The movie was enjoyable for me because I generally like plots that involve strategies. I appreciated that the film was able to explain the basics of Holdem even to people with limited knowledge of the game, though the mechanics of other variations of Poker weren’t given much focus (apologies to my game theory professor, I couldn’t remember the special rules of Stud, Hi-Lo, etc. so I may not have been able to follow any significant tricks that had to do with them). I think it’s important that the movie was told from the point of view of the main character so that the viewers would experience the ups and downs and drama of playing Poker through the thought process of an experienced and rational (albeit frustrated) player, though I found it corny at times because it seemed like he oversimplifies the tells of his opponents (probably a strategy from when poker was still a relatively new sport?). Still, to a beginner like me, his cold reading skill was like magic.
Speaking of the main character Mike, I liked him most for his ability to spot his opponents’ tells and because he played straight, but I dislike that his bad-influence friend Worm was his Kryptonite. Worm only thought things through for the extremely short-term, was afraid to face his problems, and literally couldn’t keep his mouth shut to save his life – qualities I would hate to have. The only thing I like about him is that we share this belief that sometimes a game can be won even before it starts. In my case it’s about taking advantage of loopholes, but I’m not sure if Poker has any loopholes so this may not apply, so he turns to being a mechanic.
Too bad he doesn’t seem to mind repeating his mistakes, dragging Mike down in the process. He’s the total opposite of Joey Knish, who played poker not for the thrill because he knows that the stability that smart grinding provides is what’s important to make a decent living out of Poker, something my professor can attest to from personal experience. As for Jo, Mike’s girlfriend, I like how she used Poker principles, which she learned from him, against him. I wish she supported Mike in the movie with Poker, which was clearly deeply rooted into his psyche, instead of holding him back but it was understandable since she went through a lot of sh*t thanks to Mike’s great loss, hence imposing on him what she thought was best for their relationship. I liked Teddy for his cookie mannerisms and funny accented quips, but I think what he did in the end was a bad move. He didn’t have to go all-in just to insult Mike, I didn’t see any implied outs for him (I’m no expert though). He just relied on Mike’s deceptive reaction and it felt like he played that hand blind just because. Lastly, I appreciated Petrovsky’s role the most in Mike’s life. Even if he only played poker for fun and wasn’t a good player, he was a good mentor and he provided Mike with the means to set things right without judging his actions.
Mike was generally honest but eventually cheated in poker, the way he was with his relationship with Jo. When they played together, Worm cheated multiple times and Mike had to fold just so it wouldn’t be obvious, implying that he only thinks of the best outcome for every hand and not for the whole game, a sign of his short-sighted approach in life. Knish was a conservative player, and wouldn’t bankroll Mike in the end because the turn of events pointed to it not being a worthy investment. Did the characters generally play Poker the same way they lived life? I believe so, but not all of them. Teddy took poker seriously but not life, and in contrast, Petrovsky took life seriously but not poker.
“Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker EVERY YEAR? What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas?” — Mike
“I’d say good luck, but I know it’s not about luck in your game.” — Jo
The first time I watched a poker game, I was convinced that it was mostly about luck and psychology. Even the main character said that a player’s luck is nowhere as fickle as in a game of poker. But as I have learned in class, the luck factor is only influential in the short run. Being at the final table of WSOP every year requires probably a bit of cold reading skill, but more importantly, an understanding of the mathematics behind poker (no wonder the players were introduced by their mathematical background).
The Final Round
(Fun fact: this was my favorite part of the movie 🙂 )
When Mike doubled his $10,000 he had enough to pay the loan to Teddy, yet he chose to test his skill possibly one last time.
If I were him, being generally a risk-averse person, I would’ve taken the safer route. He was aware that he could, but he realized something he learned from his friend Worm, which was, “You can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle, but you can’t win much either.” Even with all the beatings he received, he basically put his life at stake. I guess he saw that it was worth it to risk everything for a chance to be a winner instead of staying essentially a loser (a winner who only got paid with his own money from his last great loss). Can’t blame him for having that vision, he’s the main character after all, and it’s the last few minutes if the movie after all (assuming viewers generally want a hero’s redemption in the end).
Rounders made me believe that poker can really be won with skill, but it “inspired” me to steer clear of the influence of crazy negative-ROI friends and high stakes poker because I’m scared to literally get beaten up badly, haha. Thanks to that movie, my ears built up a little extra immunity from all the f-bombs and I learned the Russian words for “yes” and “no”. More importantly, it has definitely added to my growing interest in Poker. 🙂