The Most Famous Poker Game in Hollywood

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The Quorum ChronicleIt’s said that California — and Los Angeles in particular — has the most poker playing going on of anywhere outside of Las Vegas. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t really matter; in a town that thrives on storytelling, the truth is at best a passing consideration.

But there certainly are a lot of often high-stakes games going on, whether at the regulated cardrooms or in private settings — which made situating the second season of The Gambler’s Tale in the City of Angels a natural fit. And in filling out the environment of this tale, one real-life game served as at least initial inspiration for Margaret Florian’s undertaking in “All That Glitters” — that of Molly Bloom, as related in her memoir, Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker, and its film adaptation, Aaron Sorkin’s more succinctly titled Molly’s Game.

In 2011, one of her Los Angeles players, hedge fund manager Bradley Ruderman, racked up losses of close to $5,000,000. Subsequently, it was discovered that not only did he have no ability to pay his table losses but had been running a Ponzi scheme with his investors’ funds.

Molly Bloom was a summa cum laude college graduate and competitive skier who moved to Los Angeles in 2003 after injuries cut her Olympic dreams short. She began working as a bartender and as a personal assistant to real-estate investor Darin Feinstein, co-owner of the Viper Room nightclub on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. One day, Feinstein tasked her with managing a regular poker game in the club’s basement, at the behest of Spider-Man actor Tobey Maguire. Knowing almost nothing about poker, Bloom started researching the game and atmosphere, setting up snacks and music — but still found herself unprepared for the wealth and fame of the players in attendance.

After purportedly earning $3,000 in tips that first evening, Bloom saw a clear opportunity, and continued to organize the weekly game, gradually increasing her knowledge of both the game and its players, demonstrating a particular knack for understanding their specific needs and expectations — and how to make them feel catered-to, even when losing large sums of money to players like the notoriously predatory Maguire. She eventually started her own catering and events business, Molly Bloom Inc., in 2007, specifically to host poker tournaments. By 2008, the game had moved from the Viper Room basement to private homes and hotel suites, with Bloom treating each game as a luxury catered event. Instead of the $10,000 buy-in for those original games, a player would eventually need as much at $250,000 to earn a spot at the table. And Bloom’s tips had risen to $50,000 on an especially good night. In addition to Maguire, high-profile players at these games included stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Macaulay Culkin, billionaires Alec Gores, Andy Beal and Guy Laliberté, and even the occasional professional player like Phil Ivey. (Though over time, Bloom would try to keep the attendance of professionals to a minimum, to avoid having them clean everyone out at the expense of the game’s hosts.)

Be sure to check out the complete article, in both text and enhanced audio formats, along with the rest of The Quorum Chronicle series, at our Patreon page. And thanks so much for your continuing support of Jabberwocky Audio Theater!

— William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum

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