Thursday, May 15, 2014

Poker, First Hand

There was a nice tribute a few days ago penned by Rounders co-scriptors Brian Koppelman and David Levien to their friend Joel “Bagels” Rosenberg who died last week. As they explain in the piece (posted on Grantland), Rosenberg had been a primary inspiration for the character of Joey Knish (portrayed by John Turturro), and a more general influence on the film as a whole.

As the screenwriters tell it, they played their very first hand at the Mayfair with Rosenberg, with his character and personality clearly becoming a central feature of the place for them going forward, and still an important part of their memory of it today.

“We tried to suffuse Rounders with Bagel’s attitude, which was wry, wise, and full of heart,” they write of their friend while relating the story of how he’d become a kind of “tour guide” for them helping them understand the life of a professional grinder -- the pre-”boom,” pre-tourney kind, that is, such as represented by Knish.

I like especially the note regarding Rosenberg’s kindness -- yes, there are friends in poker -- with the reference to his generosity again reminding us of Knish helping out Mike after his early gutting by Teddy KGB.

We’ve known for a long time how much of the world of Rounders and most (if not all) of its characters were inspired by the Mayfair as Koppelman and Levien experienced it during the years preceding the film’s release in 1998, just a couple of years before the club was shut down as part of Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s campaign to clean up New York City.

A similar tutelage is arguably necessary for any storyteller -- that is, to have experienced something resembling the world one wishes to create and share with others in a fictional form. And if your subject is poker and most of your themes are rooted in the game, too, it’s probably even more important that there be some actual experience with the game and the subculture surrounding it to provide the needed support for one’s tale.

You know, first hand knowledge. The kind of thing that with poker is very hard to bluff.

Check out the tribute and learn more about “Bagels.”

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