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Interview with Vince Van Patten

Film and Television actor, Vince Van Patten is currently in his second season as the host of “The World Poker Tour” the highest rated show on the Travel Channel. Having played the major poker events for years, including celebrity private games, Vince has been dubbed the ‘King of The Hollywood Home Games’, and has made his mark with his colorful commentary and insightful card play knowledge. In essence, Vince has become the ‘Voice Of Poker’ in the midst of this phenomenal poker boom. He, along with movie star James Woods, is the spokesperson for new online poker room HollywoodPoker.com.

Vince is married to actress Eileen Davidson, the star of the daytime drama series The Young And The Restless. They have a son Jesse and two other children, Duke and Vinny from his previous marriage. They reside in Malibu, California.

Vince, How did you get into poker?

My father Dick Van Patten, the actor, was a fanatical poker player and gambler. He taught me how to read the racing form and play poker at the age of nine. He used to have pretty big games in the kitchen when I was growing up, and I was fascinated. I used to watch the game and I got pretty good at it and, at 14, I was actually playing in the home game with the grown-ups. I was a child actor and had a pretty good career at this point. I was making my own money, so my father said, “Hey, if you want to put up your money against these guys – if you think you’re good enough – go ahead. So that was a great learning experience. I learnt not just Hold’em, but all kinds of games.

So they were celebrity games?

They weren’t really celebrity games, but my father knew a lot of people in the entertainment field, like Gabe Kaplan, Don Adams, John Houston, Richard Dreyfuss, Walter Matthau, Harry Dean Stanton…guys like that. And then there were producers and writers, unemployed actors; my father was in the middle of it all. It wasn’t a celebrity game per say, more like a pretty serious home game.

Gabe Kaplan is still a big player. Do you get to play him often?

Well, the games evolved over the years. And I started playing games in the casinos with Gabe. We’ve been playing together for years and years.

You got seriously into tennis for a while…

At nineteen I went on the Professional Tennis Tour. I actually made the top 25 in the world. I played on the ATP circuit for over eight years. I was in the top 50 for my entire career. I played Wimbledon and all the major championships numerous times. I actually had two wins against John Macenroe, who was number one in the world at the time. So I didn’t get the chance to play too much poker in those days. But I retired from tennis at around 30-years old, went back into the acting field, and started playing poker again on a very serious level. I played the major events at the World Series for many years and a lot of the big cash games too.

It seems that a lot of professional athletes move into poker after they retire from their sport. Why do you think that is?

Well, it’s a natural. If you’re competitive and determined enough to be good at a sport, you can make that transition and potentially be a great poker player. There are a lot of aspects that are the same: the competitiveness, the focus, the desire to win, the ability to execute the win and be a winner overall – that’s very difficult for the average person. A lot of great athletes have the strength to not give up when the chips are down, and you need that in poker.

And now you get poker players that are big celebrities and actors who are more famous for playing poker than acting…

Poker is the new hot game on the block. Because of the TV coverage, like the World Poker Tour, and the millions of dollars at stake, it’s taken the whole world by storm. The actors love it now. It has taken Hollywood by storm.

Since the success of Rounders we’re seeing a lot more poker films and TV shows. You were in Stuey: The Stu Ungar Story. Tell us about that.

I did a cameo. I knew the writer/director and he’d done a nice job with the screenplay. It’s going to be hard to capture the spirit of the poker world and make a great poker film. I still don’t think it’s been done. That’s not to say it won’t be, because I know so many people will make poker films now.

Do have a poker film lined up for yourself?

You know, I wrote a story about eight years ago that was developed by 20th Century Fox. They had Keanu Reeves lined up and Adam Sandler wanted in too. That was before the boom. The film never got made. Rounders beat us to the punch. It was a good script, but when I look back on the now, it’s dated. So I wouldn’t want to make it. You gotta stay five steps ahead in Hollywood.

Adam Sandler? Was it a poker comedy?

Yeh. It was dramatic, with comic touches, but when Adam said he wanted be in it, the studio said, “Let’s make it funnier.” So it was redrafted with more jokes.

Tell us about your site.

Well, it’s very exciting. James Woods and myself are the spokespeople. It’s called HollywoodPoker.com and it’s the first real celebrity-driven online poker site. It’s basically where anyone can play with the stars. You can chat and bluff online. It’s basically about rubbing shoulders with the stars at a poker table, across the internet. Jimmy and I are absolutely fanatical about it. We go on all the time. It’s been a great success, and we have a stable of actors lined up who want to come and have some fun playing there. It’s growing rapidly and we’re making a huge push with advertising in the US right now. There’s going to be a lot of tournaments and it’s just great fun.

What’s unique about the software?

They’ve worked intensely to create the best. James Woods went on a lot of other poker sites before this, and he wanted to make it the best. It’s great that the people who have signed up so far are really excited about it and everyone’s generally having a good time.

I understand you run a pretty serious celebrity home game every week.

Yeh. The games evolved from those games 20 years back. I’ve played a lot with Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire, Jimmy Woods and Gabe Kaplan. The great thing about the games we play is that they’re serious, and the stakes can sting a little bit, but basically everyone’s having a good time, smoking cigars, a drink on the side, plenty of chit-chat – they’re great fun.

Who’s the toughest player to beat, Affleck, Maguire or Woods?

Poker’s a funny thing. If you say: Who’s the toughest to beat? Who’s the best over a year? Who’s the best at money management? It’s always different. All three are world-class players – they can play with anyone in the world. It’s more a question of: who’s having a lucky night? Who knows how to save money when they’re going bad?

So how have the games changed over the years?

Those bigger celebrity home games that my father and I used to play with Walter Matthau, John Huston and so on – back then, no one really talked about it. If you told someone you were going to a poker night, they didn’t know what you were talking about. They’d say: “What? Polka dance?” And when they finally got the picture, they would frown, because poker was looked down upon in those days. People thought it was a sleazy backroom kind of thing. But now it’s considered a hip thing. The Hollywood people have come out of the closet, so to speak, and are openly enjoying this game on many different levels.

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