Poker Pros Or Reality TV Stars?

In the poker industry, professional players have become a special kind of celebrity thanks in large part to the more public face of the game. Televised tournament coverage, poker room sponsorships, both professional and personal blogs and Twitter and Facebook feeds have made poker’s top players much more recognizable. As poker’s fanbase grows, so too then does each pro’s following.

Despite their escalating level of fame, few pros seem to have let the attention go to their heads. Sure, there are a handful of players that can’t seem to resist showboating in front of a camera, but a lot of the eccentricities that attract at-home viewers to their favorite players are there even when the cameras aren’t. That said, there is a small faction of poker pros that seems determined to turn poker fans’ adulation into their own 15 minutes of real fame.

It all started with Annie Duke. Her runner-up finish on the 2009 season of The Celebrity Apprentice earned her a whole new circle of followers independent of the poker world. Her simultaneous run-in with Joan Rivers, which resulted in Rivers calling poker players “trash,” also raised major hackles in the poker world, inspiring outrage even in placid players like living legend Doyle Brunson. Duke’s very inclusion on the show – let alone her surprising success – shattered the last fragments of anonymity left to live poker pros by grouping them in with other B list celebrities.

In the short year since Duke’s first major television appearance, poker pros have started popping up everywhere. Later in 2009, pros Tiffany Michelle and Maria Ho teamed up to compete on The Amazing Race, missing a whole slew of their usual tournament stops in the progress. Explaining her choice to appear on reality TV, Michelle said in an interview that, “After my run at the Main Event there were a lot of opportunities. Obviously there are a lot of crummy reality shows, but getting to star in a multiple-Emmy winning show is an amazing opportunity.”

We’re not faulting the ladies for being human; how many of us would actually turn down a chance to compete for $1,000,000, whether it’s at the felt or on some goofy game show? That said, it doesn’t explain Duke’s many returns to reality television (Celebrity Liar or Undateable, anyone?). Nor does it explain why people that make a living off hiding their feelings would choose to go on a TV dating show, as Beth Shak recently did on The Millionaire Matchmaker.

Before anyone points out that the most fame-hungry pros seem to be female, we’ve got another interesting piece of celebrity-chasing news to report. The latest pro that’s announced ambitions to appear on reality television is none other than Phil Hellmuth. Earlier this week Hellmuth excitedly Tweeted about his intention to compete on Dancing With The Stars. While it’s not surprising that Hellmuth would willingly make a fool of himself on worldwide television, his appearance on the next DWTS would make him the most successful poker professional to cross over into reality television stardom. Let’s hope the rumors are just that.

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