Rounders turns 15: The movie that changed poker

Posted by Steve Ruddock on Sep 11, 2013 Posted in Op-Ed | No Comments »

RoundersThe movie that helped usher in the poker boom, Rounders, was released 15 years ago today, and while Chris Moneymaker and the 2003 World Series of Poker coverage on ESPN gets most of the credit for the poker explosion of the last decade, Rounders role in the Poker Boom cannot be underestimated, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Before Planet Poker launched at the end of 1998, before James McManus turned his 2001 WSOP final table run into the best-seller Positively Fifth Street, and before the idea of a hole-card camera for poker tables was conceived, the movie Rounders made poker cool. Sure there have been other Hollywood stories where poker is a major plot element (The Cincinnati Kid, Maverick, 5 Card Stud) but Rounders was different. Rounders wasn’t some buildup to an impossible hand (straight flush vs. 4 of a kind) or some clash between the honest gambler and the cheats; Rounders was an actual (but still fantastical) look at the world of poker.

Mike McDermott (played by Matt Damon) was identifiable to people, it wasn’t too hard to envision yourself in his general situation at the outset of the film: A college kid with a knack for playing poker grinding out a living at the tables. While his life goes off for the rails for the purpose of the plot, young kids were still able to envision themselves playing in the games he did, going to the “Taj”, and trying to make a run at the big time.

So if 2003 was the official launching pad of the Poker Boom, the framework for the Poker Boom came back on September 11, 1998 when Rounders hit theaters –surprisingly the movie tanked at the box office but later became a cult classic.

Rounders made it cool for young males to play poker; it turned poker into a “sexy” lifestyle (which was and still pretty much is far from the case); but most importantly, Rounders made people aware that there was something more to poker than the luck of the draw. The film hammered home the idea that skill won out in poker, and demonstrated that there was money to be made and there were in fact people making money playing poker.

If you really want to know what kind of impact Rounders had on poker look no further than the numerous terms that have become commonly used by even the most casual poker players: Grinding, down to the felt, etc.

So, Happy Birthday Rounders! And by the way, we are still waiting for the sequel!


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