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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

Poker Plus - Poker, Hollywood Style

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Movies and television programs involving poker have been around for as long as there have been screens to watch them on. Hollywood often uses gambling to add some spice to a story line. Unfortunately it is often portrayed with negative slant and seldom depicts poker, especially as it is in real life.

Like many poker players, I wait anxiously for the chance to see a new movie that features poker. Also like many players, I am very disappointed after I watch it. For non-poker players, they enjoy these movies because they have no idea how badly poker is portrayed.

One recent example was the movie “The Grand” that I was really looking forward to. The trailers looked very funny and it boasts a great cast including; Woody Harrelson, Gabe Kaplan, Ray Romano. Dennis Farina, Hank Anzaria and Jason Alexander. Also on hand are famous poker players Doyle Brunson, Phil Helmuth, Phil Laak, Daniel Negreanu and many more. Why these players wanted to be associated with this movie is beyond me. I have to wonder if any of them even read the script. But maybe they said yes just for the money or because they would be in a movie…any movie.

Sadly the movie had great potential, being set at a major tournament and showcasing the different characters of poker. Billed as a “mockumentary” the movie does a good job of showing poker “personalities” which we recognize as portraying actual pros.

Personalities include the jerk that berates dealers and insults the other players for being idiots; the professional woman player, with kids in tow who happens to have a brother, who is also a professional player; the rookie who accidently stumbled on PartyPoker while looking for a fireplace poker online and won his seat for free and can’t miss a hand. The odds, tells and math whiz who analyzes every hand and has no personality. And inevitably, the guy who has his life on the line; lose and he loses everything, win and he gets his life back. We can recognize many pros being mocked here, which is one of the few enjoyable points as we watch the race for $10 million dollars where the winner takes all. Another realistic character is the commentator who hawks his ridiculous book at every opportunity and is totally irritating.

The two things the movie got right was the poker terminology used and the poker hands, which were close to what you see in any televised poker tournament. That is the problem with so many movies that portray poker, they just can’t get the hands right.

If you have watched movies like “Maverick” you already know that the final hand is always some monster, like a six high straight flush against a royal flush. Ask anyone who has played poker for a lifetime how many times they have seen that happen. Odds are the answer will be never. The odds for making a royal flush is 1 in 649740 and a straight flush is 1 in 72193.33. Do the math on the odds of 2 players making those hands in the same hand…tremendous.

At least “The Grand” doesn’t insult us with one monster hand after another. The problem is it does insult us by teasing us with promises of laughter that it doesn’t deliver. It would be a great movie…if only it was funny.

While watching “The Grand” it is very obvious Party Poker made a deal to invest or pay for their name to be mentioned several times. There are even a few shots of the PartyPoker website and game tables being shown on a computer monitor. Interesting since the players supposedly playing on PartyPoker are all in the USA and since the UIGEA, Americans can’t play on PartyPoker. It has to be assumed that PartyPoker thought the advertising investment was worth it if it reached a worldwide audience. The investment may never see a return however, as The Grand didn’t even fare well enough to be released in theaters, it went straight to DVD distribution. Maybe it will do better than it did in the USA. I just hope the rest of the world doesn’t think this is typical of a real tournament environment.

There are dozens of movies with poker scenes which live in memory; The Sting; Cool Hand Luke; The Gambler; let it Ride; The Hustler; The Color of Money and Rounders just to name a few.

There are issues with them all, mainly those impossible grand finale monster, once in a lifetime hands. But I do understand the need movie studios have to embellish and Hollywood-ize poker because in reality it is boring. Who wants to watch hours of players mucking their hands or a 2-3 off suit against a 7-10 off suit?

Movie making is a money driven industry and the reality of poker is just not flashy, or exciting enough to warrant a $10 movie ticket. Therefore poker scenes turn into something as far from reality as they can get. Lights, camera, action-show me the money!

Just once you would think a movie would get it right. A favorite poker movie of mine to date is still Rounders. I admit I am a sucker for Matt Damon’s grin, but the movie had more than his heart melting grin, it had grit. There were and are to this day rounders, making the rounds of illegal poker games. The movie was good at showing the underbelly of being a rounder, where all kinds of perils are waiting in the shadows; they just usually don’t ALL happen to the same guy. The downside was of course the ending which was way too predictable. *No spoilers for those who haven’t seen it*

But for us who love the game of poker, we keep hoping for a movie we can finally like. And Mr. Writer, Director and Studio boss… we want to like all of it, not just a few scenes. We know poker and we want to see it like it really is, not your fantasized version. Until then we have to be content with playing it and not looking for it in a movie, especially movies like The Grand.

Grab a Chair…see you there!

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