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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – James Woods

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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.

Lately in our “Where Are They Now” series we have profiled a number of Hollywood giants turned poker players.  In keeping up with that theme we bring you the talented character actor, both on the screen and at the table, James Woods.  The incredibly brilliant Woods has been able to transform a highly successful acting career, filled with many accolades and awards, to a solid poker career, that has seen him place near the top in a number of big tournaments.  Some actors may have one or two great finishes that are better than Woods, but his consistency is unequal to any of his acting counterparts.  From time to time I’ve dropped a line in my stories regarding certain players along the lines of “they could have done well in any field they chose.”  James Woods definitely fits that description.

James Woods was born on April 18, 1947, in Vernal, Utah.  His father was an army intelligence officer, and his job caused the family to move quite often.  In 1960 Woods’ father went in for what has been described as a routine surgery, but ended up dying very unexpectedly.  Woods’ mother would remarry and relocate the family to Warwick, Rhode Island, where she operated a pre-school.  Despite the sudden death of his father and the constant moving, Woods continued excelling in school.  In high school he was taking college classes.  Woods scored a perfect 800 on the Verbal section of his SAT’s, and a 779 on the math portion.  He was accepted to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the premier colleges in America.  Despite the M.I.T. invite, Woods decided to join the United States Air Force Academy.  However, an injury to his hand caused by a plate glass window shortly before he left was so severe that he was unable to go to the Air Force.  Luckily he had M.I.T. on the backburner, a heck of a second choice.

Woods first became interested in acting while at M.I.T.  While there he participated in dozens of plays for the school, and became a member of many theater houses in the area, including the Theater Company of Boston.  Woods says it was the stage manager of the Theater Company of Boston, Tim, the father of Ben Affleck, who led him to become an actor.  Despite putting a lot of hours into acting, Woods breezed right along through his classes.  When he was just a few months away from graduating he got an offer to act in a theater production, but if he decided to pursue it, it would keep him from getting his degree.  After talking about it with his mother, he felt like chasing his acting dream was his best option, and with his mom’s blessing he dropped out.

The choice was obviously not an awful decision.  Woods has won numerous awards, including two Emmy’s for his work in the television miniseries’ Promise in 1987, and My Name Is Bill W in 1989.  He has also been nominated for two Academy Awards for his roles in Ghosts of Mississippi and Salvador.  For the hundreds of roles he has played in theater, movies, and television, he says his favorite role is a cartoon.  He says he enjoys the role of Hades, on the Disney show Hercules so much that he’ll play it until he is no longer able.  Woods also says he enjoys a lot of other actors, all those found at a poker table.

Woods says he enjoys poker so much because you are constantly trying to figure out what roles all the different players are being that particular day.  One day they might be a “villain,” by bulling the table around, and the next you might see the same guy try to be a “hero” by making a questionable call in an attempt to knock out another player.  Woods didn’t decide to try poker on his own though.  Once while playing video poker with a friend shortly after 9/11, he had a feeling that since the attacks the machines may have gotten tighter.  Doing some amateur detective work, he found out from a casino employee that while the statistics for winning were the same, the rate of winning was now more spread out, meaning the machine will go longer between any significant wins.  They said they did this because after 9/11, Vegas wasn’t getting much business.  Woods decided that he was too smart to sit at a poker machine that he didn’t have much chance of winning, and was ready to swear off casinos for while.  It was here that his friend said he ought to check out Texas Hold’em before he decided to never enter a casino again.

Woods got his hands on every poker book he could, and started reading them whenever he could, including during breaks on his movie sets.  When he felt comfortable, he started sitting on some smaller buy-in games, but before too long he was one of the regulars at the “Hollywood Home Game” put on by Vince Van Patten.  He also started playing online every day.  He experimented with different ways of playing.  Sometimes he would play 4 tables at a time 12 hours a day, hearing how playing more would likely up his bankroll.  He said that didn’t work for him because he would get fatigued so easily, and he believes that when people are tired is when they lose the most money.  So, instead he started to stick to strict rules.  He said if he made $500 during his session, he would quit for the day, no matter what.  He proceeded to do just that for 30 of the next 31 days.

Woods also has found some success in live tournaments, having cashed in both a World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker event.  In February 2006 he finished 24th at the $9,600 buy-in event at the L.A. Poker Classic.  That same year he cashed in the $2,000 No Limit Hold’em Shootout event, finishing in 56th place.  Woods wishes he could play more tournaments, but with a continuously busy schedule, his time is limited.  Most of his play is restricted to online, where he is a sponsored player at HollywoodPoker, but it is not out of the realm of possibility to walk into Bellagio’s Poker Room and find him playing at a No Limit Holdem table.

*Read Billy Monroe's Blog*

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