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Such Poker Punims!

June 1, 2006 By:
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Can Susie Essman curb her enthusiasm with a good hand?
Would you trust George Costanza with a full house? After all, he had a hard enough time handling an empty house when his parents were away and he brought back a date - only to ruin the coffee-table.

And let's not even talk about that empty condom wrapper in his parents' bed!

Or could you bluff a guy who keeps calling you Bosco? Or another who provides voice-overs about the game 10 years after he folded his cards? Then again, how do you deal with someone who rants that her #@&!* dealer is a #@&$ and doesn't know what the &%$!!* he's doing?

All hands on deck: Jason Alexander, Michael Ian Black, Fred Savage and Susie Essman - Jewish jokers all; the Jack, King, Ace and Queen of the feral funny set - provide part of the action in the latest version of "Celebrity Poker Showdown," showing its cards weekly on Wednesdays beginning on May 31, at 9 p.m., on Bravo.

Laugh tracks line the lives of these poker punims in Texas Hold 'Em that has held big audiences' rapt attention in the past.

Huzzahs at Harrah's

Mah-jonng it ain't; my bet's bigger than yours is. In recent years, poker has pre-empted in importance the old Gin Rummy games played by Uncles Saul, Sol and Sal, trading in the garage for garish grounds, such as the "Showdown" site of Harrah's in hurricane-hurt New Orleans, as good a bet as any to benefit from the star's winnings in this series.

(Indeed, the pot-luck players will donate their earnings to Hurricane Katrina-related charities.)

Indeed, it's here in New Orleans where the old-time game shows why diamonds - especially five of them - are a player's best friend. And it is here where the four-of-a-kind comedians join other celebs in showing that kindness isn't the best trait to draw on when the chips are down - way down.

Gamble on the gambol? It's a sure thing - the past seven seasons have been flush with success, drawing an inside straight to audience's hearts and wallets.

Is it because the joker's wild that the wildest players are the comedians? Are the wackier comics the ones who make the best "nuts" (poker parlance for best cards)? Yeah, sure, but mainly it's because "they don't have a real life," cracks Dave Foley, the "kid in the hall" manning the role of "Showdown" host.

"Well, there are two jokers in every pack," adds Phil Hellmuth, hell-on-wild-cards himself; the series commentator is a nine-time World Series of Poker champ.

Why do card players have so many pokers in the fire these days? Or, more to the point - why is poker on fire? Hold 'em, fold 'em - play 'em!

"We have a long tradition of poker in this country," hailing back to the Old West, explains Hellmuth of the game "brought over here in 1855 in the New Orleans area."

Then there's "the simplicity and beauty" of the game, such as Texas Hold 'Em, "which takes five minutes to learn."

'It's a Melting Pot'

Indeed, everyone - Aunt Ethel; Bubba Sylvia - can play. It's a "melting pot - every nationality, every race," says Hellmuth, aces himself as he holds more than 50 tournament titles.

And you need not look farther than Fort Lee, N.J., for Jewish fortresses of flash in the sport that that famous Jewish philosopher Walter Matthau once opined "exemplifies the worst aspects of capitalism that have made our country so great": Mickey Appleman is a four-time bracelet winner in the World Series of Poker, where he finished in the money 27 times in 30 years.

And who wouldn't welcome back Gabe Kaplan to their table, as game as anyone? The comic/ actor is a serious World Series player, too, having won more money here than he could earn as a teacher.

Jews and Jacks? Jacks and Stu - in 1980 Stu Ungar, 27, a Jewish "kid" from the Lower East Side, raised the stakes for greatness when he became the youngest WSO champion ever. Known as "The Kid," the late player later would only be surpassed in that honor - memorialized in a movie - by none other than … Hellmuth.

It's the only game, says Hellmuth, "where grandfathers and their grandsons can play together."

See ya 'n' raise ya 5, Zayda.

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