Review: “Bet Raise Fold” Delivers

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A couple of weeks we gave you the early reviews following the premiere of Bet Raise Fold: The Story of Online Poker at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

I finally had a chance to watch the film (available here for $10) and now have some thoughts of my own – largely (but not entirely) positive – to share.

But first, let’s set the stage.

Bet Raise Fold: The Central Characters

At its core the film tells the story of online poker from its earliest incarnations dating back to Planet Poker in 1998 to the current post-Black Friday apocalyptic poker world.

The bulk of the film centers on three main protagonists, each representing a specific segment of the poker playing population:

  • Danielle Anderson: Anderson’s role in the film is the most fleshed-out of the three as she represents two segments of the poker community, female players and players with families. Because of her family dynamic Anderson is easily the most sympathetic character in the film and someone you’ll find yourself rooting for throughout. She also seems to have been the most affected by Black Friday, financially and emotionally.
  • Tony Dunst: Dunst represents the single, college-age, male seeking an unconventional life that is pervasive in the online poker world: The young guy who is gifted at the game of poker but lacks any real direction, or sense of work-ethic, and the deeper understanding of the machinations of the outside world. Dunst is the quintessential Libertarian in the sense that he wants to be free to do what he wants without having to answer to someone. Dunst comes across as extremely likable, appears to be honest to a fault, and is another character you’ll probably find yourself rooting for.
  • Martin Bradstreet: Bradstreet represents the ROW of poker (Rest of World player for any non-poker aficionados out there) as an Aussie living in Canada, who unlike Anderson and Dunst didn’t see his life completely upturned on Black Friday, just slightly inconvenienced. Without the Black Friday element the eloquent Bradstreet would likely have garnered equal billing with Anderson and Dunst, but with the secondary storyline that emerges partway through the film he was basically relegated to the role of supporting actor.

The Gist of the Film

What makes Bet Raise Fold so enthralling is that during the shooting of the film (which began in 2010) the main storyline was usurped by Black Friday, so the Bet Raise Fold team of Ryan Firpo, Jay Rosenkrantz, and Taylor Caby were able to capture in real-time the poker world literally being turned upside down through the eyes of Anderson, Dunst and Bradstreet.

In an hour and a half the film takes you from the beginning of online poker to today, with all of the important stops in between. From Chris Moneymaker, to the exponential growth of poker knowledge and how these young mathematicians changed the game, to UIGEA and later Black Friday.

Bet Raise Fold is real, it’s emotional, and it’s captivating.

Praise for Bet Raise Fold

  • First off, Bet Raise Fold isn’t some fly-by-night project. The movie looks and feels like any well-produced documentary; they interviewed relevant people for each segment, most of whom you don’t see very often in interviews, like Nolan Dalla, Noah “NoahSD” Stephens-Davidowitz, Phil Galfond, and Paul McGuire.
  • Bet Raise Fold was made by poker players for poker players, so you are getting a real look at the underside of the poker world beyond what the TV cameras generally show.
  • I really enjoyed that they touched on some of the finer points that have been lost in the shuffle between Moneymaker and Black Friday, like the online poker wars between PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, the onset of the nosebleed games, and the current trajectory of tougher and tougher games.
  • The Nolan Dalla segments are fantastic. Full disclosure: I could read Nolan Dalla all-day every-day, and his interviews don’t disappoint. In Dalla you have someone who simply “gets it” about poker, and his ability to recall events and put them in their proper perspective is second to none.
  • Watching Tony Dunst go from poker pro with tons of freedom to a company man is intense and in a way satisfying. It’s a transformation I undertook myself in 2006 when UIGEA passed and my beloved Party Poker and the Cryptologic Network were taken away from me, so I could really relate to this evolution by Dunst, as I think most people who quit the game after Black Friday will as well.
  • “If it was a good day at poker it was a good day at our house; if it was a bad day at poker it was a day at our house,” was how Danielle Anderson’s husband described the trials and tribulations of being married with a family and having his wife play poker for a living. This entire dynamic in the storyline really gave depth to Anderson in the film.

Criticisms and Unanswered Questions

  • I would have liked to have seen more of the “Holla Balla” angle to Dunst’s life as a young poker pro in Las Vegas. While it was hit upon in the film it could easily be interpreted as a single party and not as a lifestyle. For instance, what kind of money was coming in and flowing out after a good day at the tables and what were they blowing it on? Does he regret some of these spending sprees?
  • Where was the story of the players that didn’t make it, or simply gave up after their first few deposits were lost? Anyone who is a regular reader of mine knows I have a fascination with the parenthetical, so I would have liked to have seen a video version of parenthesis (the cut-away) in Bet Raise Fold address the 95% of poker players who play for fun or have been felted –even if it was only for a three or four-minute segment.
  • Is the story compelling enough to appeal to a non-poker crowd? This is the million-dollar question of course, and to be completely honest I really don’t know. We’ll find out down the road, but my initial hunch is that even with its sympathetic characters and solid production quality it will still be viewed as a bunch of young kids gambling by the general public.

Learn more about Bet Raise Fold – or purchase a copy – here.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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