Laura Prepon has an addiction. It’s not enough that she’s one of the main characters (Donna Pinciotti) on FOX’s hugely successful That ’70s Show. It’s not enough that she recently completed work on a movie (The Perfect Couple) in which she had a leading role. It’s not enough that she’s hot enough to be a Maxim cover girl — she did just that in November of 2004. Where does this woman find the time to play poker nearly every night? Does she ever sleep? And now she has a new poker show on the E! network. Not only was she on the first episode, she’s the creator and executive producer of the show. She’s making the rest of Hollywood, with all of their free time to buy groceries or go to movie premieres or get their hair cut, look like hopeless slackers.
On any given night at the home of Prepon and her boyfriend, Chris Masterson (Francis on Malcolm in the Middle), there’s a colorful cast of characters around the poker table. There’s Bobbo, who has been affectionately nicknamed Huck, as in Huckleberry Finn or the Riverboat Captain. He tends to suck out on the river, according to Prepon and the other regulars. There’s also Josh, who goes by the name “Flashdance.” He sometimes wins a hand with absolute rags just because he had a feeling, which prompts the entire table to sing “What a feeling!” Six Feet Under’s Eric Balfour is named “Bluffour” for obvious reasons. John is called the General because he likes to run the table, and his wife Val goes by “Running Man” for her tendency to chase. Laura’s boyfriend, Chris, answers to Lord Christopher, and his brother Danny, who is Laura’s fellow cast member on That ’70s Show, is called Phil Hellmuth. “No matter if he wins or loses, he’s always pissed off at the table, and thinks everyone plays poorly,” Laura explained, laughing. Chris and Danny’s younger brother, Jordan Masterson, is also a regular player, despite the fact that he’s only 18. Rounding out the group are Morgan and Travis, and if Travis is to be believed, he taught the group to play poker in the first place, making him a founding father of the hold’em game at Laura’s house, also called Hillhurst Casino. Laura goes by the name Red Dragon, even though her famous red hair has been blonde for several months. Their nightly game is refreshingly relaxed: No one in particular is invited, and poker games aren’t planned in advance; if there are a couple of people in the house, they start playing, and people join the game as they show up. Anyone who knocks on the door is welcome to play if he can find a place to sit and has a few bucks to ante up. Some nights, the games go on forever. “If Chris and I have to go to bed to wake up early, we’ll go to sleep and there will be eight people still playing in our living room,” said Laura. “Sometimes I’ll wake up the next morning and they’re still there. I walk out of my bedroom and the cigarette smoke hits my face, and I think, ‘Awesome. They are still playing.’” One would be hard-pressed to find another hostess who encourages her guests to stay all night, and will also make tasty sandwiches for everyone in attendance, as Laura has been known to do. A recent article in Vanity Fair (March 2005) chronicled the Hillhurst poker game (and other Hollywood home games), and mentioned that Laura is regarded among her group as “the best of the bunch.” That’s pretty high praise for someone who has been playing for only a year.
A year ago, Laura stepped into a public cardroom for the first time on a New Year’s vacation in Lake Tahoe. Prior to this, she and Masterson had only played games at her house. Armed with a little working knowledge of the game and some confidence, she ventured out to play in low-limit games at some local Los Angeles casinos. A couple of months later, at the urging of a friend, Card Player’s Jeff Shulman, Laura and Chris and Danny Masterson played in the 2004 World Series of Poker. The field of players was the largest in history by far, and with so many players, the tournament had to be divided into two starting days. Both Laura and Chris played on the first day, and Chris was eliminated late in the day. Jeff and Danny started on the second day, and both had busted out by the time the neon Binion’s sign was lighting up Fremont Street. Laura was the only one of the group to make it to the next level. Jeff Shulman was very pleased with Laura’s performance. “I was thrilled that she lasted as long as she did,” stated the Card Player CEO. “She looked much prettier in a Card Player tank top than Chris, Danny, or I did.”
