An in depth analysis and collection of thoughts on Rounders the movie
An in depth analysis and collection of thoughts on Rounders the movie
“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.” – Rounders the movie, 1998.
If you’ve been a poker player for any length of time you would have mostly likely seen and loved the cult poker movie Rounders.
A young fresh faced Matt Damon plays aspiring poker pro Mike McDermott.
Mike is mentored by seasoned pro Joey Knish’s (John Turturro) who offers him sound advice to grind low stakes, low variance/low-risk poker at the Taj in Atlantic City beating tourists, win at a decent win-rate and take home a respectable clip earned from grinding poker to help him continue to pay his way studying law alongside his girlfriend.
Instead Mike risks it all to team up with his fresh out of prison, wise guy, angle shooting friend Lester “Worm” Murphy (Edward Norton) to try and hustle up enough money to pay for Worm’s debts to the mob and go for all the marbles in the biggest game of his life with a high stakes head’s up no-limit holdem battle against the amazing John Malkovich as Teddy “KGB”.
Alongside online qualifier and amateur player Chris Moneymaker’s win in the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event (“themoneymaker effect”), this movie is credited movie with having a hand in creating the huge poker boom of the early 00’s. The actual poker hands played in the film was more realistic than most other poker films of it’s time or even after.
How well was the poker hands played in Rounders the movie?
As time goes on though, debate has always flared up about the merits of Mike and Teddy KGB’s play in the hands in the movie with several inconsistencies spotted. Advances in strategy and poker game theory has evolved in leaps and bounds since 1998 but even at the time – looking bad some of the play was just plain bad and full of poker tell’s but we’ll come back to the physical tell’s later!
Check out this couple of YouTube videos from high stakes poker pro and Twitch streamer Doug Polk in his poker hands analysis series. Polk goes to town in analysing two big hands from the film and finds several glaring mistakes from both Mike and Teddy KGB’s play.
Bad live poker player actions seen in the film Rounders!
Splashing the pot, which is basically just tossing chips into the centre of the table willy-nilly instead of placing your bets just in-front of you is bad poker etiquette – but we can forgive Teddy KGB somewhat here because as he says, it is his own club after all.
There is also the scene at the Golf Pro private game, when Mike is trying to hustle up some money but folds to a bluff all-in. Golf pro guy performs an horrendous string raise – “I call your 1,500, and bet all-in” he says. By saying “call” he is calling, and therefore can’t put any more money in the pot. In a casino he would not have been allowed to put more chips into the pot to put Mike all-in.
Another instance of a string bet was when KGB is going to bet $15,000 into Mike early on, he puts one stack of chips out, then reaches for more and announces his bet. This is called a string bet, going back for more without FIRST announcing how much you are putting in. KGB’s bet should have only been his first stack.
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Rounders the movie inconsistencies rebuked and corrected!
- After Mike is taken for every penny, he goes to see Judge Petrovisky who somewhat trustingly writes him a personal check for $10,000, which he then takes to a check cashier. These businesses take between 2.5 to 5 percent for cashing a personal check, yet he is able to show up at KGB’s club with the full ten thousand.
This inconsistency can be explained though, because after Mike says “They took every f*cking nickel,” Worm says “I think I got $300 in my boot somewhere, which accounts for the 2-2.5 percent acquisition fee from the cashier station.
- In the final showdown with Mike & Teddy KGB, Mike goes to KGB’s place with $10,000. In the first game, he beats KGB in a winner take all and doubles up. If that is the case, Mike would now have $20,000. Mike gets ready to leave, but KGB goads him into playing another game for double or nothing. Mike again beats KGB to double up to $40,000. However, Mike states his winnings to be $60,000 with the breakdown of his winnings as follows; $15,000 back to KGB and Grama, $10,000 back to the law professor and $6,000 back to the Chesterfield. This totals $31,000 which would leave only $9,000 left. Where did the other $20,000 come from? This amount is never accounted for in the movie in the final showdown with KGB.
It was not mentioned how much KGB started the second game with, it could have been $40,000, double Mike’s stack at the time of $20k. Most likely though, KGB started with $20,000 and lost it, then brought another 20,000 into the game, which we didn’t see. Remember Mike said KGB could “reload at anytime”.
This would mean Mike being a bit stupid to play on after beating KGB twice already, and able to pay off his debts and still leave at this point with $9k profit. Not enough to enter into the $10K WSOP Main-Event though which might have been a target in his mind. Regardless, with KGB rattled it’s likely he played on and dumped another $20K to Mike in the final hand which we saw.
This revelation does spoil the drama somewhat though if you watch with that in mind.
In the final poker hand between Teddy KGB and Mike, Teddy deals down an ace and goes “all in,” commenting menacingly to Mike that “Your fate is sitting right beside you,” implying that loan shark Grama is waiting to break a few bones or worse once Mike cannot pay off the debt he inherited from Worm.
But if you look at the table, Mike has at least three times the number of chips that Teddy has. Mike won the $10,000 from Teddy earlier and as mentioned above possibly another $20K too. Mike does not have to go “all in” (which he does), but merely call the bet. Even if he were to lose that hand, he would still have more chips than Teddy, enough to pay Grama off. You would think Teddy would know that, since the chips are right there on the table. His comment that Mike will not be able to pay Grama doesn’t make any sense, although it does heighten the drama.
