I covered portions of the World Series of Poker for PokerWorks.com and got to rub elbows with both of these groups, and was honestly surprised at the amount of people who would waltz right by a celebrity on their way to try to shake the hand and take a picture of Doyle Brunson or Phil Hellmuth. There aren’t many places in the world where a movie star will be passed by in order to see a poker player, but it got me thinking maybe that’s exactly why these Hollywood stars play poker. Sure, they stand out in a poker room, but it was evident to me that despite being surrounded by thousands of spectators they enjoy a sense of security and privacy that they aren’t afforded anywhere else. A lot of people that follow poker feel some celebrities play poker just because they have a lot of money to throw around and really don’t take it that seriously, but in the case of Ben Affleck, that simply isn’t the case.
Ben Affleck was originally born Benjamin Geza Affleck-Boldt on August 15, 1972, in Berkeley, California. Shortly after his birth, Affleck and his family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. His mother continues, to this day, to teach in the Cambridge public school system, and his dad held a number of jobs, including janitor, mechanic, and bartender. Ben’s dad also was an actor of the Theater Company of Boston, in which both, Ben and younger brother Casey, took an interest in at an early age. When Ben was eight years old he became friends with a kid who lived in the same neighborhood with him who was just a couple of years older, Matt Damon. In just a few years Affleck and Damon would make a name for themselves.
Affleck didn’t really play poker as a child, but did enjoy a variety of video games. He enjoyed taking his allowance to the arcade to play Pac-Man and Millipede, both machines on which he would spend hours on. The games always remained close to him, as when he started earning bigger wages from his films one of the first things he did was put a vintage arcade in his room, which included both of these games and many more vintage machines. Back then though, his time to play video games got shorter and shorter as he began appearing on numerous television films and Public Television Specials.
While attending college in Occidental College in Los Angeles, and later the University of Vermont, his movie roles started to get bigger. In 1992 he appeared in School Ties, alongside best friend Matt Damon. From there followed Dazed and Confused, and Kevin Smith-directed Mallrats and Chasing Amy, which continue to be huge cult classics. With the exception of Clerks, Affleck has appeared in every Kevin Smith comedy movie to date. Despite these films being popular within certain groups, the big Hollywood fame was yet to come his way.
For years he was working on a screenplay with Damon, and in 1997 they sold Good Will Hunting to Hollywood for $600,000, and the rest they say, is history. The film won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for 1997, and huge paying roles have followed Affleck ever since. Affleck has had over ten films since 1997 in which he was paid over $10,000,000, including Bounce, Daredevil, and Changing Lanes. Critics had a field day with his movie Gigli, which has been called the worst movie of all-time by a number of outlets, but the $12,500,000 he was paid served as a nice tissue for him to cry into if he was upset about it.
Around the same time Gigli flopped, Affleck took a break from movies for a while, which also happened to coincide with the time poker started becoming as popular as the biggest Hollywood Hits. Affleck knew little about the game, so thought he would hire a professional right off the bat instead of learning everything on his own. Affleck first hired poker professional Amir Vahedi, who was named Texas Hold’em player of the year by Cardplayer Magazine in 2001 and has won over $3,000,000 in tournament prizes. Vahedi taught Affleck quite a lot, but after about a year the relationship dissolved for one reason or another. One rumor is that Affleck took it out on Vahedi after he was eliminated from a tournament holding pocket Aces. However, other poker players say that Affleck at least knew enough about the game to realize that you lose with pocket aces 20 percent of the time, so it had to be for another reason. Either way, Affleck was on the market for another tutor.
Affleck hired Annie Duke, and that relationship turned out exceptionally well. After a few months of training, Affleck entered the $9,900 No Limit Hold’em California State Poker Championships in 2004. The field included 90 of the toughest professionals and at the time the tournament was one of the biggest outside of the World Series of Poker events. In route to winning the event Affleck outlasted his former tutor Vahedi, and knocked out respected professionals Jimmy Tran (4th) and Stan Goldstein (2nd).
The victory at the California State Championships is the only major tournament ever won by a Hollywood actor. While it’s true that other poker players such as Toby Maguire and Jennifer Tilly may have better resumes altogether, the $356,400 Affleck won for his title is also the highest prize ever won by an actor.
Affleck hasn’t played in many tournaments recently because his acting schedule has once against become hectic. This year alone he has appeared in three films, and has a handful of things in the works including a project with Matt Damon, in which the details have been kept under wraps for the most part.
Affleck still shows up at a lot of celebrity poker tournaments, including the Ante Up For Africa tournament that is put on yearly at the WSOP by his former tutor Duke and fellow actor Don Cheadle. Affleck has also put together a number of celebrity poker tournaments to help the situation in Darfur, a situation that Affleck has been very outspoken about. He won the Poker Players Alliance sponsored Poker In The Ball Park charity event to benefit Paralyzed Veterans of America in August, 2008.
Through the years Affleck has been associated with some of the beauties in Hollywood. His first high profile relationship was with Gwyneth Paltrow in 1998. In 2002 he was engaged to Jennifer Lopez in a very highly publicized relationship that was dubbed “Bennifer” by the media. That relationship broke-up shortly before they were supposed to get married. In 2004 he began dating Jennifer Garner in another high profile relationship, but seemed to stay at least a little under the radar of the media. The couple was married in 2005 and they have two daughters, Violet and Seraphina.
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Major Tournament Results
18-Jun-2004 $ 9,900 No Limit Hold'em Championship
California State Poker Championship 2004, Los Angeles 1st $ 356,400