Laura said, “I was obviously really nervous, because I’d never played in a tournament like that before. When I sat down, I had to keep my hands under the table because they were really shaky. After an hour, I realized that I played just as well as all the guys at my table. Once I started watching the other players, I saw them do some awkward things. So, my confidence started building the longer I was there, and going into the second day, I had about $20,000 in chips, which was average. I was then able to loosen up and really play my game. But, yeah, at first my hands were totally under the table and my pulse was probably beating out of my neck. But it was awesome. I had a blast.” She surprised herself by outlasting most of the field of 2,500 players, coming in at around the 450 mark. She said of her play, “I was bummed that I got that far without making the money. When I went broke, everyone stood and clapped for me that I had made it that far. So, that was pretty incredible, and it made me feel much better. After I got knocked out, I wasn’t even in present time. I had never experienced anything like that in poker. I was thinking about all the things that led up to my final hand, and wondering if I could have played it differently. I was kind of out of it for about a half-hour, then I snapped back into reality.” A few months later, Laura played in a charity event hosted by Esquire and Bulgari, benefiting Keep Memory Alive. The 100-player field was a mix of celebrities and professional poker players, and she found herself at the final table with some of the world’s best players, including Johnny Chan, Chau Giang, and T.J. Cloutier. “I always get really nervous when I play against pros. Gus Hansen, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, T.J. Cloutier, and I sit down at my table, and Daniel’s on my right and T.J. is right across the table. I was sitting there about to freak out. Daniel was really cool, he was just talking, and T.J. was playing his game, just hanging out. Johnny Chan actually doubled me up on one hand, and I didn’t even know what was going on, ’cause I was so nervous,” said Laura. She finished that event in a very respectable sixth place.
Now, let’s recount: She learned to play poker terpercaya , outlasted the majority of the field at the World Series of Poker, and held her own at a final table against a group of poker studs, all in one year. But that wasn’t enough for Ms. Prepon, so she decided that cable television had room for one more poker show. Her idea for a show about celebrity home games, Hollywood Hold’em, has found a home on the E! network, along with The Soup, True Hollywood Story, and Howard Stern. “The reason I wanted to do this show is that I watch a lot of poker. I watch the World Poker Tour, the Showdown, the Ultimate Poker Challenge, and the World Series of Poker, and they’re all rad,” said Prepon. “But I love my home game so much. I love the energy and the banter, and the trash-talking, drinking, and smoking; whatever it is that you do — there’s energy at home games and I never see that on TV. It’s usually really stiff, or it’s people doing shtick to the audience or whatever. I wanted to see that energy on a poker show, so that’s what I went out and did. That’s the show I created.” The show is a series of home games featuring three celebrities and two of their not-so-famous friends. The constant in the show is its dealer — World Poker Tour Champion Phil “the Unabomber” Laak, who, unlike the silent dealers on other shows, rolls with the conversation and offers valuable poker wisdom. It’s a winner-take-all tournament, with the winner taking home $10,000. In a fun twist, the winner does not have to give the money to charity. There are already plenty of events for that purpose. They can spend all that cash on bubble gum, Botox, Star Wars trading cards, or whatever their hearts desire. The premiere episode on March 17 featured Prepon, Chris Masterson, Danny Masterson, Ike Barinholtz, and Travis Case. Beer was consumed, cigarettes were smoked, and hilarity ensued. While there were some very exciting hands in their game (Royal flush? Yes.), the card playing was secondary to the banter. Prepon and the Masterson brothers are great on TV — it’s expected. Chris Masterson’s deadpan delivery of insults about the players is reason enough to watch the episode multiple times. Those who aren’t familiar with Barinholtz’s work will soon be fans. And it’s easy to root for Case, who said he would refill his refrigerator and pay off some loans here and there if he won. The second episode will feature Macaulay Culkin, Mila Kunis, and Wilmer Valderama. “The episodes have been really cool, and I like it. It’s like you and your friends — you’re hanging out at home, you’re playing good poker. It’s fun to watch,” said Prepon. “That’s how we’re different from every other show. We’re not on a soundstage, we don’t have an audience. You can do whatever you want, anything you normally do, and that’s the vibe of my show.”
Hollywood Hold’em is Prepon’s second foray into producing, and the admitted workaholic relishes the challenge. Since she created Hollywood Hold’em, she has decided to pitch three other shows in the next pitching season. “In terms of my producing, this will be great. It’s a really great stepping stone,” said Prepon. “Some executive producers don’t really get involved. I’ve learned that I’m really a hands-on producer. I like making sure it’s looking the way I want it to. So, I get very involved, which is great, because it gives everybody the idea that we’re a team and we’re all working toward a common goal of making a great show. I always want to make sure everyone’s working together, everyone’s having a really great time, morale is really high, and everyone’s being acknowledged for what they’re doing and feels good in their job, you know? So, as of now, we’re rocking out. Everyone’s really happy, so hopefully after our premiere, we’ll be kicking ass. I just want it to be a really fun, different take on poker.” She’s also hoping to appeal to the people who aren’t necessarily poker fans, but celebrity watchers. “A lot of people just like celebrities. So, they feel like they can hang out with their favorite celebrities for an hour while they’re playing cards. Some people are really into that. Look at Us Weekly — it’s all just pictures of celebrities, but it’s a guilty pleasure. When you’re going on an airplane, you’ve gotta buy it to flip through and see what’s going on,” Prepon admitted. “But for people who don’t play poker, it’s cool just to tune in to our show and see them hanging at their house with their friends. It’s just fun, you know? So you get that and poker.”