by Shari Geller
Tracing poker’s history, highlighting its rise from the Moneymaker effect to its stumble in the wake of Black Friday, “All In: The Poker Movie” is a must see documentary for any poker fan. Director, Douglas Tirola had a difficult duty, trying to tell a story that is still evolving. He traces this uniquely American pastime from its outlaw roots, through its mainstream acceptance to the current murky state. But what comes through is the love that poker players have for this maddening game, and how that will ultimately lead to a new poker boom.
Released in theaters last year and recently made available on DVD, the movie is packed with interviews and videos with not only most of poker’s most famous (and some infamous) players but historians and social commentators who discuss poker’s place in the fabric of America. There is a retrospective on poker in the White House, and how inextricably tied to politics this formerly wild west card game has become – even contributing to the lexicon with Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”
There are two significant events highlighted in the film for their long-lasting effect on bringing poker to a wider audience. The first is the invention of the hole card camera and the launch of the World Poker Tour, followed by literally dozens of other shows that made poker much more fun to watch and easier to learn. Henry Orenstein’s game changing invention is put into perspective, not just for what it has done to revolutionize poker, but for how initially resistant some pros were to the idea of giving away their secrets.
No story about poker would be complete without that pivotal moment in 2003 when the poker landscape changed forever. And “All In” tells the story of the unassuming accountant, fortuitously named Chris Moneymaker, whose story both echoed and predated so many other stories of poker players hoping for that big win. And even knowing how that story plays out, the filmmakers do a great job of building suspense and conveying the magnitude of that unexpected moment.
As inspiring and uplifting as the Moneymaker segments are, there is much foreboding and some unintentionally awkward moments, most involving discussions of online sites such as Absolute Poker and Full Tilt Poker. When the movie mentions the hole card breach at UB/AP as “the biggest scandal in poker history” you realize how instantly dated the movie is. Black Friday was briefly mentioned, but was still a developing story when the movie was completed.
The interview segments with the now-disgraced Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer are particularly unsettling, and you can‘t help but look for signs that their words are not in sync with reality. It is chilling to hear Lederers words as he declares that “heroes of poker don’t cheat.” The segments of the movie dealing with concerns about online poker resonate more now than they did when the movie was completed. Still, there is a hopeful sense for poker’s future.
There are dozens of interviews with a wide range of poker experts as well as pros woven through a compelling narrative that has something new for even the most knowledgeable poker fan. It’s a bit of a video love letter to poker, with contributions from old timers, as well as the young guns all sharing their insights and experiences. But it is the input of some of the more unexpected voices, such as noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and “regular fan” Matt Damon, whose movie “Rounders” was a catalyst for the poker boom.
The DVD, which came out this summer, has special segments made for Rolling Stone and ESPN as well as over an hour of extras including additional interviews with Ferguson and Lederer. Any poker fan will enjoy the look back the movie provides, and will leave feeling hopeful about poker’s future, regardless of the hurdles that are sometimes placed in its way.
Shari Geller is an attorney, journalist, reporter, blogger, poker player, and observer of the poker scene. You can write her at BurnThis2@aol.com, and read her blog at www.burnthistoo.blogspot.com.