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Dan Ippolito

As Casino City's associate editor, Dan produces and edits all of our weekly newsletters, and he writes about the gaming industry for our websites and the GPWA Times Magazine. Dan graduated from Marist College in 2017 with a degree in Communications and a concentration in Sports.

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Top 10 facts and tidbits from the poker movie Rounders

18 Sep 2023

By Dan Ippolito
Starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton.

Starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton.

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Rounders.

My favorite poker movie is a big reason, along with the “Moneymaker Effect,” for the big poker boom in the early 2000s. The Moneymaker Effect is named after Chris Moneymaker, the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event champ who won his entry into the most prestigious tournament in poker via a $86 satellite and miraculously outlasted a field of over 800 players to claim the $2.5 million first place prize. Moneymaker has played in the Main Event several times since the incredible 2003 run, but has fallen short.

Rounders, starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton, immediately won over fans of poker as well as those who had never heard of a flop and is also credited for creating more players both online and in land-based poker rooms across the U.S.

Let’s take a look at some facts and tidbits about the 1998 movie.

10. Not the biggest release
For being one of the most influential poker movies, Rounders wasn’t at the top of the charts when it came out. The reason being is because it went up against another one of my favorite movies, Rush Hour. This movie was released 25 years ago to this day and was the biggest hit at the time.

Even though it wasn’t the top dog at the time of release, what it did for the world of poker in following years was no match for others.

9. The cast
Looking back, no wonder this film is still very popular with the cast it featured. With young Matt Damon and Edward Norton as the leads, you have two of my favorite actors. Damon has been in too many things to count, including Ocean’s 11, another gambling related movie where a group of men pull off incredible heists to rob casinos.

Norton, also with an impressive resume and career, had another jaw-dropping performance in Fight Club, and if you have seen it, you know that we don’t talk about it.

Then you have Teddy KGB, a Russian mob member who runs an illegal underground poker room, played by John Malkovich. Malkovich has also been in a plethora of films. While it is not his most famous role, he was the lead antagonist in Con Air with Nicholas Cage as the protagonist, which is a movie I have seen countless times.

8. The WSOP Main Event prize money compared to now
I already mentioned Moneymaker winning the 2003 WSOP Main Event for $2.5 million. Well, in 1998, the release year of the movie, Scotty Nguyen took home the Main Event win for $1 million, a great amount of money, but man have we come a long way in the last 25 years.

This year, Daniel Weinman was the last standing in the WSOP Main Event, but his prize was not $1 million. He took home $12.1 million.

The money increased because of how popular the event is now. In 1998, you had only 350 entries in the Main Event. This year, we saw a record-breaking 10,043 entries, which really drove the prize pool to nearly $94 million.

7. Worm
Lester “Worm” Murphy, played by Norton, is a captivating character. If you are a worrier like myself, you are going to be on the edge of your seat when Norton is on the screen. The character gets released from jail early on in the movie after he was charged with giving out fake credit cards.

You know Worm is only going to get Mike McDermott, played by Damon, in all sorts of trouble and as a viewer you just wish Mike would stay away but you know if he follows Worm in his ways it will make for a more interesting scene.

Worm seems to always get Mike into more of a mess than expected. Worm racks up around a $15,000 debt and Mike, the gracious friend that he is, includes himself in the debt so Worm isn’t solo.

Well, unfortunately for the two, the person they owe money to, is partnered with the Russian mobster himself, Teddy KGB. Just by the name, you can probably guess, not the best person you should be owing money to that you can’t pay.

“Lucky” for Mike, Worm has a plan.

6. Bottom-deck dealing
You are about to find out why the word lucky above is in quotes. Worm’s genius plan is to fix a cash poker game with state troopers. Yes, you can read that again, that is his idea to fix all of the debt problems.

The two are going to join a state trooper poker game, pretend they don’t know each other, and take the cops for big money.

Well, in the beginning, the master plan seems to be going swimmingly as Worm is dealing Mike some big hands that can’t really lose so Mike is collecting. However; after a while, the suspicion really starts to pick up and the big mistake happens.

Worm gets caught bottom-deck dealing, which means he was giving Mike cards from the bottom of the deck that Worm knew would help Mike’s hand. Worm gets figured out, and attempting to cheat state troopers in a cash card game went probably how you would think. They get the stuffing beaten out of them and lose their money as well.

Dynamite plan Worm, now the two are in even worse shape.

5. Predicting everyone's hands
Let’s switch over to a more impressive moment in the movie. Mike puts on an incredible display of knowing what players have in their hands.

