By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper

The movie benefits from the delay, with a singularly realistic picture of poker, complete with coverage of the aftermath of Black Friday while retaining Tirola’s original vision —to reveal poker in all of its glory—as a pastime, a game, an avocation, a profession, a business, and “part of the rich history and culture of America, since its beginnings.”

Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson: More Spoken Words

Tirola notes proudly, “We believe we have the last real in-depth interviews with Full Tilt Poker directors Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson before Black Friday.  At the time I was impressed with their love of the game and the thoughts they had about poker’s place in society and history.”

After Black Friday Tirola went back and reviewed all of their interviews, only some of which made it into the film. He says, “We plan to release the rest of their interviews as extras when the DVD comes out this summer.”   Triola stands his ground against all comers, who think Lederer and Ferguson should not have been “glorified “in the documentary. Triola says, “I still like them and believe in them.”  He adds, “I hope it is just a mismanagement issue.”  Several movie going poker players have mentioned there was heavy booing in response to Lederer’s now infamous line: “The heroes of poker don’t cheat.”

Poker Player Cast

Lederer and Ferguson are but two high profile players that make up a galaxy of starring participants.  The cast was drawn from 150 interviewed candidates and whittled down to an estimated 60 speakers in the movie.  The resulting lineup reflected a combination of pure genius, considerable research, several lucky breaks, and a few oversights and omissions that are inevitable in such a massive effort.

Tirola beams about the quality and quantity of interviews conducted over the years. He notes “the gravitas and credibility” that was produced from his biggest “gets;“ the   counterpoint pairing of Academy Award winning actor Matt Damon and Pulitzer prize winning presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin who are among the eclectic mix of voices.

The film prominently features poker pros who hit their stride as marketable commodities between 2003 and 2006. Chris Moneymaker, a rank amateur when he won the main event at the 2003 World Series of Poker, leads that parade.  Moneymaker’s personal story is given a complete overhaul; the treatment is impressive for the candor and completeness elicited in his interviews.  His journey is the thread that ties the film together. Tirola respects Moneymaker’s journey as much as his unlikely arrival at the destination of an American dream.

Beyond Moneymaker, the slew of highly regarded poker stars that put in appearances, generally have just a few lines, often to hammer home a point or perhaps as a thank you from Tirola for the generosity of  time and information they provided for the film.  The film also features highly credentialed journalists who have been fascinated by poker and have written eloquently about it, notably including a trio that has recently been united in support of a poker association business venture –Anthony Holden, James McManus and Peter Alson.

Offering uniquely special appeal is Nolan Dalla, media director of the WSOP and Alexandra Berzon of the Wall Street Journal. They are natural, vibrant, and just tell it like it is. Dan Michalski, the lone almost daily poker media reporter, shows that he understands the politics of poker.

New Yorkers are Represented in the Cast

In addition to the sizzle provided by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Matt Damon, and Ira Glass, colorful narration is served up by John Marinacci, a New York poker player/poker consultant who has also appeared on the Sopranos. Fellow New York-based poker consultant and longtime friend Jay Colombo notes Marinacci’s “Soprano-like charm and understanding of the ways of poker—old and new school.”

Tirola and Marinacci became fast friends early in the casting research, thanks to a chance meeting in Atlantic City.  Marinacci offered to help Tirola, mentioning his poker consulting assignment for the Rounders film, a decade earlier.  Tirola was looking to expand his connections in the poker world. Marinacci was Johnny on the Spot in the right place at the right time for a good gig.  Tirola and Marinacci became a mutual admiration society.  Each does the other proud in All In:The Poker Movie.

An established filmmaker, Tirola’s intellectual commitment and passion for his subject matter have been demonstrated time and again over a range of artistic platforms as a writer, producer and director; more than 35 projects to date.  His interest in poker pre-dates research for this documentary.

A small time recreational poker player, Tirola became increasingly informed about poker in 2002 when he began to film poker tournaments for Richard Anthony, a successful options trader who played poker in his spare time at the popular Play Station Club which was owned by Colombo. Colombo and Anthony are included in the film’s cast. Anthony calls Tirola “a man with great vision, high intellect, intense dedication, and a good friend.” Anthony then smiles cheekily, saying, “That doesn’t mean I agree with every creative decision in the movie.  I thought it was too long overall and repetitive in parts. I also wish there had been more substance than complaining shown in the treatment of Black Friday material.”

Who Missed WPT’s “Grand Pooh Bah,”/ Poker Hall of Famer?

A few players key to the growth in popularity of the game and critical to the evolution of the poker boom were missed in the movie.  Chief among them was Lyle Berman, Chairman of the World Poker Tour and responsible for the WPT coming to life.  Berman is also Chairman of the Board of Lakes Gaming which owned the WPT  before its sale to Party Poker. Berman is unfazed by the oversight, but Tirola does not get off the hook by saying Berman was “on the list and we tried to reach him.” Berman says, “I was not contacted about the film.  I’ve ordered the movie and look forward to seeing it.”  Berman’s autobiography is titled, “All In.”

