It’s not uncommon for major celebrities to get involved with competitive poker. Superstar athletes from Cristiano Ronaldo to Alex Rodriguez are known to spend a lot of time at the tables. Actors like Shannon Elizabeth and Tobey Maguire are said to be pro-caliber players (with Elizabeth actually having enjoyed a side career as a professional). When he’s not shooting a film or working on the “Bennifer” relationship, even Ben Affleck is known to be a regular player. And the list goes on.
What we haven’t seen quite as much of to date however is the new class of gaming celebrities migrating into poker. And in this respect, Tyler Blevins –– aka “Ninja” –– appears to be emerging as a pioneer. Only 31 years old as of this writing, Ninja has made a name for himself as one of the most popular gamers in streaming –– primarily showcasing his activity in Fortnite Battle Royale via Twitch. But this spring, he decided to try his hand in the live competitive poker arena as well.
Specifically, Ninja was a last-minute addition to a Hustler Casino Live event that was effectively broadcasted by the fellow popular streamer, Ludwig. Ninja joined some other streaming influencers in the game (such as Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson), but also went up against legendary professional players –– like Tom Dwan and Phil Hellmuth.
A showdown with Hellmuth would prove to define the event, and establish Ninja as a potentially significant draw in poker streaming moving forward. For those who don’t follow pro poker, Hellmuth is arguably its single most prominent figure. According to Hellmuth’s bio at Poker.org, he holds the current record for the most World Series of Poker bracelets and is recognized as one of the most polarizing and popular figures in the game. He also happens to stand 6’7’’ (quite noticeable at the average poker table), and is so prone to animated antics that he’s been nicknamed the “Poker Brat.” Suffice it to say, Ninja could hardly have faced a more imposing or significant opponent.
Shockingly, Ninja got the better of him. Per Sportskeeda.com’s recap of the event, the popular gamer had an “extremely lucky” head-to-head showdown with Hellmuth. Ninja stayed in a hand longer than he should have with a pair of 7s, going up against Hellmuth’s three Jacks. However, when the five community cards wound up being a 10-through-Ace straight, Ninja salvaged a split of the pot. Because the straight trumped both Ninja’s pair and Hellmuth’s three of a kind, it represented both players’ strongest hand and caused a tie. It may not have been brilliant strategic poker on the part of Ninja, but it made for an incredible streaming moment (particularly given his animated celebration!).
Whether we’ll see more of this remains to be seen. According to the Ninja page at CelebrityNetWorth.com, the gamer is worth some $40 million already as a result of his billions of streaming views. Without a doubt, he’s doing just fine in his primary career of choice. At the same time, however, he has money to burn to get into poker, and he certainly seemed to enjoy himself going up against the best in the game. At the very least, we’d expect to see him again in the odd promotional or celebrity event now and then. Beyond that though, he may be the latest in a long line of celebrity figures to dive deep into poker.