In between our poker home games, a lot of us are watching more TV than usual these days, and no doubt plenty of folk will be looking to find some decent movies or shows filled with our favourite card game.
It’s always worth remembering that PokerStars TV is a fantastic free resource with absolutely tons of poker-related content, including archives of live streams from events across the world, full episodes of shows such as The Big Game, feature interviews with numerous pros, and all kinds of assorted other content recorded over the past 15 years.
Want to watch Kevin Hart race Usain Bolt? It’s there. Want to see Miss Finland bluff her way into notoriety? Of course you do. And how about soccer star Neymar playing heads up against Star Wars star John Boyega. All that and more.
They are also producing new content every week, in the form of EPT Retro, which adds commentary from today over poker from yesteryear, specifically the early seasons of the European Poker Tour.
As a guide to what’s available from other resources, allow us to help. During last year’s holiday season, Martin Harris examined some of the gambling-specific offerings on Netflix and Amazon Prime. His “10 best poker movies to stream during the holidays” features the classics The Cincinnati Kid, Rounders, Mississippi Grind, Hell or High Water, Stripes, California Split, The Sting, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Odd Couple and House of Games. They are the best poker films on Netflix and Prime, with some of the best gambling scenes ever committed to celluloid.
But maybe you’ve seen them all. In which case, here’s a new list of poker films, poker shows and gambling content to keep you busy for a few more hours.
According to its writer/director Aaron Sorkin, “This isn’t a poker movie.” And yet the film critic Richard Roeper told Poker News, “I think it has a very good chance of becoming one of the greatest poker movies of all time.” They were talking about Molly’s Game a dramatic retelling of the life of Molly Bloom, a former elite skier who ended up running Hollywood’s biggest poker games. Based on Bloom’s book of the same name, Molly’s Game presents a warts-and-all look at this notorious underground game, in which A-list actors sat shoulder-to-shoulder with various other colourful Los Angeles characters to play for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most of the principal characters are fictionalised, which means we can’t say for certain whether Matt Damon or Tobey Maguire are the models, for example, but the story is broadly true. It means viewers should strap in to learn exactly how thrilling it can be watching from the sidelines of nosebleed action, but will also realise how interested the FBI might become if they’re tempted to started spreading high-stakes action in their basement.
Like all the most dramatic yarns — and, indeed, some of the most memorable poker hands — Fielder Cook’s brilliant A Big Hand For The Little Lady has suspense, shocks and twists galore. This thoroughly engaging western-comedy centres on a single hand of five-card draw in which just about every rule of etiquette is breached in the service of a convoluted but thrilling plot. Most significantly, the rule of one player to a hand is abandoned as a seemingly meek and mild woman named Mary is forced to take the reins during a poker game after her husband, Meredith, suffers an apparent heart attack. With stakes spiralling out of control, and an assortment of shady characters primed to exploit the situation, Mary takes on the game with surprising elan. The film has plenty to say about traditional gender roles, but most importantly is a highly entertaining, tightly plotted piece of cinema.
OK, OK, the poker scenes in Casino Royale are basically no more believable than what you’d see in an episode of a daytime soap opera written by an intern. But this is James Bond for heaven’s sake, and if you look to this franchise for gritty realism, you’ll inevitably end up crying tears of blood. But Casino Royale deserves a place on the list of decent poker movies, mainly because it’s always fun to have the game placed so prominently in such a mainstream movie — and the poker is so stylishly choreographed. We have a beautiful raised poker table, the centrepiece of an opulent casino, with a padded rail for spectators. We have 10 players and yet plenty of elbow room between all of them. We have a dealer keen to keep the game moving (chiding Bond for taking too long over his action when he’s distracted by a smooch from Vesper Lynd), and we have Bond demonstrating his mathematical acumen in assessing odds as he gets a read on Le Chiffre. And even though everyone in the movie seems to mistake skill for simply being on the right side of an almighty cooler, it’s great to see someone win more than $120 million with 7♠5♠ — especially at the expense of a Scandinavian, who likely invented the idea of playing that garbage in the first place.
The world of online poker was such a fast-moving place in the early 2010s that any wide-reaching documentary, or even a magazine article, was destined to be out of date before it was ever released. But the producers of Bet Raise Fold could never have quite imagined just how dramatically their subject matter would change during their reporting. What began as a piece examining the global phenomenon of online poker — the hotshots winning millions on the internet; the surge in popularity of tournaments online and off; the spectacular advancements in strategies — was rudely interrupted by poker’s Black Friday, which pulled the rug from under it. The directorial trio were forced into a hasty pivot, and needed now to look at what happened when all of that potentially ended overnight. There’s tons of good historical context in the film, most likely produced before the seismic change in tone, and some excellent representative characters to carry the narrative. (Tony Dunst, Danielle Andersen and Martin Bradstreet are the central players.) Of course, there’s far, far more to this story than could ever be included in any single movie, but Bet Raise Fold is as close as we have to a complete document of a very strange time.
“I was always pretty good at poker, but now I’m trying to make a living out of it.” Filmmaker Matt Gallagher finds himself attempting to turn what was one a profitable hobby into his principal source of income, playing poker not for glory or trophies but to feed his young family. As Gallagher cruises around the underground poker clubs of his native Toronto — aiming to win “a couple of big hands” and come home with about $500 per night — he encounters a number of colourful characters, players and club owners, all with varying levels of ambition and self-delusion. He also checks in with Daniel Negreanu, whose career started out in the same fashion in the same city, but whose grind took him way all the way to the very top of the game. Negreanu’s cameo aside, this is an unromantic view of a sub-section of the poker world, which went down pretty badly on its release. But these days you can view it as a fairly unusual period piece: these kinds of players did exist in great number during the boom years, like it or not, and this stands as a document to that.
In contrast to the negative reception that often tends to greet poker movies, Victor Saumont’s Nosebleed was garlanded with nothing but praise on its release in 2014. This is a low-key, independent documentary made by someone who had been around the game for a long time, and Saumont’s familiarity and sensitivity to his subjects allowed him exceptional access. The central characters are the professional French players Sebastien “Seb86” Sabic and Alex “Alexonmoon” Luneau, and the narrative is framed around their trip to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker, which represents something of a diversion from their high-stakes online cash game norm. Sabic and Luneau quickly forget the camera is present as their journeys take a few unexpected turns. The result is a wholly authentic glimpse into the true ups and downs of professional poker players, the likes of which has never properly been captured before or since. Read an interview with Saumont about the making of the film, and watch it in full on YouTube.