Bluffs and bets, backrooms and bars — the recently released “All In: The Poker Movie” reveals its hand to Oklahoma audiences through Friday at the Circle Cinema in Tulsa. The film has garnered nice reviews since its premiere in New York City and Los Angeles in late March and will be shown at theaters across the country throughout April. It then will be released to Video on Demand, iTunes, Netflix, DVD and other platforms.
Directed by veteran documentary film maker Doug Tirola, the film takes viewers on a trip through the history of poker — from its Mississippi River and Civil War beginnings to the modern-day poker boom and online crash. The filmmakers spare no expense at capturing the game's place in Americana — from pop culture icons like Kenny Rogers to poker industry insiders and pros like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth. Other interview subjects include a wide range of cultural icons including actor Matt Damon, poker legend Amarillo Slim Preston, National Public Radio's Ira Glass and recently deceased sports writing legend Bert Sugar.
“When I hope when someone watches this, I hope they, ‘Wow, we're pretty inside here. They got to sit down with some pretty key people,'” Tirola says.
Oklahoma takes its own place in the film, however briefly. Tirola travels to Oklahoma City's National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum to flesh out the game's Wild West past. Always a game of risk, the game meshed well with an outlaw frontier and self-reliant attitude.
While the film indeed focuses on the history of the game, 2003 World Series of Poker champion Chris Moneymaker's story is interwoven throughout. Moneymaker's unlikely $2.5 million win, after qualifying in a $39 online “satellite” tournament, sparked a poker boom that continues today. The money couldn't have come at a better time. Moneymaker details his life before the win — a sports-betting problem and family debt. It's a riveting story mostly unknown to the public.
Shooting for “All In” began in 2008, and the idea came about after Tirola and 4th Row Productions produced several successful documentaries. Poker instantly came to mind when Tirola began considering his next production. The subject was a labor of love for the director, who harbors fond memories of playing poker growing up.
“I just always liked poker,” he says. “My experience was always playing with my grandparents a lot growing up. That's where my appreciation for the game came from.
“We always felt we had to do two things and that was taking the amount of time we did to tell the story, to travel to all the places we did — I think we shot in 11 or 12 states. It wasn't like we just went to Vegas for a weekend and Atlantic City for a weekend, and threw something together. We were in Ohio and Illinois, Nevada, California, Mississippi.
“One of the things that we were trying to say is that it is one of those sports that anybody can play. You can go and play with the top 25 poker players in the world and you can't do that in any other sport. I don't think you get from just talking to 20 people in town for the World Series or Poker.”
The idea about the game's unique history and its place in pop culture began to take shape. And poker's recent history might be some of the most interesting in “All In.” Tirola waited until the last possible day to include as much as possible about recent events including Black Friday — April 15, 2011 — the day the feds cracked down on online poker. Online poker as an issue and political battleground becomes a major focus.
A must-see for poker fans for sure, “All In” also offers plenty for theatergoers who don't know a royal flush from busted straight.
For more information visit www.allinthepokermovie.com. For information on the Tulsa screenings visit www.circle
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer based in Rockwall, Texas, and editor of www.PokerTraditions.com, devoted to poker history, lore, lifestyle, and people. For more information on his work, visit www.seanchaffin.com. Do you have an interesting poker tale? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, look for his forthcoming e-book about poker history, lore, and crazy gambling tales at www.seanchaffin.com.