As both the World Series of Poker, the World Poker Tour and other television productions have brought the glamour and prestige of the poker world to the average television viewer over the last few years, many people have had the passing thought of taking their shots at becoming a professional poker player. The fame, the freedom of the way of life and, probably most of all, the money is the draw in many cases for these people. For those that think they are ready for the challenges that the poker world and Las Vegas can throw at you, the documentary "Poker Bustouts" should be required viewing.
"Poker Bustouts", filmed in 2005 and available at the website pokerbustouts.com for $19.95, is an hour-long documentary that compiles the stories, advice and, in some cases, the regrets of poker players that have been at both the apex of the poker world and also on the rail of the game as well. Produced by Robert Willis, it is a starkly real and fascinating voyage into the poker world of today. It demonstrates all the great aspects of the game (as portrayed by 2003 WSOP Final Table competitor Tomer Benvenisti and WSOP Omaha champion Ted Lawson) to the other end of the spectrum, where players scrounge their next buy-in and sometimes find themselves with nowhere to call home (as demonstrated by Mike Tullis, a 45-year veteran of the poker rooms of Las Vegas, and others in the film).
What I was impressed with in "Poker Bustouts" was hearing the stories of some of the players involved. In many cases, some of the players featured in the movie have been making a living from Las Vegas for decades. "Cowboy" (a fixture in most of the poker rooms in Las Vegas) has been plying his poker trade for nearly 35 years and offers some great stories. Billy Malkensen has been active in poker for forty years himself and demonstrates a successful turn in the game. Pat Callahan was once a confidante of Benny Binion and offers stories from "back in the day". You can get lost in these stories alone, but you would be amiss to not learn the lessons that the documentary can give you as well.
Throughout "Poker Bustouts", there is relevant poker information that is doled out by those that have made poker their lives. Handling the inevitable swings that occur in the game, the practice of loaning money to fellow players, dealing with railbirds and money management are all discussed during the run of the film. In probably the most surprising part of the film, Yohannes Muruz, a player whom many would view as a professional (he has won a WSOP Circuit championship ring and earned over $200,000 in tournaments) discusses how sports gambling and the craps tables have left him without a bankroll to play poker.
There is also a clear demonstration on how the poker life isn't all it is cranked up to be. Melissa Todd, a female poker player who worked the higher limit games ($80/$160) in Las Vegas, gives some great insight into the poker world she has now left for a much more mundane profession, the real estate industry. A female dealer, Heather Esquin, tells her stories from the dealer's box that she no longer occupies (she also has entered into the real estate game). And through it all, you hear of the highs and the lows of the poker world from those people who have actually or are still actually attempting to make a living from the poker world of today.
While you might expect a film with the title "Poker Bustouts" to be one continuous sob story, I actually found the opposite. The players portrayed in the film are perhaps the last rebels in a morally stiffening society. They show true spirit and grit as they continue on the path that they have chosen. They have been at the top of the poker world on many occasions and demonstrate that it is important to abide by the etiquette of poker, because the players you meet heading up the ladder may in many situations be the ones you look to when you are down. In many cases, they don't regret where that path has taken them and they continue to look for that next game and the potential of that next big pot. With that said, however, almost to the person none of them suggest that it is a life that is easy and actually recommend that newcomers should consider alternate avenues for success.
"Poker Bustouts" is a revealing look inside the true world of poker, away from the glitzy television productions and million dollar prize pools that everyone takes for granted in the game of poker today. It shows that it is a hard life, from the people who have actually lived that life. For many who have only come to poker in the last couple of years, it should be something that is required viewing before they even consider taking up poker as a profession. To learn more about the documentary or to purchase the film, be sure to visit the website pokerbustouts.com.