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Poker Chicks

Murphy James
Jennifer Tilly

An actress with an Academy Award nomination, a producer of a horror film, and a gal who needed a second kidney transplant at a most inconvenient time. And they happen to be three of the best female poker players on the map today.

Jennifer Tilly, an Oscar-nominee (Best Supporting Actress) for her bimbo role in Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway,” has a new moonlighting job: top poker pro. Though still very active in film and TV, she has a couple additions to her treasure chest: ladies’ No Limit Texas Hold ‘em event victories at the World Series of Poker as well as the World Poker Tour. Her World Series of Poker victory came at the expense of 600 other wannabes and marked the first time a celebrity has taken down a top prize at the biggest event in pokerdom.

“Better than an Oscar,” says Tilly of her poker wins.

Tilly currently stars in the CBS show, “Out of Practice,” and dates poker pro, Phil “Unabomber” Laak, whom she credits with poker lessons that took her to the top. Laak’s “Unabomber” tag is earned because he hides under the hood of his grey sweatshirt while seated at the poker table. Laak and a team of celebrities and pros butt heads on the Game Show Network against James Woods’ team, with Laak coming away with two victories. The second victory was especially sweet: Tilly was on Laak’s team.

Annie Duke, once struggling to pay the $125 per month rent on a cold, leaky, 400 square foot "Love Cabin" in Montana, has catapulted to the top of the poker world with a recent two million dollar win in a No Limit, Texas Hold ‘em “Tournament of Champions,” and a coveted gold bracelet in the Omaha event at the 2005 World Series of Poker.  

When not playing high stakes poker, Annie tutors movie stars such as Ben Affleck, sold a poker show starring you-know-who to the Game Show Network, and is producing a horror movie that she wrote through her company, Ten Dimes Productions (when one bets a “dime” in a poker game, it is $1,000).

In her new autobiography, “How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the World Series of Poker,” Annie begins: “Not a day goes by when I play poker and don’t learn from it, when I don’t add something new to my game, when I don’t see people differently.”

Jennifer (Jen) Harman is one of the most successful players in the world today, with wins in two World Series of Poker events. She is also a carrier of a genetic kidney disease, Glomerular Basement Membrane (GBM) disorder. Her mother died from it. A sister has had a kidney transplant. Jen’s father was the donor of her first kidney transplant, which came when she was 17.

What was so inconvenient about her second transplant, 18 years later? She was in the middle of the richest poker game in history and was millions ahead of billionaire Houston banker Andy Beal. Then, the cards became blurry. She was in need of her second kidney transplant. Aunnie, her 23-year old niece, donated the second kidney.

Jen is now healed, healthy, back on the pro circuit, and back to her winning ways. She can be found at the Bellagio poker room in Vegas, playing for the highest stakes. How high? How about initial bets of $4,000 and $8,000?

Tilly, Duke, and Harman, a trifecta of women who know the ups and downs of the pro poker world: a lot of risk, a lot of reward. Shuffle up and deal.

© 2005 Murphy James