Friday, March 30, 2012

More Thoughts on All In: The Poker Movie: Building a “Boom”

Manufacturing a BoomNot too much time for scribblin’ today, but I did want to share just one thought that’s been banging around in the noggin’ over the last week or so.

I mentioned last week how I’d had a chance to see the new documentary All In: The Poker Movie and liked it quite a bit. You’ve no doubt started to see lots of reviews and other articles about the film. I imagine it will continue to have some momentum, especially within the poker community, all of the way up to the start of the World Series of Poker in late May and even after.

The limited theatrical run for All In will continue over the next month or more, then it will become available online and via DVD, which will ensure more viewers. You can get details about all of that on the film’s website.

If you’ve seen All In or even just read about it, you know how it was in production for several years, and in fact the makers were gearing up to finish everything when Black Friday suddenly arrived last April.

Our buddy Jeff “PKRGSSP” Walsh interviewed director Douglas Tirola on his show last week, and Tirola talked about how they were actually readying for a July 2011 release when the DOJ unsealed its indictment and civil complaint, effectively shutting down online poker in the U.S. Thus it became necessary to shoot some more interviews and refashion the film’s narrative a bit, which now begins and ends with Black Friday and positions that against the larger story of poker’s growth and importance in America.

A lot of attention has been given to the interviews with Howard Lederer and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson in the movie, both of which (I believe) were done not long before Black Friday. I think in the interview Tirola mentions the one with Lederer having been very close to April 15, what Tirola believes to have been the last real interview he did (aside from perhaps discussing a tourney with someone) before the DOJ hammer fell.

The many clips from the interviews with those two are of course quite provocative, and as I said in my review over at PokerListings I think the film does a good job handling all of the unintended irony surrounding the pair’s championing of Full Tilt Poker and other comments they make about poker.

One of the interviews conducted post-Black Friday was with Alexandra Berzon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Wall Street Journal who covers Las Vegas and who wrote articles about Black Friday and its aftermath.

In the film, Berzon talks about how the WSJ reported on the Black Friday story, in particular the Full Tilt Poker fiasco, explaining how they approached it as “not about cheating but about bluffing.” That is, referring to the way FTP had lied and misled players regarding the security of their funds, the whole enterprise was ultimately revealed to be a kind of “bluff” unexpectedly called back in April of last year.

Alexandra BerzonShe also makes what I thought was an intriguing observation about the explosion in popularity of poker over the last decade, a “boom” most (including the makers of All In) attribute in large part to the overlapping influences of Chris Moneymaker, the rise of the online game, and the growth of televised poker.

“If you look at it, the [online] poker companies created the poker boom and had a huge amount to do with it on television,” says Berzon. “And so, was the poker boom a real boom or was it a manufactured thing by these online poker companies?”

Here Berzon is setting up another question -- “Can it outlast PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker?” -- regarding whether or not any “boom” can continue in the U.S. without the sites’ considerable efforts to keep it going. This is where the film kind of ends, with speculation about poker continuing to remain popular in the U.S. and a kind of hope that it will, indeed, survive this significant setback.

But the first time I watched All In I found myself contemplating that idea that the “boom” was in fact “manufactured” or at least accelerated in a kind of artificial way by the sites and their substantial marketing campaigns, ca. 2003-2011.

For those of you who came into poker post-Moneymaker, think about what the game seems to represent to you. What pleasures or values do you associate with poker? How does poker compare to other activities, pastimes, even professions? What does poker signify, ultimately?

Now, try to think whether any of those ideas have occurred to you independently from ideas or suggestions made by the online poker sites, either directly or indirectly.

I’m not implying anything nefarious here, just remarking on how pervasive the influence of Stars, Full Tilt, Absolute/UB, and other sites has been over this period of poker’s greatest growth in the U.S., with all of the sites’ efforts to ensure poker’s continued popularity having proven so obviously successful in terms of helping get people into the game. And more than just casually committed to it, too.

The film doesn’t pursue the implications of Berzon’s comment specifically, but rather just tosses it out as an idea worth contemplating. Which I guess I’ve been doing since I first saw All In.

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Blogger PokerLawyer said...

Great questions, Martin. Certainly food for thought.

3/31/2012 2:50 PM  
Blogger Steve Gupta said...

Thanks for the review. I had an opportunity to see a screening in Denver. A theme I picked up on was to "follow the money" starting with players being willing to show their hole cards, putting poker on television, driving internet traffic through sponsorship, the UIGEA, indictments and finally allowing states to offer online gambling. It is a far cry from sitting around the kitchen table.

4/06/2012 11:53 AM  

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