More Noteworthy Oversights and Omissions

Apparently the Binion family, host of the WSOP for decades (the WSOP grew in size and prestige  from a “house vote”  for best player to thousands of runners  for the company’s last main event), missed Tirola’s radar screen as well. Jack Binion in particular,  was the true architect of poker tournaments as a powerful modern day marketing tool.

Doug Dalton Poker Director of Bellagio was invited to participate but begged off as did Doyle Brunson, the acknowledged “Godfather of Modern Poker.”  Two-time WSOP winner Johnny Chan, the winning poker player in the Rounders film backed off as well.

Curious Exclusions

While the documentary goes far in probing poker history and acknowledging the many shoulders on which the poker boom was built, curiously the movie disregards accomplished women poker people– players/industry activists/writers/card room executives–over fifty, who have contributed to the growth of the game and have helped to pave the way for other women.

Everyone Wants to Be Invited

Tirola generally fights criticism like a papa bear on behalf of his brood, but he acknowledges to this reporter there were some misses and suggests he is mulling over the possibility of  “extra” interviews.

Then, deflecting attention away from this conversation, he notes his gratitude to a broad array of sources/cast members that provided cooperation and time, beyond what could have been reasonably asked.

Some of those contributors’ names  rolled of his tongue, instantly: “Nolan Dalla and Mori Eskandani,  Frank Deford and Ira Glass, Brian Koppleman and Phil Hellmuth, James McManus and Jon Miller from NBC Sports, Peter Alson and Bernard Lee” among them.

The Scenes Tell the Story

Setting the scene is invariably a linchpin to telling a good story; Tirola is on top of this production value with a vengeance!  The scenes for the documentary are filmed at locales across the breadth of America. The images often prove the adage: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Tirola’s commitment to show poker in all its permutations, and  most definitively as a social activity,  was evident  through the collage of venues across the country more than through individual dissertations.  Tirola and his team traveled endlessly, often in crisscross  fashion  shooting footage he recalls from memory,” in Connecticut , Indiana , Louisiana, New York,  Nevada, California, New Jersey Kansas, Ohio, Illiinois, Kentucky  Indiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Florida, and Wisconsin.”

Tirola’s many location shoots infused the film with respect for the far flung multi-pronged business of poker and equally for poker warriors, serious poker enthusiasts and recreational players, alike.

Director Tirola’s Defends and Explains

Tirola is direct about his views concerning criticism lodged about the film.   He seemed particularly bothered by the New York Times’ criticism explaining: “A couple of the reviews of our film have suggested that the film and the poker players in it are comparing the government seizure of online poker sites to the Kennedy assassination.  I don’t think poker players are saying that there is some moral equivalent to a man being shot and a business and its funds being seized.“ Instead  Tirola says,”What I see from this type of attack, is the negative view held by many people of poker players and a pre-disposition against poker and gambling in general.”

Tirola also talks about his probing into the financial ups and downs that so many poker players seem to face, explaining, “There is a scene in the film that talks about poker players being broke and in many cases broke more than once. The point of this scene is to show that for professional poker players being broke is part of the experience and lifestyle of being a player. “

Poker People Critics

Though generally  supportive of the endeavor, NY based poker consultant Colombo was not a full-fledged fan of the movie; he echoed widespread chatter around town suggesting that the movie should have been further edited both for length and content, in particular in the Moneymaker story. Nevertheless he saw the film as valuable and successful in enlightening people about poker on many levels.

Several New York poker players concurred in Colombo’s additional observation: “The true metamorphosis of poker from a feel game to one that emphasizes math could have been made more clear. Those raised on the internet insist that things have changed dramatically with books and poker boot camps and long hours of study now defining many of the very best players on the planet.”

Tirola’s Final words

Asked what he hopes viewers will take away from the film, Tirola separates his potential audiences into two groups—“poker players and non -poker people.”

Tirola observes, “Everyone who picked up a deck of cards and played in their basement or logged on to a website to play or attended a once a week tournament or ventured to a casino to play poker is as much a part of the story of the poker boom as the players who won a bracelet or that we know from TV.  The story of poker belongs to everyone who plays and I hope when poker players see our film they will say that is my story, I can relate to so much of this story.”

As for non-players, Tirola urges: “Watch the film and try to understand why people who consider themselves poker players are so passionate about the game.”   He says, “I hope they are inspired to take up the game for themselves but at the very least see what a great social activity poker is and understand that is still why the majority of people play poker .“

Download and DVD Coming

The financing for this undertaking did not include any poker people. Tirola notes, “No one from the poker community or industry was part of the financing of the film.” A downloadable version of the movie will be available April 24, 2012 and a DVD will come out later in the summer. The DVD will include additional interviews.