Warning: The following may be hazardous to what you now consider your free time.
James Woods tells TVGuide.com he didn't start playing poker "totally seriously" until "a year and a half ago — Aug. 1, exactly." His enthusiasm for chance and chips has led to his involvement (with his partner, TV poker commentator Vince Van Patten) in HollywoodPoker.com, which offers games for both real and play money.
The real-money games often feature celebrity participants. Mimi Rogers and Mena Suvari are among the frequent — and, says Woods, better — celeb players. For those not ready to stare down over real dough, Woods and Van Patten are launching a second site, HollywoodPoker.net, specifically geared to the novice.
"No one has ever taken advantage of the idea that a lot of people just never want to play for money," Woods declares. "They just want to learn, have a good time and be a part of the poker explosion without taking any kind of risk. We thought if we made a really viable, fun site, almost like a fan club, if you will, eventually our advertising and merchandising would pay for the site. It would be a valuable thing for everyone involved, a win-win situation."
In a first for the actor, Woods wrote, directed and stars with Van Patten in TV commercials for the websites, which hit the air this weekend. "The comedy angle I took in creating the spots," says Woods, "was that Vince and I — both of whom are very good players — think we're both so good, so fabulous, which is the running tag word of the spots.
"And, of course, everybody beats us — including, finally, a cat, who toys with, if you'll pardon the joke, the mouse next to the keyboard. We can't beat anybody. And that's the fun part of the whole idea: If you really learn to play poker well, you can pretty much beat anybody."
The good news is that the commercials are entertaining and funny. The bad news is that HollywoodPoker.com can be addictive, as attested to by many of the friendly opponents this reporter has met since getting sucked in the day after interviewing Woods (hence the warning above). However, I am up over $33,000 — in play money.
"Every year," says Woods, "we see guys who qualified in a $40 online tournament winning the World Series of Poker against the greatest players in the world. They play really well, they have some extraordinary luck and the combination is pretty enticing."
So poker really is anybody's game. Let the dreams begin.