There have been numerous poker movies over the years, and many more since poker hit it big in 2003. However, the movie by which all poker themed movies are measured against is the cult hit Rounders.
Matt Damon stars as Mike McDermott, a law student who learned the hard way about when to quit a poker game after losing his entire bankroll to a Russian mobster known as KGB. Mike made a promise to his girlfriend that he would focus on his studies, and it appeared that Mike had given up the game of poker for good.
All was going well until his best friend Worm gets out of jail. Played by Ed Norton, Worm was the stereotypical rounder who could play cards, but did not have the true gift of the game. Worm convinces Mike that he would be happier playing poker and Mike goes back to playing poker.
Mike’s return to poker comes at a cost. His studies suffer and his relationship with his girlfriend ends. Then Mike discovers that Worm owes a significant debt and has only a few days to pay or else that debt will cost him his life. The two then go around to various underground poker games to try and earn the money.
Worm had a tendency to cheat at poker, and eventually he gets caught. Since Mike is his friend, the two are beaten and their bankrolls taken from them by those cheated. Without any money to pay his debts, Worm leaves town and tries to get Mike to join him. Once Mike finds out that the debt is owed to KGB, he gets pissed and ends all ties with him.
Mike doesn’t want to be on the run from the mob, so he arranges for a game with the mobster. A professor agrees to loan the money to Mike to play in the game and Mike is off to try and save his life. John Malkovich plays KGB, a mobster who is good at Texas Holdem poker, but not overly gifted.
Mike plays KGB heads-up and wins enough money to pay off his debt. He goes to leave, but KGB taunts him about the money lost to him in the past, and Mike decides to take the winnings and try to win his bankroll back.
At first, this seems like a scheme by KGB to get Mike deeper into debt, and it almost works. However, Mike figures out KGB’s playing style at the right moment to avoid losing a huge hand. From that point, Mike demolishes KGB to win back enough money to pay the debt and retain his $30,000.
The final scene of the movie sees Mike leaving for Las Vegas to try and play in the World Series of Poker Main Event, the largest poker event in the world. Viewers are left to make up their own mind about what happens from that point.
Rounders is a cult classic for many reasons. Primarily, it is the first movie to give a realistic look at the world of underground poker rooms and private underground games. Next, it introduced a whole generation of players to the game of No-Limit Texas Hold’em. For many, this movie is the reason they got into the game.
If you are a fan of poker, or just like well scripted dramas, check out Rounders. You should be able to find a copy on Netflix or Blockbuster, or just go on Ebay and grab a copy. You won’t be disappointed.