Underground Poker Documentary

Tonight starting at 8/7c, the Discovery Channel will premiere three new shows in what they’re calling 'All-In, All-Night,' and poker players and fans should find the trio right up their alley of interest.

First up will be the hour-long Hustling the House, a show that will examine how casinos and lotteries use math and science to gain the upper hand. It also shows viewers how they can turn the tables.

Read our interview with the writer of the popular 'Inside Underground NY Poker' series on Reddit, detailing the 2000s poker scene in New York's underbelly. 2020 WSOP Main Event. In the film, she forgoes law school and opts to work in a bar. She is then hired by Dean (Jeremy Strong), an obnoxious fellow who makes her his assistant. Realising her organisational skills, he provides her with a second job: running an underground poker gamer. One of the players is simply called Player X (played by Michael Cera).

That will be followed by Casino Secrets from 9/8c. While not poker-specific, this show will show you the lengths casinos go to in order to keep gamblers doing what they do best — gambling! As the Discover Channel puts is: “From the true odds of roulette, to the inner workings of a slot machine, the truth is about to come about.”

Finally, Underground Poker will premiere at 10/9c. The show stars longtime friends and star poker players Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak.

Documentary - Inside Underground Poker - November 27th 2012. Filmed in New York City for the National Geopgraphic TV channel - A series of underground poker games filled with danger, allure and adrenaline. One of the top games is run by Mikey Tatts who has cultivated a roster including business owners, drug dealer, pimps and professional rounders. ONE of the world’s most successful porn stars is now homeless, and living in a nightmarish network of pitch-black tunnels beneath the glamorous Las Vegas Strip. Jenni Lee, known by the screen. Underground poker is poker played in a venue that is not operating in accordance with the gaming laws of its jurisdiction. What exactly is 'underground' poker depends on the local laws. In many (but not all) jurisdictions, an unlicensed poker game may still be legal if the game is played in a residential building, the host does not profit from hosting the game, and/or the buy-in fees do not.

The show, which involved showrunner Jon Bulette, assistant editor Peter Hedberg, and production company Matador Content & Appian Way, is the story about two professional gamblers, Esfandiari and Laak, who travel to different cities — in this particular episode it’s New Orleans — and their focus is to find private, high-stakes, underground poker games.

“Real poker games, none of the poker is staged,' Esfandiari said over a phone interview with PokerNews. 'We’re finding real games and we’re trying to get in them. There’s a little bit of banter between me and Phil, because you know that’s kind of our characters. At the same time we’re trying to get into these games, so we’re meeting interesting people along the way.”

The Origin of Underground Poker

The idea for the aptly named Underground Poker came a few years back thanks to an unlikely meeting with a Hollywood mover and shaker.

“We were on the movie set for Runner Runner to do a cameo, and on the set we met ‘Kingpin,’ who is Jennifer Killoran,” Esfandairi explained. “She was a producer on the movie. She was super cool and we became friends. She took a liking to Phil and I, and she thought we were hilarious. She said, 'You guys need a TV show.' We said we already had one, and she said, ‘Well, you need another one.’ We said that’s great, but nobody ever makes it happen. She said she could make it happen, and next thing you know we have a TV show. I can honestly say it is the vision of one human being that believed in Phil and I.”

Esfandiari revealed that the evolution of the show was fairly unique. First it started as a five-minute teaser, which quickly more than doubled to 13 minutes. Before long, the production company decided to put together a full pilot, which was shot in August 2013 in New Orleans.

“The end goal is the show does well, people like it, and we can do more episodes,” said Esfandiari. “So right now it’s just the one show that we shot, and when they air it we’ll see how it goes.”

Documentary underground poker

At that point in the interview, Laak joined the conference call and it immediately became clear why Killoran thought the two deserved a TV show — they had uncanny chemistry.

“Phil, nice of you to join us for your TV show,” Esfandiari said with oozing sarcasm.

“I think it’s your TV show, but close, you’re only one person away,' a hyper-energetic Laak replied humbly. 'I am your costar. You know where all the games are, I just ride your coattails.'

“You know it’s Phil’s show,” Esfandiari tried to clarify.

The two continued to assign credit to the other for the better part of a minute, though neither was willing to accept. It became clear that these two were a team, and one might not survive without the other.

Finding the Right Games

With a premise in mind for the show, it was time to find a game. The producers set their sights on New Orleans and reached out to the local poker community for help, which was documented in a well-written blog by Bill Phillips of Gulf Coast Poker. Parx casino career. Even so, Laak and Esfandiari decided to do some legwork.