Mike still would have had about $30K left after that hand probably if he’d lost. Enough to pay KGB and Grama their $15k, the Professor his $10k and pay off $5k of the $6k he owes the Chesterfield, leaving him just $1k in debt and all in one piece.
Even if this was a mistake, you can argue it’s a character mistake on Teddy’s part. Whether or not he realised that he had more is maybe not a movie mistake. Besides, what Teddy was doing was more likely deliberate to try to put Mike off. Teddy knew that he had beaten Mike before, and it came from Mike being too overconfident and not betting wisely. If Mike bet large and lost, Teddy would probably get all his money back later as a confidence-destroyed Mike would more than likely play on and lose it all.
- When Mike is watching the judge’s game and he perfectly reads every card that every player was holding and every card they were looking to get.
This wouldn’t happen in real life. At best, he could tell which players were strong and which was weak, and put players on groups of hands, a range – but that’s about all.
Mike McDermott bluff’s 2-times WSOP Champion Johnny Chan – famous Rounders the movie hand analysed and explained
Mike 4-bet bluff’s the flop against Johnny Chan with absolute trash in 1 hand and then think’s he’s the best in the world. – “I’m sorry JOHN i don’t remember”.
Lot of debate has raged about this hand amongst fans. But it is obviously Limit Holdem (LHE).
It’s a $300/$600 limit game. With blinds of $100/$300, Mike sat down with $6,000 or 10 big bets, which is 20 big blinds. You are allowed to do that at many casinos. It is standard to buy-in for 20 big bets.
He said he folded MOST hands, and played tight. Which is pretty optimal strategy, so its very conceivable he chipped up a little and didn’t just blind away.
Mike would have bet out the limit of $300 on the flop. Johnny’s first raise would be to 600 (which is seen when he throws out 6 black chips), Mike’s raise would be to 900, Johnny’s second raise would be to 1200 (which is seen when he throws out another 6 black chips), and finally Mike’s raise would be to 1500.
For a split second, you can see 3 cards on the board face up, so this is definitely flop betting and not pre-flop like a lot of fans assume. No way to put either man on a range, we have no idea what the pre-flop action or what the flop was.
What we do know was that Mike had deviated from optimum strategy and was bluffing with trash, conceivably with no outs. Both players had missed the flop and were bluffing at each other, which is why Chan let the hand go – if he had a hand with outs or showdown potential he would have called Mike’s raise and looked to just call the river or fold then if he missed a draw.
What the writers were trying to say is YES, this character does have potential to sit at a table with a known WSOP champion like Johnny Chan.
Just because Mike bluffed Chan in 1 single hand with no outs, which is a bad play in limit holdem, does not mean that if he played Chan head’s-up several times that he would be a winner based on that 1 hand.
Poker Tell’s from Rounders the movie
A poker tell is usually a betting pattern or something actual physical when playing live poker that helps to give away the strength of a players hand.
They are usually stuff like shaky hands putting chips into the pot when holding a strong hand, or body language. Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent who wrote a book on poker tells called Read ‘Em and Reap: A Career FBI Agent’s Guide to Decoding Poker Tells.
Navarro made the observation that the lower down the body you look the more accurate the information. This is because the face is easier to control but we forget other part’s of our body. Players posture being upright or slumped, jiggling their feet or involuntary arm gestures.
So what was Teddy KGB’s poker tell in the film Rounders?
That KGB’s tell is connected to his Oreos is pretty obvious. Is his tell simply that he eats an Oreo when he’s got the upper hand, though?
I find it hard to believe that such an obvious tell would go unnoticed for so long by a seasoned poker player like Mike, or indeed other players. Or is KGB’s tell more subtle than that?
I’ve noticed that, when KGB holds a strong hand, he splits an Oreo while holding it to his ear. This also happens at the beginning of the movie, in the hand that makes Mike go bust;
But when KGB is bluffing, he splits an Oreo while looking at it instead of holding it to his ear. The tell is nothing to do with whether he eats the Oreo or not!
More on Rounders the movie
If you’re like me and love the quotes from Rounders the movie, check out this site I found which has the full transcript – Rounders full script.
Or if you’re interested in the original screenplay you can buy it here;
Love the soundtrack to the movie?
Are they making a sequel, Rounders 2?
A sequel is still “in development,” according to IMDB. A year or two ago, there was an announcement that a Rounders 2 would be made, but no word of progress has been released. A lot would rest on whether the stars of the original movie could be brought back.
Matt Damon would be a necessity and I believe from all accounts that he would be on board. I would like to know what happened to Worm. Whether Mike went to the WSOP in Vegas and how did he do? Did Mike ever back with his law student girlfriend?
How would the explosion of online poker have affected all the characters?
Would Knish have become a super-online mid stakes grinder on the lines of a Dusty Schmidt aka Leatherass or stayed at small stakes like a Nathan Williams aka BlackRain79 and crushed with a huge win-rate?
Would Teddy KGB become a well known Poker TV personality and/or an online fish like a Mike Matusow or a Gus Hansen?
So many questions!
What would you like to see happen if Rounders 2 ever happens?
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