A Review of Bet Raise Fold: The Story of Online Poker
On Wednesday, Bet Raise Fold premiered at Brenden Theatres at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. The event attracted some of the biggest names in poker, including Tom Dwan and Daniel Cates, who haven’t played a single event at the 2013 World Series of Poker thus far, executive director of the WSOP Ty Stewart, president of the World Poker Tour Adam Pliska, and, of course, the three main characters in the film, Tony Dunst, Danielle Andersen, and Martin Bradstreet.
The event was a great success. Rarely do you see such positive energy oozing from all corners of the poker world, yet in that cozy, packed, 200-person theater, there were individuals from all different publications, companies, and online poker sites joining to show their support for something that will ultimately have a positive effect on the game. In making this film, Jay Rosenkrantz, Taylor Caby, and Ryan Firpo have provided the community with a vessel to tell our very unique story, and the more eyeballs it reaches, the better.
The film itself was spectacular. If you’re familiar with Firpo’s work with the PokerStars.tv documentaries, you can imagine how visually appealing BRF is. All of the footage is crisp and clean, and the graphics and animation keep the viewer engaged and entertained. There is one sequence in particular where a handful of pros, including Phil Galfond, Dani Stern, Justin Bonomo, and Vanessa Selbst, break down the same hand. While the players are explaining their thought processes, graphics whiz around the screen to illustrate what is being said. This technique is very effective for two reasons: (1) it looks awesome, and (2) for the general viewer, it shows just how complex each street of a poker hand while also allowing them to follow along without feeling excluded.
Dunst, Andersen, and Bradstreet are all brilliant, and their unique personalities speak to the diversity within the poker community. You have Dunst, the typical 20-year-old who wants to personify the high-roller, James Bond-like lifestyle. Andersen, a mother in a conservative middle American town who grinds to support her family. And Bradstreet, a free-floating intellect who appears to be bright enough to do anything, yet has decided to play online poker to make a living.
At first, Bradstreet seems to be the odd man out because he is a non-American and his passion for poker doesn’t really shine through, but the importance of his role increases as the film nears Black Friday. He provides very necessary and effective comic relief in a scene that starts with the title “Meanwhile in CANADA,” and he plays a very somber score on his piano during b-roll of documents disseminated on April 15.
Because of the Raw Deal segment on WPT broadcasts and his eccentric group of friends, Dunst was a no-brainer. He is great on camera, always telling it how it is, and he gives a very impassioned and angry testimonial at the Bellagio after Black Friday. Andersen was a perfect choice because she is the exact opposite of what the public perceives to be a typical online poker player. Seeing her parents, who generally have no clue what online poker is about, talk openly about trusting her decision to become a professional is very interesting, and her son is hilarious and elicits plenty of smiles.
During the question-and-answer session after the film, the BRF crew explained their casting process, and the depth of their research was impressive.
The three stories worked well when intertwined with the history of poker, particularly Dunst’s because of his direct connection with the WPT, and all of the historic testimonies given by knowledgeable media members like Paul McGuire, BJ Nemeth, Nolan Dalla were both in depth and captivating. Some may say the historical sequences don’t fit with the rest of the film, but they are necessary to provide context for the casual viewer.
There are only two gripes that I had with BRF. First, there is a sequence at the 2011 L.A. Poker Classic that is a bit slow. It’s important to the film because Andersen and Dunst cross paths, one en route to success (Dunst and the Raw Deal) while the other fails (Andersen doesn’t cash and makes several live mistakes), but it seems to drag on. The second gripe is the omission of Ultimate Bet. This isn’t an investigative film, although there is a great UIGEA sequence that shows just how shady Bill Frist is, but you can’t tell “the story of online poker” and omit the UB scandal. I understand that there are time limits, and the UB saga will most likely require a 20-part mini-series, but I wish they would’ve at least made mention of it.
Bet Raise Fold is undoubtedly a must-see for all poker fans, and I’m willing to wager that if casual viewers stumble upon this film, it will open their eyes to a whole new world and help them understand just how damaging Black Friday was to thousands of poker fans. BRF will be showing in select cities across the country, and digital distribution is set to take place at the end of this month, so be sure to check out their website if you wish to view the film for yourself.
PokerNews hostess, Kristy Arnett, attended the premiere pre-party to speak with some of those involved in the making of the film:
Photo courtesy of BetRaiseFoldMovie.com.