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Top-10 gambling couples

14 February 2011

By Aaron Todd, Vin Narayanan, and Dan Igo

It's Valentine's Day, the day on the calendar when we acknowledge the loves of our lives. And even though we spend most of our time writing about the gambling industry, we at Casino City enjoy a good love story as much as the next person. So to celebrate, we've devoted this week's top-10 list to our favorite gambling couples.

10. Tom and Julie Schneider
Tom Schneider, the WSOP Player of the Year in 2007, is generally a pretty calm presence at the table. But his wife Julie plays the role of bubbly cheerleader, famously yelling "Stack 'em, stack 'em, stack 'em, to the top!" whenever Tom wins a big hand. Of course whether the support is desired or not is up for debate. -- AT



9. Jeff and Patty Zuckerman
While celebrity relationships are definitely interesting (there's a reason my wife devours the old issues of US Weekly her friend Lena brings over every time she visits), nothing beats a good old fashioned "boy-meets-girl" story. And while the people involved in this story from the Orlando Sentinel don't necessarily fit the mold of the traditional narrative (they are in their 60s, after all), they met at the poker table, and it took another player's urging to finally get the relationship off the ground. Congratulations and Happy Valentine's Day to Jeff Zuckerman and his bride, Patty Kruger Zuckerman. -- AT

8. Daniel Negreanu and Amanda Leatherman
The rumor mill has been churning for awhile on whether Daniel Negreanu and Amanda Leatherman are actually an item. The two have been known to date other poker players. Negreanu dated Evelyn Ng early in his poker career, while Leatherman is a former girlfriend of Joe Sebok. Negreanu and Leatherman were featured together in a PokerNews video last year, and she confirmed they "hang" a lot. If the two aren't dating, Negreanu sure knows a lot of personal details about a person who he just "hangs" with. -- DI



7. Norman Chad and his third wife
Anyone who watches the World Series of Poker as religiously as we do knows that ESPN poker analyst Norman Chad loves to make jokes about his ex-wives. But since we haven't heard anything about a divorce since our old colleague Ryan McLane broke the news on Chad's third marriage during the 2007 WSOP, we have to assume that all is hunky-dorey for the poker pontificator and his wife Toni on this Valentine's Day. And anyone who can put up with Chad's sense of humor (read his "Couch Slouch" column announcing the wedding as an example) on a daily basis has to have a little love in their heart. -- AT

6. Robert and Olga Varkonyi
The Varkonyis are fixtures at the World Series of Poker Main Event. Robert won the Main Event in 2002, and has been playing the tournament ever since. The world first met Olga when she hugged and kissed Robert after he won the Main Event (see the video below), but an argument can be made that Olga is the better poker player of the two. She cashed in the 2005 Main Event, winning $28,375 for finishing in 238th place. And she plays in the Main Event every year along with Robert. If Olga is the first to bust out of the tournament, you will always find her on the rail, watching her husband play. And when play ends, it is very clear that the two are in love. They usually walk hand in hand, out of the Amazon and head back to their room or restaurant, with smiles on their faces. -- VN



5. William Macy and Maria Bello in The Cooler
The Cooler is an underappreciated movie that -- in my book -- easily ranks as one of the top-10 gambling movies of all time. And the heart and soul of The Cooler was love story between Bernie Lootz, played by William Macy and Natalie Belisario, played by Maria Bello. Lootz is an old school "cooler," whose job is to sit down at winning tables, or next to winning players, and turn them into losing tables or players because he's just that unlucky. He also happens to fit the classic definition of loser at life and in love. Belisario is a harried cocktail waitress, just trying to get by in life. The two end up in a romantic entanglement (yes, I'm being deliberately vague so I don't spoil the movie) and Lootz becomes the luckiest person in Las Vegas. That is problematic for someone whose job it is to be unlucky, and trouble ensues -- especially when Lootz's boss, played to smarmy perfection by Alec Baldwin, intervenes. The remarkable thing about this movie is how well the romance works in this movie. It works so well, that it found its way onto our top-10 list. -- VN



4. Phil and Katherine Hellmuth
With 11 World Series of Poker bracelets, Phil's credentials in the poker world are nearly unparalleled. While his wife doesn't play like he does, she is often at his side. And she quietly absorbs his rants about his bad luck and the bad play of other players (e.g., "That maniac put all that money in with two sevens, honey. Did you see that?"). We've never seen Phil's wife contradict him (at least not in public), even though it would be so easy to do so. Nor does she cheer him on, like Julie Schneider (perhaps there's only room for one boisterous person in each couple?). But she willingly is by his side to support him, no matter what he says or does. Now that is true love. -- AT



3. Phil Laak and Jennifer Tilly
This is one poker's highest profile couples. Jennifer Tilly, an actress turned poker player, won the WSOP Ladies Event in 2005. She's also cashed in five other WSOP events and she won last year's $5,000 No Limit Hold'em tournament at Bellagio Cup VI. Her Bellagio Cup VI win earned her $124,455. Phil Laak is a very popular poker pro, known as much for his wacky prop bets as he is for his for his poker play. But let there be no doubt, he is an excellent poker player. He won his first WSOP bracelet last year, has more than $500,322 in career WSOP earnings, and significantly more than that when you add in the various other tournaments he's played in. But because this is a Valentine's Day list, romance is the key here, and they clearly don't lack in that department. The two always look happy together. And at the Main Event, they keep track of each other's play and stacks. In fact, both players have been known to ask reporters how the other is doing on a regular basis. -- VN



2. Chad Brown and Vanessa Rousso
Vanessa Rousso and husband Chad Brown are arguably to most attractive couple in poker. They met at the 2006 Five-Star World Poker Classic. She finished in seventh place, he finished in ninth. As Rousso told former Casino City Senior Editor Gary Trask back in 2009, "Not a bad day for me. I won a quarter of a million dollars and met my future fiancée. Does it get any better than that?" The two players, now married, are both Team PokerStars Pros. -- VN

1. Stanley Ho and every woman in Macau
Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho's love story has been front page news in China the last month, as his many wives and children have been fighting in a Hong Kong courtroom over his estimated $3 billion in assets. Ho has been married four times, and his daughter Pansy is a leading Hong Kong businesswoman. Pansy is being sued by her 89-year-old father for trying to allegedly swipe his business. This all lead to a bizarre video posted on YouTube where Stanley Ho told his lawyer that what his family was doing to him was "robbery." -- DI


Top-10 gambling couples is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and (his personal favorite) Badeuci.

Since graduating from St. Lawrence University, Aaron has worked as a journalist covering the gambling industry and as a communications specialist in college athletic departments.

A native of a small town in New York just south of Ottawa, Aaron lives in Needham, Mass., with his wife and three children. Write to Aaron at aarontodd@casinocity.com, and follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.