It’s a tournament that won’t show up on any Hendon Mob database search, despite Jason Koon taking it down for just over $30k. It’s the annual World Series of Art Poker tournament, and Jumanji star Jack Black bubbled the money!
The highly unusual and fairly secretive poker event held its third annual running last month in Los Angeles, with a $500 buy-in and a field that didn’t have Koon, Jack Black or even Leonardo DiCaprio as the most famous “gasp! is it really him?” guest.
That title was apparently held by Richard Prince, the reclusive American artist and “the only one person whose entrance made the room stop,” according to Nate Freeman’s Vanity Fair account of the tournament.
“Richard rolled up and he walked around, checked it out. He told me he was coming and I was like, ‘This is incredible,’” Wood told me a few days after the tournament ended. “I was like, ‘Oh, he’s not going to play.’ And then he hung out for 15 minutes and he was like, ‘Yo, I’m going to play.’ And then he jumped in the tournament.”
The Wood in question here is LA artist and WSOAP founder, Jonas Wood, who assembled a field that included a who’s who of the art world for “the only poker tourney where artists outnumber Hold’em pros and art dealers outnumber bankers,” according to Freeman.
Wood, it transpires, has been running a home game for the LA art scene for decades, with Hollywood A-listers DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Jack Black and Ellen DeGeneres all playing, and the likes of Bruno Mars among those casually dropping in on occasion.
The tournament version, building on the success of the private game, came about courtesy of Wood.
“I have some friends who are super-famous poker players, or I know people who know people who can get people to come,” Wood explains. “So the idea was ‘let’s invite a bunch of rad people from the art world who play poker and then let’s invite a couple poker superstars to come.’ So it’s almost like pros versus joes.”
The first year saw Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey play, while this year’s event saw Jason Koon as top dog from the pro world. While Spider-Man star Tobey Maguire bust out in 17th spot, Jack Black was closing in on the money.
Black had somehow found himself close to the LA art scene, an initial invite sent his way due to his TenaciousD bandmate Kyle Gass being a poker player.
“I was like, ‘Fuck yeah, I’d love to come down and take all those artists’ money. It’ll be fun. Easy pickings,’” Black explained, only to reveal he was cleaned out by a California art dealer, Marc Richards.
Black told Freeman: “He took my money at the end. He took all of it, and as I was leaving, he said something like, ‘Come back anytime, kid.’ And it made me so mad. I definitely wanted to kill him,” Black said. “And I was like, ‘Mental note: Take all his fucking money next time. That’ll be my mission.’”
Black’s deep run at this year’s tournament was ended by Koon, however, who went on to take down the tournament win.
“I was right on the fucking bubble,” says Black. “I was one player away. If I could’ve just lasted one more elimination, I would’ve made it into the money. But it was not to be. But I got taken out by the champion, so that felt like something.”
Koon not only tipped the dealers and workers a chunk, but he gave the rest to Stories, an Echo park bookshop whose founder, Alex Maslansky, died earlier this year.