“We called around to some people and said, ‘Hey look, we wanna come and play, are there any games?’” Esfandiari explained. “They said there were a few games. They had to be ok with being on camera, but we wanted real players, real money, and real games. Not a single hand is staged. Everything is legit.”

Laak seized on that to drive home the point that Underground Poker isn’t your everyday poker show: “Another thing to emphasize is that people shouldn’t tune into this show thinking they’re going to see 30 hands of poker. I think the entire show is 24 minutes, and they only show between two to five hands. It’s not a lot. It’s more about the feeling a pro has as he drifts around a city trying to find home games to play in. The who-do-you-know aspect.”

“Hopefully when the show gets picked up there will be more poker hands in the episodes,” Esfandiari elaborated. “So there isn’t that much poker, it’s more developments going on and what sort of stuff we have to do to get into these games.”

Eventually the pair did find a game, though they had to start from the bottom and work their way up.

“You can get into any home game nowadays if you bring your own fish — BYOF. But BYOF is a little tough,” Laak explained in a way that only he can. “We went to a game where it was literally $50 or $100 buy-in with $1/$2 blinds. Antonio didn’t want to play it, but I was stoked. I was like whatever, we’ll meet new people. Usually one of those guys are going to be going to a bigger game later that week or something, so I happily played in a super small game. It’s not about the money sometimes.”

The Future of Underground Poker

Right now, Underground Poker is just a single episode, but if reception is strong and the series is picked up by Discovery, both Laak and Esfandiari think there are plenty of creative outlets.

“We could go to any city where there’s private poker games — Atlanta, Charlotte, San Francisco, Vancouver — there are cities all over the world that have poker games, so it could be anywhere,” Esfandiari said.

Inside Underground Poker

Laak believed poker fans would be fascinated by the characters, including poker pros they’d inevitably cross paths with at various games. “I don’t think I’ve been to a game in 14 years without at least one pro,” he said. “A good game is usually one fish, or one whale, and eight pros. Maybe two marlin. You never get like eight fish.”

Laak and Esfandiari may be getting a bit ahead of themselves, but they have high hopes for the future of the show, though they admit it is dependent upon the masses.

“The more viewers we have, the better chance we have of having the show picked up and really creating something new,' Esfandiari concluded. 'You can never judge a series by the first show. You have to develop the characters. If we get the poker community behind us, we’ll have a show on Discovery for sure. Hopefully people will like it and won’t bash it too much. We want minimal bashing.”

Both Laak and Esfandiari plan on watching the premiere and live tweeting with fans, so be sure to either set your DVR or tune in at 10 p.m. ET and PT on Wednesday, Sept. 10 for the pilot episode of Underground Poker.

Check out the trailer for Underground Poker below:

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Published on February 16th, 2018 by Damien Straker

Reviewed by Damien Straker on the 16th of February 2018
eOne presents
a film by Aaron Sorkin
Produced by Mark Gordon, Amy Pascal and Matt Jackson
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on ‘Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker’
by Molly Bloom
Starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp and Brian d’Arcy James
Music by Daniel Pemberton
Cinematography Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Edited by Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham and Josh Schaeffer
Rating: M
Running Time: 140 minutes
Release Date: the 1st of February 2018

With an ace, a king and a queen, Molly’s Game goes bust. It is an adaptation of the book by self-proclaimed Poker Princess, Molly Bloom. It also marks a disappointing directorial debut from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing). His verbose dialogue and intrusive visual style overcooks a major story about power, money, law and gender politics. There’s no need for overstatement with so many complex elements at stake.

Jessica Chastain stars as Molly, who was once a young Olympic skier. However, a freak accident saw her suffer a back injury and brought an end to her athletic career. In the film, she forgoes law school and opts to work in a bar. She is then hired by Dean (Jeremy Strong), an obnoxious fellow who makes her his assistant. Realising her organisational skills, he provides her with a second job: running an underground poker gamer. One of the players is simply called Player X (played by Michael Cera). In real life, this was apparently actor Tobey Maguire.

The plot overlaps two stories: Molly’s rise as she develops her own high-class gambling den in a hotel, and in the present day, her arrest and indictment. She enlists the help of a high-powered lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), to represent her in court. Jaffey reads Molly’s book on the events to determine if she undertook illegal activities, and how she became involved with the Russian mafia. Meanwhile, Molly must also resolve her issues with her father (Kevin Costner), a demanding professor she fought with and from whom she is now estranged.

