Rounders (1998)

When you get in trouble playing poker and then sort your trouble out playing poker

If you’re into poker and you still haven’t watched this movie, it’s about time you rectify that. First of all, most movies that center around poker are mostly hogwash and more comical than anything, to someone who actually enjoys playing the game. Rounders, however, manages to sidestep this pitfall and, it seems, they actually consulted some real life poker players when they made this movie. This means that even if you do, in fact, enjoy poker and truly understand it, you hopefully won’t be tempted to chuck your TV set out the living room window half way through the movie.

 

The basic story here is that a pretty decent poker player, Mike McDermot, played by Matt Damon, gets himself a proper ass kicking from a Russian mobster when he manages to lose $30,000 in an illegal underground poker game. After his poker disaster, he decides it’s time to focus on law school, getting a part time job and leaving the poker rooms well alone. Of course, that couldn’t last. What kind of movie would that make? And let’s be honest, have you ever known anyone who really enjoys the thrill of the game to just leave it, cold turkey? I didn’t think so. Anyway, Mike manages quite well for a while until a childhood friend gets out of prison. The friend, Lester Murphy, played by Edward Norton, is a poker player just like Mike, and just like Mike, he managed to get his ass in some heavy trouble before he got locked up. He is eventually given five days to pay off his outstanding debt, and there’s no one else to help him but Mike.

 

As Lester, or Worm as he’s most often referred to, would prefer to cheat his way to the money, Mike is the one who needs to keep him at bay and find a way to earn the money without making even more enemies in the underground poker world. Not all that surprising, they manage to get almost to their goal before the twist. Did you guess it yet? Yes, Worm gets caught cheating by base-dealing and they’re both beaten up and the money disappears with their dignity.

 

Worm, being true to his name, feels this is a good time to go to ground and he suggests Mike joins him in leaving the city. Mike, not being named after an earth dwelling animal with no spine, refuses to run away and instead manages to get a loan to challenge the Russian mobster to a game that could potentially settle the debt. Now, I don’t want to spoil the movie for you – so feel free to stop reading here – but Mike’s the hero here, and, of course, he doesn’t sail through easily, but he does eventually make out that the mobster has a signature tell, and manages to turn the game around. Debts are paid back, normality is restored and Mike goes on to take his chances at the Las Vegas World Series of Poker Main Event.

The Cooler (2003)

There’s something about William H. Macy’s face that seems to see him cast as the hapless schmuck in the majority of his work. And you cannot imagine anyone else playing the part of Bernie Lootz, the eponymous cooler in this movie. If you’re not up on the jargon, a cooler is someone who is considered so unlucky that a casino hires them to sit next to high rollers and pass on their bad luck to them. Basically, they’re a jinx whose ill fortune is contagious. We’ve all got a friend or acquaintance like that, right? Somehow they manage to cast a cloud over even the most joyous situations.

Macy’s character, Lootz, is doubly unlucky in that thanks to his bad luck, he owes over a hundred grand to the owner of the Shangri-La casino, mob boss Shelly Kaplow, played by Alec Baldwin. After breaking Lootz’s kneecap Kaplow has put him to working off the debt by ‘cooling’; ruining others’ hot streaks and saving the casino’s cash. It’s all going to plan, and Bernie is close to being free when things change, seemingly for the better. Bernie meets and falls hard for cocktail waitress Natalie, played by Maria Bello, and as his outlook brightens so too does his luck and that of those around him. Suddenly, he’s not quite as cooling as before.

LOVE STORY – TALL STORY

But, and there’s always a but, poor old Bernie is blissfully unaware that it was Kaplow who made sure he met Natalie. Fearing he’d lose his cooler he hired her to seduce him. This being Vegas by way of Hollywood there’s another ‘but’ coming – but, what the mobster hadn’t bargained on was that Natalie would fall in love with Lootz too! Meanwhile there are plenty of shady backdoor dealings going on involving Kaplow and the Shangri-La, his ex-wife, and of course there’s a long-lost son.

All in all, this is an enjoyable, occasionally darkly funny romp provided you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for an hour and three-quarters. Not wishing to spoil the finale, though it is thirteen years old now, the chances of things all falling into place the way they do for Bernie are probably way more remote than the chances of someone who looks like Natalie falling for someone who looks like Bernie. I mean, come ON! But if Deus ex Machina-style climaxes are cool by you then you should still enjoy this one.

COOLERS? REALLY?

All of which brings us to the question of coolers. Do they really exist? Would a casino really hire someone just to put a dampener on your luck? As much as we might like to believe it, and I was thinking for a while that it might be my new career path, the honest answer is no. Sure, it sounds like something a casino might do to protect their money but there’s probably a more reasonable explanation. When people start playing badly at any game, or stray from their strategy and start losing, reason goes out the window. They look for a scapegoat rather than blame themselves so will fixate on the new guy at the table. And if that new guy looks as dour as William H. Macy you can hardly blame them eh?

Best musical playlist for casino

Picture the scene. You are heads up with your arch nemesis in a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament and you feel like that inside straight draw might just fill out for you. Your opponent is bluffing, or is he? All your concentration is required to make the right decision. Then suddenly, the music changes to that song, you have always hated, which reminds you of your psychotic ex. In an instant, your concentration is gone and you are on the verge of handing over your stack. Darn that song! The lesson to be learned is that next time, you will wear headphones with your choice of tunes. We have taken the liberty of compiling a little playlist of casino-appropriate tunes to keep your head in the game.

  1. Luck be a Lady – Frank Sinatra. Old Blue Eyes knew what he was talking about, being no stranger to a little flutter. This is the perfect tune for your stroll to the casino, to imagine yourself as one of that Rat Pack and conduct your evening with a little flair.
  2. Viva Las Vegas. Either the Elvis version or rockier ZZ Top cover of this one is a great start to your night. Inspiring and upbeat to put you in the mood for success.
  3. Poker Face – Lady Gaga. Not just relevant to the card players, this happy, poppy tune is just what is needed to keep the mood light and optimistic as you seek your fortune.
  4. Money, Money, Money – Abba. The Swedish popsters should keep your eyes on the prize with this mantra, which could easily be followed up with The Winner Takes ItAll.
  5. Superstitious – Stevie Wonder. Just try and stop your head bobbing to that bass line! This funky tune will have the added bonus of making you look super confident and sure of yourself as you nod your noggin in time. Helpful at the high-stakes table.
  6. Ride of the Valkyries – Wagner. A bit of a departure from the previous happy-go-lucky pop tunes, this driving, motivating, classical piece is bound to make you feel untouchable. Perfect for when you are bossing the poker table as chip leader!
  7. The Gambler – Kenny Rogers. Okay, calm down a little and listen to Kenny’s sage advice about knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. That dude’s been around the block, so he knows a thing or two.
  8. We Are the Champions – Queen. Keep this song in reserve for your moment of triumph. As you cash in your enormous stack of chips and stride confidently towards your celebration venue, Freddie’s inspiring vocals shall be all about you. Unless of course it did not work out, in which case see below.
  9. Ain’t That a Kick in the Head – Dean Martin. Lost the lot? Never mind, happens to us all. Let Dean soothe your ills. Maybe you listened to the songs in the wrong order?