The Upside of Poker

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Poker has forged relationships and opened doors for Joshua Malina.

Poker has been good to actor Joshua Malina, who started playing in the 1980s at games that Aaron Sorkin hosted at his apartment near Lincoln Center in New York. Not only has Malina managed to win more than he's lost, but his career benefited as well. His friendship with Sorkin "was really forged across a poker table," Malina says. Eventually, Malina appeared in several Sorkin projects, including TV's Sports Night and The West Wing and the 1995 film The American President.

After moving to Los Angeles in 1992, Malina found his way into a home game hosted by actor Hank Azaria. The game was "largely social, not super-high stakes," Malina says. "I was the one sitting at the table saying, 'For the love of God, whose deal is it? Are we never going to play poker?' "

Finally, Azaria called him. "I'm kind of mortified to have to do this, but I'm going to have to ask you to stop coming to the game," Azaria told him. "It's not coming from me, but you're a little too serious about the poker."

Malina says Azaria's game later became so much more competitive and high-stakes that Malina could no longer afford to join anyway. Sources say the buy-in is now $1,000.

Azaria eventually began hosting two games -- one for "well-heeled, really rich guys" and another for "civilians," according to Malina. It was at this game that he and fellow actor Andrew Hill Newman dreamed up what would become Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown in 2003. Azaria hosted the show, which aired 48 episodes until it ended in 2006. The game pitted celebrities against one another for charity. Malina and Newman were thrilled to get Ben Affleck to appear on the program. "We got very, very good people. The timing was just perfect," he says.

Malina has not played in the ultra-high-stakes games, though he says he was given a chance to enter that rarefied world. Once, a director offered to stake him $50,000, but he declined. "There's a concept of scared money where you go in there and you're shaking about the risk," he says. "I couldn't face that."


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