Why Poker Movies Suck?
Posted on: October 3, 2017, by : Den Gorden

Today I saw a funny tweet by Brian Koppelman, one of the screenwriters for arguably poker’s best movie, Rounders (1998).

The tweet was an answer to someone and said:

“Oh. Do you want Rounders 2? No one ever mentions it.’

Of course, Mr. Koppelman is being sarcastic here. But the reason why everyone, at least who knows what poker is, is waiting for Rounders 2 is because every other movie about poker sucks.

I am mostly talking about anything that has been released post-Rounders.

Why the suspense of poker is so hard to properly portray in movies?

It’s not that poker players don’t feel anything or that it is a boring game. Anyone who has played poker, even for cents will agree that you go through a roller-coaster of emotions.

So, why so often the movies get all of that wrong?

First, I think, poker is a complex game. More complex than roulette, for example. Yes, both have intricacies of their own, but in a screen we easily understand roulette. You need either a red or a black, odd or even, or better yet, a particular number.

But how do you show equity in poker? How, without too much explaining in dialogues, you show that there is only 1% chance that runner runner 7s will come and save you? At the same time, if you show the hero being saved by luck, it would also mean that he was the worse player in that hand. And it is not how you develop a protagonist.

Also, poker is only good in movies for very specific situations. It cannot be the beginning of the tournament. Too much to go, too little on the line. Cash games never end. You lose, you rebuy, you go again.

That’s the same reason why slots are rarely portrayed in movies. There are many possible angles, but no matter whether you play free pokies here or play €100 per spin in Monte Carlo casino, suspense is hard to show because of the never-ending nature of the video slots. Spin. Spin. Spin.

Recently, in an episode of Billions, co-created by aforementioned Brian Koppelman, they play a poker tournament. I am sure poker players were happy about this episode and I am thankful for Koppelman for trying. But in my mind, the attempt to show the depth of poker made this episode too technical.

I love poker. It’s a great game to play casually with friends or for high stakes. That’s where my frustration comes from. The way poker movie directors and screenwriters screw up is that they don’t make poker important enough.

Poker is never solved in one hand. The whole point of poker is to play safely, manage your bankroll and grow as a player. Only movies that focus on building the character through his struggles as a poker player will help it make a good poker movie. Maybe even better than Rounders. One can only hope.