Private poker games have an air of secrecy and danger, offering a unique and exclusive environment for celebrities and high-rollers to get together and play poker. The only information available about these games is what’s shared on social media or spoken about in whispers after the fact. Whereas online casino games are democratic by nature (anyone can play,) these clandestine events are by invitation only.
Let’s explore the world of underground poker games and find out who hosts them, the stakes involved, popular locations and other aspects that make them enticing to players.
Why People Love a Private Poker Game
Poker pros and casual players host private games to practice their skills, to have a friendly gathering or to attract other professionals for high-stakes competitions. To add to the exclusivity, it’s by invitation only and the venue is kept a secret, whether it’s a luxurious setting like a private club or someone’s Beverley Hills home. To get an invite, you need to know the host, have some poker experience and in most cases have access to money – lots of money. High stakes demand a bankroll to match, otherwise you’ve got no business being in the game!
High Rollers and Celebrity Hosts
Here are some of the low-key home poker games and flashy high-roller tables (past and present) you should know about. If you’re wondering how to find underground poker games, you need to start rubbing shoulders with players like these!
The Silicon Valley Poker Home Game
Phil Hellmuth, the host, is one of the biggest names in poker and has 13 World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets to prove it. The players he has invited to his Bay Area games include tech moguls Chamath Palihapitiya, Mark Pincus, David Sacks, Jason Calacanis and David Lee. The stakes have been said to be around $100/$200 for No-Limit Hold’em.
Tobey Maguire’s (Molly’s) Game
The name “Molly’s Game” came about after the release of a biographical drama based on the true story of Molly Bloom, a former Olympic-class skier who turns underground poker game host for high-profile clients, taking over the hosting from Maguire. The players include celebrities and poker pros such as Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Phil Ivey and Jamie Gold and the stakes were initially $100/$200 but increased to $500/$1,000. Rumor has it that Gold, the 2006 WSOP champion, lost his entire bankroll in one of these VIP Viper Room venues on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.
Johnny Carson’s Home Poker Game
Hosted at a secret location in the Hollywood Hills, the former television host only invited high-profile guests he approved of, like stars Steve Martin and Chevy Chase, among other celebrities who enjoy gambling. Although the stakes were said to be low, it wasn’t only about dealing cards. In the breaks, players were treated to a world-class dinner.
Starworld’s Poker King Club
This high-stakes event at the Star World Casino in Macau is so exclusive that American poker pros have been turned away. Mainly organized by Malaysian billionaires Richard Yong and Paul Phua, the game has stakes that often reach an eye-popping $1,250/$2,500. Poker pro Tom Dwan reportedly lost over $4 million in one of these trips to Macau.
Larry Flynt’s Poker Game
The founder of “Hustler” magazine hosted many private poker games with players such as Jerry Buss and Phil Ivey, but in the 1990s presented the largest Seven-Card Stud game in the world. Eric Drache, a Poker Hall of Famer, managed the game and determined who would get a seat. An interesting fact about these games is that, because Flynt was paralyzed in an accident, he kept the thermostats low for his comfort, leading players to wear thermal underwear and scarves to the games in his Hollywood Hills home or at the Hustler Casino in LA. The stakes for a Seven-Card Stud reached as much as $4,000/$8,000.
Willie Nelson’s Home Poker Game
This regular game sees celebrities such as Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson and Woody Harrelson playing for low stakes at Nelson’s ocean-view home in Pai’a, Maui. It’s clear that it isn’t about the money and more about the love of the game and getting together. Nelson himself said they just “play poker and smoke weed.”
Dan Bilzerian’s Private Poker Table
Armenian-American poker celebrity Bilzerian invites only the super-wealthy to his table. His games have featured celebrities and high profilers including actor Tobey Maguire, film director Nick Cassavetes and action movie hero Mark Wahlberg. The stakes are usually insanely high. It’s believed he once bought in for $10 million and at another time won $50 million over the space of a year by playing in various private games. He’s also been part of games where cars and planes were the stakes. Information about Bilzerian’s venues and guests is sometimes sketchy, but he does sometimes leak small nuggets of information on Twitter.
The Ultimate Checklist to Hosting an Exclusive Poker Game
If starting a poker club or hosting an exclusive private game is on your bucket list, here’s a 12-point checklist to help you:
- Decide on the guest list.
- Choose a venue that suits your plan and space needs.
- Get the necessary equipment such as tables, chairs, chips and blinds.
- Set the rules and structure, decide on the specific game and buy-in amount and let the guests know what these are.
- Order food and drinks, asking guests if they have special dietary needs.
- Arrange for security during the event.
- Send invitations with the date, time, venue and any other instructions.
- Make sure you have a check-in process and proper bankroll management.
- Set the mood with lighting and music.
- Give players clear instructions and guidelines.
- Be sure to respect each other’s privacy.
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