How did a 26-year-old cocktail waitress end up running a private weekly poker game for some of Hollywood’s highest rollers, including the likes of Leo, Ben, and Tobey? In an adaptation from her new memoir, Molly Bloom, who has since gained notoriety as “the Poker Princess,” recalls her lucky break, at the infamous Viper Room; the millions that crossed her table; and the biggest winners—who could also be the worst losers.

By Molly Bloom

Excerpt:

Ace in the Hole

We were at another insane game, and I was watching Guy persuade another player to fold a winning hand. Guy was a huge gambler, aggressive and ruthless at the table. He ran a circus-themed live-performance company that made a billion dollars a year.

Tobey was losing, so he was back to disapproving of me, my tips, and the game in general. Now he was in for $250,000, down to his last $50,000, and trying to dig his way out. Jamie was once again playing like it was his last day on earth, and Tobey knew his best shot at getting out of the hole was Jamie. Pale and thin, Jamie had won $12 million in the World Series of Poker Main Event, the largest sum in the history of the tournament. Usually, I wouldn’t have considered allowing a World Series champion into the game, but Jamie was no pro; he had simply been running hot and playing fearlessly.

Jamie and Tobey were all in, and I wasn’t sure which one I was rooting for. Jamie had almost lost his bankroll, and once he did, I wouldn’t be able to let him play anymore. I liked Jamie—he was kind and generous. Tobey was the worst tipper, the best player, and the absolute worst loser, but I had to worry about my job security if he lost. I held my breath and watched Diego turn over the cards. Tobey won.

Predictably, Tobey stood up immediately after the hand that made him whole. “Well, that’s it for me.” He came over to me and set his stacks on my clipboard.

“Whew, you’re lucky I won that hand,” he said, crinkling his eyes and using his usual half-kidding/half-serious/you-guess-which tone.

I nodded.

“You have to cut Jamie off, you know.”

“I know,” I said, counting Tobey’s chips.

He held a thousand-dollar chip in his hand. He flipped it over a couple times in his fingers.

“This is yours,” he said, holding it out.

“Thanks, Tobey,” I said, reaching my hand out.

He yanked the chip back at the last second.

“If . . . ” he said. “If you do something to earn these thousand dollars.” His voice was loud enough that some of the guys looked up to see what was happening.

I laughed, trying not to show my nerves.

“What do I want you to do?” he said, as if he were pondering.

The whole table was watching us now.

“I know!” he said. “Get up on that desk and bark like a seal.”

I looked at him. His face was lit up like it was Christmas Eve.

“Bark like a seal who wants a fish,” he said.

I laughed again, stalling, hoping he would play the joke out by himself and leave.

“I’m not kidding. What’s wrong? You’re too rich now? You won’t bark for a thousand dollars? Wowwww . . . you must be really rich.”

My face was burning. The room was silent.

“C’mon,” he said, holding the chip above my head. “BARK.”

“No,” I said quietly.

“No?” he asked.

“Tobey,” I said, “I’m not going to bark like a seal. Keep your chip.”

My face was on fire. I knew he would be angry, especially because he had now engaged the whole audience, and I wasn’t playing his game. I was embarrassed, but I was also angry. After all I had done to accommodate this guy, I was also shocked. I had made sure I ran every detail of every game by him, changed the stakes for him, structured tournaments around him, memorized every ingredient in every vegan dish in town for him. He had won millions and millions of dollars at my table, and I had catered to his every need along the way—and now he seemed to want to humiliate me.

He kept pushing it, his voice growing louder and louder. The other guys were starting to look uncomfortable.

“No,” I said, again, willing him to drop it.

He gave me an icy look, dropped the chip on the table, and tried to laugh it off, but he was visibly angry.

When he left, the room was buzzing.

“What was that?”

“So weird.”

“Glad you didn’t do it, Molly.”

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