The Underground is our recurring feature, resurrected from an all-time great CHUD column, the aim of which is to get the word out on projects outside the Hollywood studio system. Studio films have big promotion engines behind them. The Underground caters to everything else: from indie films, to cult films in the making, pet projects, guerrilla films, internet shorts, etc.
I had heard at one point in the last few years that there had been some sort of crackdown on online poker, but I thought some deal was cut and that it had already returned. I know a guy at work, half Persian half Polish (surname is Polish, chest hair is Persian), who rounds at local games and is pretty good. And I thought that he mentioned a few times or another that he had done well in some online games. Now I’m struggling to remember if that was before or after April 15th, 2011, a date not affectionately known in the online poker world as “Black Friday.” That’s when the U.S. Dept. of Justice essentially killed the entire freakin’ – and very lucrative – industry domestically.
As a result, thousands of people who not only made their living at online poker but in fact made fortunes on it had their futures immediately put into limbo. This was especially true for gamers who had their money tied up online in the coffers of Full Tilt Poker, one of the two big gaming sites at the time. Those assets became frozen when the site’s co-owners had garnered lavish payments – and these are international poker superstars like Phil Ivey and Chris Ferguson – at the expense of the players’ in-dispute funds. Those are just some of the stories explored in Bet Raise Fold: The Story of Online Poker from director Ryan Firpo, which examines the entire industry from its heyday in the early and mid-2000s up until the wheels came off the whole thing a couple years ago.
First off, the documentary is well made, getting in the complete story of the rise and fall of the industry and how it touched lives from World Series of Poker Champions to the guy down the street. It features interviews from over a dozen online pros, agents and poker journalists. The time frame of the doco is from November 2010 to roughly June 2013. We get the history of the first online gaming sites, the lifestyles that spawned from it and the television phenomena. Bet Raise Fold’s assertion is that the industry really took off when the “Chris Moneymaker Effect” kicked in. Chris Moneymaker is an accountant who won a spot in the 2003 WSOP from a $40 online gambit and ended up winning the whole thing. After that, the industry exploded.
There are three primaries in the piece, the first being Danielle Anderson from New Ulm, MN, a wife and mother who supports her family by playing online. Tony Dunst is a young player who made good money at online gaming in Australia for a while, before returning to the States and getting a job as a host on the World Poker Tour. Martin Bradstreet is an Aussie transplant in Montreal who enjoys online poker more for the game than any potential for fame. Danielle parlayed her husband’s interest in poker into her own and soon became good at it. The money she won online allowed her to take care of her family, buy her mother a horse, and the the biggest thrill she got from it all was keeping a stocked fridge, which was a rarity in her childhood.
Tony loves the James Bond lifestyle and getting custom suits made. He lives in Vegas in a friend’s pool hoouse after studying, partying and playing poker Down Under. He capitalized on his knowledge, turning it into an audition and co-hosting position of the Raw Deal segment on the World Poker Tour TV program. At first he had difficulty re-adjusting to a life of responsibility after several years without it. And Martin traveled the world for several years playing online poker before settling in Canada.
We go back and forth from from the micro effects of the lifestyle on these three to the macro, charting the explosion of the industry until the anvil dropped in April 2011. The reasons for it all of course are nothing new: politics. There had been attempts for years to shut down online poker until some senators got sneaky and planted an anti-online poker provision into a port defense bill. So if Congress voted against it, they were voting to support terrorism or some such stupid shit. Once the bottom fell out, it affected everyone, and usually not in a good way. We see the effects on Danielle, which were life changing, Tony, affected to a certain extent, and Martin, who wasn’t affected at all. A lot of the bad centers on the Full Tilt Poker debacle, which to date, has been the Enron of the industry. I would have liked to have seen more in depth exploration of that Full Tilt Poker situation, which is still evolving some 2 1/2 yers later. But otherwise, Bet Raise Fold is a solid first effort for director Firpo.
Bet Raise Fold is from 918 Films and is available on VOD now. A special edition of the film with 100 minutes of bonus materials can be found here: http://watch.betraisefoldmovie.com
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
If you’ve got a film or project somewhere in the fringes that belongs in The Underground and needs some attention, hit me up at email@example.com