September 11, 2023 is a special date for poker and movie lovers, as it marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Rounders, which is still considered the best poker movie of all time. To pay tribute to the film on its anniversary, we bring you 25 fun facts about the film and we’re sure you’ll be surprised by many of them.
1⃣ The club that gave rise to the film
Brian Koppelman came up with the idea for the film while playing poker at the Mayfair Club in New York. After spending several months playing there and meeting interesting characters, he called his friend David Levien to tell him that they had to make a movie to reveal this world that few knew about. Regular players in that club included Steve Zolotow, Stu Ungar, Howard Lederer, Dan Harrington, Erik Seidel, Jason Lester and Paul Magriel.
2⃣ Characters based on real people
Many of the characters in the film were based on real people. One of them was Teddy KGB, a Russian with the same nickname who was asked for authorization to use it. Mike was named after the singer with the same first and last name. And Joey Knish was based on the player Joel “Bagels” Rosenberg, who passed away in 2014.
3⃣ Preparation for the script
Before sitting down to write the script, Brian and David did some fieldwork. As per Brian’s comments in an interview: “The biggest job we did was continually going to Mayfair and other clubs to feel the atmosphere and meet the characters of that world. Then I ordered and read between 50 and 100 poker books. We also met with Mike Caro to talk about strategy and tells.”
4⃣ Persevere and you will succeed
The pair of writers had a hard time selling the script and this is how Brian remembers it: “The script for the film was rejected by all the agencies we sent it to. Everything changed when a producer from Miramax read the script and liked it. He offered us to auction the script, but we told him we could only sell it because we were confident in the material we wrote. Luckily they said yes, they bought the script for six figures, which was a fortune for us at the time, and we started working on the movie.”
5⃣ Inspiration from The Cincinnati Kid
Brian recounted that the first scene in Rounders was inspired by the 1965 movie The Cincinnati Kid: “Our idea was for Rounders to start where The Cincinnati Kid ends, which is with the leading man losing everything. From that premise we began to connect and develop all the actions that follow.”
6⃣ References to Doyle Brunson 🤠
In the first scene of the film, Mike is seen taking money from the classic book Super System by Doyle Brunson. Later on, the protagonist refers to two phrases from Texas Dolly: “Texas Hold’em is the Cadillac of poker” and “the key in No Limit is to put a person to a decision for all his chips.”
7⃣ Actors and writers played the 1998 WSOP Main Event
To spread the word for the film, the actors and writers participated in the 1998 WSOP Main Event. Matt Damon was eliminated by legend Doyle Brunson when Matt’s K-K collided with Texas Dolly’s A-A. In this PokerGO video you can see the actors playing in the 1998 Main Event and an interview with them by Vince Van Patten:
8⃣ Healthy living for Edward Norton
Edward Norton’s character had been intended as a habitual smoker, but the actor refused to smoke in order to preserve his health, so they had to change that aspect of the character.
9⃣ The practice of John Malkovich
Actor John Malkovich learned his character’s accent by working with a Russian woman who would read his lines and then John would repeat them in imitation of his accent. Thus was born one of the best villains in the history of gambling movies.
🔟 The reference to a classic poker book by Al Alvarez
During the final hand, Teddy says, “This kid has alligator blood”. That same phrase was said by Johnny Moss after seeing Stu Ungar winning in the 1981 Main Event and they were recorded for posterity by Al Alvarez in his great book The Biggest Game In Town (1983).
1⃣1⃣ It inspired Chris Moneymaker to play
In an interview, Chris Moneymaker said that his group of friends started playing No Limit Hold’em after watching Rounders. Years later, Chris won the 2003 WSOP Main Event and helped launch the poker boom.
1⃣2⃣ Johnny Chan asked to be in the movie
Two-time WSOP Main Event champion Johnny Chan had a small part in Rounders. How did the idea come about? This is how Johnny told it in the book Deal Me In by Stephen John: “The film changed my life, since I became a rock star from one day to the next. When they contacted me about using my winning hand against Erik Seidel I said yes on one condition: being in the movie. To get me in they added a scene where I play a hand against Matt Damon’s character.”
1⃣3⃣ Phil Hellmuth was going to be invited to participate
The writers and producers were looking for a famous professional poker player to have a small part in the film and settled on Phil Hellmuth. But then Johnny Chan asked to be in the movie and ended up taking Phil’s place. At the 1998 WSOP the actors from the film were chatting with Hellmuth and Huck Seed during a break in the tournament.
1⃣4⃣ The scriptwriters appeared in a scene
Screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien wanted to appear in a short scene from the film without dialogue. And they can both be seen in the hilarious scene in Atlantic City when Mike goes to play a cash game and waits for tourists to win money from.
1⃣5⃣ Tributes and Fan Art
The film was so popular in the poker community that special products were made with images from the film such as mugs, posters, T-shirts and paintings. The poker chips used in Teddy KGB’s club were also manufactured for use in home games.
1⃣6⃣ DVD Collector’s Edition
Those who have a DVD player can buy the collector’s edition that came out in 2004, which includes some very interesting extras such as advice from renowned professional players. It also offers the option to watch the film with commentary from Johnny Chan, Chris Moneymaker, Phil Hellmuth and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, who discuss the hands featured in the film.
1⃣7⃣ What does Erik Seidel think of his hand in the film?
The following was stated by Erik Seidel during a podcast about his famous scene of Rounders: “As soon as I saw the script I didn’t like the scene very much, since it looked like a bad player. I think they took some artistic license, but the truth is that he played the hand better than me and they didn’t invent anything. At that time, Chan was a much better player than I was and I thought the movie brought a lot of new people to poker.”
1⃣8⃣ Rumors of a sequel that never came
When the movie became known in the midst of the poker boom, rumors of a possible sequel began to emerge. The writers and the actors were in favor of the project, but never moved forward. In 2013 Harvey Weinstein stated that they had an idea for a sequel and plans to shoot in Europe, but nothing ever materialized. Finally, in 2019 Daniel Negreanu publicly Tweeted asking Brian for a sequel, who replied that it is never too late to do it.
Rounders is on, so it’s on my TV always. Just thinking about this fact:
I NEED a Rounders II.
We all NEED one.
Make it happen @briankoppelman!
It’s never too late to find out how Mikey McD made out in Vegas and beyond.
We need to know.
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) September 21, 2019
1⃣9⃣ The mystery of Teddy’s last hand
What did Teddy have on the last hand when he lost to Mike flopping a straight? Brian was asked this in several interviews and he said they will never tell. Fans and players who analyzed the hand think that Teddy has a strong hand like a set or two pair. What do you think he had?
2⃣0⃣ The Novel
Few people know that a Rounders novel written by Kevin Canty and based on the film’s scripts was published. The story that the author tells is 95% similar to the one shown in the movie, but adds an extra chapter on the ending. In the last chapter of the book, the author describes what happened with Mike after traveling to Las Vegas. He says that he became a successful poker player and never saw Worm again. His ex-girlfriend Jo got married and Mike was invited to her wedding, but he didn’t want to go. If you want to buy it. there are some used editions for sale on Amazon and Ebay.
2⃣1⃣ Matt Damon’s funny anecdote with John Malkovich
A few years ago, Matt Damon told an amusing anecdote in an interview about the first time he shared the set with John Malkovich and the laughter his exaggerated Russian accent gave him. You can see it in this video:
2⃣2⃣ Adam Savage made replicas of Teddy’s chips and table
The famous builder, YouTuber and host of the show “MythBusters” Adam Savage produced a video for his channel where he used the poker chips and crafted the poker table that Teddy KGB used in his famous club. You can see how he built the table in this video:
2⃣3⃣ Molly’s Game Tribute?
In 2017, the film Molly’s Game based on the biography of Molly Bloom was released. In one of the scenes, Molly can be seen driving a green 1997 Jeep Cherokee Sport, which is the same truck that Mike drove in Rounders. Coincidence or a clear tribute?
2⃣4⃣ Daniel Negreanu analyzed the final hand
Poker Hall of Famer Daniel Negreanu analyzed the final hand between Teddy and Mike on his YouTube channel, comparing the styles of the old school and the current one. You can see his analysis here:
2⃣5⃣ Poster and song in the TV show “The Bear”
This last tidbit happened a few months ago with the premiere of the second season of the TV show “The Bear”, which is considered one of the best of 2022. In the first episode of season 2 you can see a poster of Rounders and also hear the song “Baby I’m a big star now” by Counting Crows. It is the same song with which Rounders ends. Coincidence or homage? We’d bet it is the second option.
How many of these 25 facts did you know? Wishing a happy 25th anniversary to the best poker movie ever!