Midway through Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin loses the message of the story. A fascinating rags-to-riches, fall-from-grace narrative, in the vein of Casino (1995), becomes an overstuffed and convoluted spider’s web in need of an edit. Flashbacks and present-day scenes awkwardly collide, and Molly’s ties to the crime world are haphazardly explained. Molly’s resilience, coupled with an ethical dilemma of using men’s hedonism against them, is its own rich premise. However, Sorkin’s audio-visual choices are so overwrought they confuse the story and overshadow the actors.

Sorkin is indecisive, torn between thinking the audience is completely stupid or poker masterminds. His biggest sin is overusing voice over. The simplest images, such as setting up a new card game or Molly caressing her face with make-up, are explained via narration. Why? Molly’s Game is the first movie strictly for the blind. Similarly, Sorkin’s dialogue-heavy style verges on parody.

There are big but shapeless scenes where the quotient of Chastain and Elba’s monologues outweighs the points of their characters. It’s tough following the poker talk too if you’re unfamiliar with the game. Some of the dialogue is admittedly sharp, which reflects Sorkin’s unique ear for fast one-liners. Yet it is also gratingly, such as an end scene where Molly randomly starts discussing the smell of the centre of the galaxy. What?

Other parts are resolved in laughably contrived ways. It’s never explained why none of Dean’s players contact him about the new gaming being established without him knowing. Also, a corny father-daughter scene competes with a judge’s ruling for the most improbable moment. It’s impossible to overstate how much better Sorkin is with a collaborator or a director, as was the case with The Social Network (2010) and Steve Jobs (2015).

Sorkin also treats the story as an explosive audio-visual symphony. By over-anticipating the audience’s boredom, he has cut the film to resemble a two-and-a-half-hour-long trailer. Scenes either pound us with the voice over and an avalanche of dialogue or they’re compressed into quick cuts and montages to mobilise the story.

The movie has no concept of how powerful silences can be. Nor does it realise that bombing us with information makes us disengage from what we’re hearing. The film’s one dramatically potent scene is paired down to a single element: a character’s helplessness during a home invasion. The drama is powerful and self-explanatory, proving the ineffectiveness of sensory overload.

Sometimes it’s questionable who Molly’s Game is most interested in exploring. The film intends to dramatise Molly’s resilience to unexpected challenges in life. However, her journey comes to a halt midway while the film busily highlights several three or four male gamblers in her den. There is a man who can’t play (Spotlight’s Brian d’Arcy James), one who can’t quit (Bill Camp, excellent) and a drunk (Chris O’Dowd) who rambles to her.

The script’s flaw is that these characters have more action and agency than Molly. She is regulated to playing with a spreadsheet and watching the card games unfold. Comparatively, her descent into isolation, pills and drug-taking is superficial, reduced to random quick cuts and voice over narration. Chastain isn’t given the space to underline the physical disintegration. Molly’s Game becomes what it opposes: more interested in problematic men than the woman’s smarts.

The central performance suffers under the weight of Sorkin’s aggressive filmic style. Jessica Chastain is a fine actress, she’s in every scene, but this potentially meaty role doesn’t play to her strengths. For example, during an attractive wide shot of a skyline, the pesky voice tells us how alone Molly is rather than trusting Chastain’s expressiveness. The voice over and montages reduce the time for her to explore Molly’s emotions. Instead, the poor woman is painted as an over-calculated, super intelligent robot. Molly has no romantic feelings, which is fine, but it’s unclear whether she genuinely feels for the men falling apart in her den. That wasn’t programmed into Sorkin’s algorithm.

Underground Gambling Documentary

There are also credibility problems with the casting. Chastain bears no resemblance to the real Molly Bloom. It’s also confusing seeing her as a forty-year-old woman playing Molly at her athletic peak in her early twenties. Likewise, some of Molly’s clothes, provided by costume designer Susan Lyall, are seriously unflattering and undermine the character’s seriousness.

Molly’s Game had all the right cards at its fingertips. It had a layered, complex story to tell, and two of the best working actors today. Their work is overshadowed by Aaron Sorkin’s poor directorial choices and his over-reliance on flashy dialogue. He butchers it by compressing it down into montages, voice over, and loud conversations. It’s a showcase for his signatory fast-lipped dialogue and loses trace of Molly’s resilience to unexpected challenges and missteps. If it were retitled it wouldn’t be called Molly’s Game but Aaron’s Mess.

Summary: Aaron Sorkin’s audio-visual choices are so overwrought they confuse the story and overshadow the actors.

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