He makes his way over to Abe Petrovsky’s office, Mike’s professor and somewhat of a mentor to him in the law field. Petrovsky was played by the late Martin Landau who passed away in 2017.

At his office, there is a poker game played there with judges, professors and lawyers. Mike wanders into the office to drop a few things off to his professor and notices the game and sticks around for a few moments.

Mike, in a way, inserts himself into the game by telling Petrovsky to raise after a round of bets have been made. He claims to know what everyone has and that is why he is basically playing the professor’s hand for him. The others at the table are not buying his claim. So, in order to prove it, Mike goes around the table, one by one, enlightening the players on what they hold in their hands, and you guessed it, he nailed every single one.

Everyone is not only impressed but inclined to fold, so the professor takes down the pot with “nothing but a busted straight.”

Kid Poker, Daniel Negreanu, is great at being able to predict or guess what a player is holding in their hand, but to be able to know the entire table, well, that will put you in good shape.

4. Are you the sucker?
The opening scene of the movie has one of my favorite quotes from Mike. “Listen. Here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”
In pretty much every table he sits down at, Mike knows he isn’t the sucker. There is one scene in particular that this remains true.

Worm and Mike go to a casino to play some poker and they immediately go to a table filled with regulars and friends that they know, but two seats remain open at the table. Every so often, two players will sit down with this group to play and before their backsides even hit the cushion, they are the suckers. The group around the table play whoever is in those two seats like a fiddle and even Mike knows it when he says, “All the luck in the world isn’t going to change things for these guys. They’re simply overmatched.” And he’s right.

3. "It's not about how much you win, it's about how much you can walk away from."
This quote from the movie should be words to live by across all gambling. It is probably one of the most difficult things to know. When should you leave the table?

A common phrase when it comes to gambling is “you never leave a heater” and, yes, I do think those words are accurate, but sometimes, being on a heater can really blind you on when the heater actually ended.

Let’s say you are playing at a $15 blackjack table and you increase your bankroll from $250 to $450 and have won the last five hands. You are on a roll. Well, maybe you lose the next two or three hands, you “heater” is over.

My initial thought is to take my $400 or so and leave up $150 and be happy with my session, that is much easier said than done. The easy thing to do is say “well I am playing with house money anyways” and continue playing and you may see you bankroll get knocked back down to the original $250.

Not bad, you played for free basically and ending up even is a win in most cases. However, I have seen it too many times, many will keep pushing to play more and even starts to look even better after your chip count bleeds below $100.

It happens to all gamblers and it may be the hard way of learning it, but knowing when to get up from a table is crucial. It can prevent that -$300 swing we just talked about and that is just at a $15 per hand table. It can get ugly very quickly for those playing higher limits.

2. “If you spot a man’s tell, don’t say a word”
If you have played a home poker game, you probably have picked up on someone’s tell or at least tried to do so to gain an advantage. A “tell” in poker is an indicator from the player and gives information on their hand. For example, when a player gets a good hand, they may touch their hat or chin. The player has no idea they are doing this and it is completely unintentional.

So, Mike is right, if you spot the tell, why would you say anything to them? If you bring it to their attention, they will correct that tell and you have lost your edge. Even after the game is done, keep that information to yourself. You never know if you will be playing with that person again and if they aren’t aware of it, that indicator will come with them next time as well.

1. The Oreo tell
Now we get to one of the most iconic tells in poker, even though it is from a movie.

In the final heads-up match between Mike and Teddy KGB, Mike is playing to clear the debt of Worm and himself.

In a major turning point, as Mike is deciding his action after the flop, he notices Teddy KGB reach for his snack, which is a stack of Oreos in a chip holder. He raises the Oreo to his ear and splits it apart before eating it. He has spotted the tell.

Knowing Teddy KGB has a hand from the tell, Mike checks and Teddy bets. Mike has top two pair after the flop but folds because he knows now that Teddy flopped a straight.

Teddy KGB is fuming because he should have been paid from that hand and isn’t sure why Mike would ever fold that or how Mike knew Teddy had a straight until he looks down and sees the Oreos and fires them against the wall to prevent Mike from seeing his tell. Mike didn’t tell Teddy KGB what his tell was but he figured it out on his own and then Mike told him he knew by asking “Not hungry?”
At the end of the final game, Mike does take down Teddy KGB for $20,000 to pay off the debt. It’s a must watch film and after seeing it, you are most likely going to text a group of your friends to set up a poker game.

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