Editorial: How “Rounders” Led to a Poker Boom

With over 100 million poker players globally, you could argue that there should be a lot more films about one of the most entertaining games in the world. Although there isn’t a raft of poker-based movies, there is one which stands head and shoulders above the rest and is still spoken about to this day by modern greats of the game.

Rounders, which was released in 1998, didn’t make many ripples on its opening in theaters earning just under $23 millon. However, since then its cult status has continued to grow and the film is even credited for igniting the poker boom of the early 2000s.

The Plot and Stars

Rounders, directed by John Dahl, features a youthful looking Matt Damon whose career was just gathering pace. He plays the leading protagonist in the movie, Mike McDermott, who loses $30,000 to the Russian gangster, Teddy ‘KGB’ (John Malkovich) and quits poker. However, he returns to the table to help his friend and criminal, Lester ‘Worm’ Murphy (Edward Norton) pay back an old debt. Damon’s appearance in Rounders was well received, and along with Good Will Hunting, was the spark that got him parts in popular films like Ocean’s Eleven, which catapulted him to stardom.

The Origins of Rounders

Rounders’ co-writers David Levien and Brian Koppelman were inspired to write the screenplay following a visit to an illegal poker game being played by professionals in New York. They then aspired to spice up the language they’d heard in that game in the movie. “I found this dictionary of old poker terms,” said Koppelman. “And I remember like reading it over and over, trying to incorporate it.”

The Impact of Rounders on Poker

The film had a huge impact on poker, bringing the game out of the hidden back rooms and very much into the public eye. Rounders did a good job of explaining the rules and ended up popularizing poker language like ‘the flop’ or ‘splash the pot,’ which have since become very widely known as a consequence of being in the film.

When the film was released, there were very limited resources available to help players advance their game, but things have certainly developed as a consequence of its popularity. Today, players can use online resources to learn how to win at poker, with online guides available to break down every aspect of the game. This global desire to know more about the game has also led top poker players to follow in the film’s footsteps and help teach people poker. One such star is Canada’s own Daniel Negreanu.

Negreanu is famous for guiding players on how to win at poker, and even has a dedicated tutorial on MasterClass. He is also a big fan of Rounders and has even broken down the final hand in the iconic movie as the latest subject of his podcast.

If there ever was an endorsement of the film’s impact on poker, you only have to listen to 2003 WSOP Main Event winner Chris Moneymaker. The poker champion admitted he watched the movie 20 times as inspiration to take up the game. Even members of the media were hooked.

“I was a Rounders kid, someone who fell in love with poker after watching the movie hundreds of times,” said ESPN’s Andrew Feldman. “Captivated by the strategy, excitement and potential fame and glory, I just needed to know all I could about that world.” The movie is also featured in the 30for30 podcast series and is quoted as playing a part in sparking the ‘Poker Boom’.

Simply put, if you haven’t seen Rounders, what are you waiting for? It’s endorsed by the pros and fans of the game alike, proving its status as a classic.

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