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Pros discuss Rounders' impact on poker
"I sat with the best in the world, Knish, and I won."
There are many poker players who would love to be able to say those words, and not many who haven't seen the movie the quote comes from either.
Rounders is what you might call a cult classic movie, and it's certainly a poker classic that has inspired new players to enter the poker realm and has elevated Texas Hold'em to its current status as most-popular game.
After 10 years, the impact the movie made on young poker players and the industry can still be seen.
"I have seen Rounders about 30 times, and it played a huge part in my developing a strong addiction to all the facets about No-Limit Hold'em," said Hevad Khan, Team PokerStars Pro.
Khan isn't alone in being inspired by the movie. Russ "Dutch" Boyd credited the movie for getting him interested in poker, and so has Gavin Griffin.
There are a few reasons why Rounders made poker so appealing, or at least a few theories as to why it did.
Khan brought up the David vs. Goliath storyline that draws people into the movie and to the game of poker. Whether you want to call it a sport or not, poker is a game where giants can be slain with brains and even the best of players can be toppled.
Vanessa Rousso, Team PokerStars pro, has a similar theory for why the movie helped popularize the game so much.
"Everyone has a poker idol they wish they could come face to face with. Watching that dream and that uncertainty unfold for these characters is spellbinding," she said.
"Not to mention those lines you hear people repeat over and over again like, 'Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.' It's priceless."
Rousso also said the movie helped define the underground poker scene in New York and showed how judges, cops and ultimately the pros in Vegas were all hooked on a game of skill.
Lou Krieger, poker player and author, agreed that Rounders was good for the poker industry because it spurred an interest in the game, and it depicted Texas Hold'em as a game of skill rather than a pure gamble, like craps or roulette.
Griffin, also a member of Team PokerStars Pro, says that that realistic depiction of the game is what helps Rounders draw people to poker.
"They don't just glamorize poker and gambling. You get to know the bad things about poker along with the good things," Griffin said. "People don't always come out on top, and it's good to see that."
"Rounders brought a lot of celebrities into the game and created a lot of interest in poker over the years," Griffin said. "I still hear people quoting the movie at the table and talking about how it got them interested in poker in the first place."
Rounders became a window that allowed people to look into the poker world, giving it a broader appeal.
"With star power like Ed Norton, Matt Damon, John Malkovich, Gretchen Mol and John Turturro, it let poker cross over into the mainstream and made poker cool," Rousso said. "Many of us believe that it set the stage for the era of live, televised play that finally catapulted poker to center stage."
Khan said he thought Rounders coupled with the WSOP broadcasting worked together, coincidentally, to give us the current poker craze.
That's a sentiment reflected by Krieger as well. He agreed that Rounders kicked up an interest in poker, but it was Chris Moneymaker's WSOP victory and the use of the lipstick cameras at the poker tables that did more to popularize the game.
As big an influence as it was, Rounders was not without its faults in the eyes of players who have been around the poker industry a while.
"While I enjoyed the film, there was a lot that was incredibly misleading about it," Krieger said. "First of all, when Matt Damon's character is watching the law professor's poker game and he is so absolutely clear about what hands are held by the players."
Krieger said it would be "more realistic" if he put players on a range of hands, coming up with some percentage chance of what different players are holding, rather than the specificity of his analysis in the film.
"But more important than that is the fact that the entire plot develops when Worm takes $10,000 in credit and charges it to the account of Matt Damon's character. That would never happen," Krieger said.
"If it did, I'd simply go into a casino, take $10,000 out of some other player's account, and play with no risk to myself. Yet the entire plot of the film develops from that incident!"
However, Krieger said he didn't think the movie had any negative effects on poker - unless you count creating players who think poker is easy to beat and who delude themselves into believing they have the requisite skills when they don't.
"There are lots of people who have overly inflated opinions of their own ability, and those people will continue to lose money at poker unless they improve their game. With their inability to see themselves as others do - flaws and all - if they didn't have poker, they'd find some other road to failure and oblivion."
Phil Gordon, who said he's watched the movie about five times over the years, took a much more lighthearted approach to how it may have negatively affected the poker world.
"The only negative I have experienced is a tendency for players to break out really, really bad Russian accents when they deliver a bad beat, à la John Malkovich [who also did a really, really bad Russian accent]. 'I stick it in you,'" said the Full Tilt Poker pro.
Good or bad, that quotability is just one sign of the impact Rounders had on the poker world. Rousso sums up the movie and its effect best:
"There have been lots of movies that have included poker, but only Rounders really captures the energy and tension in the game. And that's why it stands as the best poker movie ever made."
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12 March 2018 70