All In: The Poker Movie
In dizzying succession, there have been several little cultural revolutions that have quietly but radically changed the way people lived. First there was the computer, then the cell phone, then the computer in the cell phone, then the iPod and iPad, and then there was…online poker?
Yes, for those of us Rip Van Winkle types who have been asleep for the last generation, poker has come a long way from the swaggering, colorful Amarillo Slim of the 1970’s winning by sass and dash, when the games were literally played around a small hidden table in a smoke-filled back room. Online gaming changed everything. Now, ordinary guys (and some women, too, but they’re still greatly outnumbered) could practice incessantly for “real” but modest stakes and become “experts” while sitting on their couches at home. There was an explosion of popular interest---literally millions of people playing every day, all the time. The ever-enterprising television moguls decided to televise games with the “hole cards” plainly visible to the audience, which let everyone in on the strategy and the drama. And then in 2003 there was actually one of these unknown online junkies, a guy named, ever so improbably, Chris Moneymaker, who was a young accountant for a small restaurant chain. And he qualified, online, to actually enter the real World Series of Poker, in Las Vegas , and even more improbably, he won it all. He beat all the big boys at their own game. And he did it with a stunning combination of skill developed online, and being able to persuade a couple of “sponsors” for the entry fee, and deciding he was going to be unafraid of the legendary Goliaths in the room. And, of course, he enjoyed an incredible amount of luck. As in going “all in” not when he already had the cards, but when he counted on the last card helping his hand. And then it did. All the way to the last hand, when he won literally millions of dollars at once, and captured the imagination of a national television audience, becoming an instant celebrity in the poker world.
The Chris Moneymaker phenomenon attracted all manner of new online aficionados who wanted to duplicate that incredible performance. The number of new players represented a virtual national craze, much to the delight of the hardened professionals, who so enjoyed the great influx of new suckers. They even made a movie about guys playing poker, called “Rounders,” starring Matt Damon, who also appears in this documentary. By 2011 the whole online poker craze had reached dizzying proportions, but then there was suddenly Black Friday. April 15th, 2011. The U.S. government suddenly and precipitously seizes all U.S.-based online poker sites, claiming wire fraud and tax evasion. And it all comes to a screeching halt. At least officially.
What remains, of course, are plenty of back room games, and even more informal kitchen games, which this documentary claims were also played by the likes of Warren G. Harding, and Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, and yes, Barack Obama. It remains to be seen if the online interest is going to move to foreign sites (would the government really want to lose all that potential revenue?). But in the meantime, we have this incredibly ubiquitous cultural phenomenon, which might have happened while the rest of us were still fumbling in our antiquated hymnbooks, trying to catch up to the song they were already singing.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas