Rounders (film)

Rounders (film)

Rounders Movie Poster
Directed by John Dahl
Produced by Ted Demme
Joel Stillerman
Written by David Levien
Brian Koppelman
Starring Matt Damon
Edward Norton
John Turturro
Famke Janssen
Gretchen Mol
John Malkovich
Martin Landau
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Jean-Yves Escoffier
Editing by Scott Chestnut
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date(s) September 11, 1998
Running time 121 minutes
Language English
Budget $12,000,000 USD
Box office $22,912,409

Rounders is a 1998 film about the underground world of high-stakes poker. Directed by John Dahl and starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton, the movie follows two friends who need to quickly earn enough cash playing poker to pay off a large debt. The term "rounder" refers to a person travelling around from city to city seeking high stakes cash games.

The movie opened to mixed reviews and made only a modest amount of money. However, with the growing popularity of Texas hold 'em and other poker games, Rounders has become a cult hit.



Gifted poker player Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) loses his entire bankroll in a hand of Texas hold'em against Teddy "KGB" (John Malkovich), a Russian mobster who runs an illegal underground poker room. Shaken, Mike decides to concentrate on law school, while promising his girlfriend and fellow law student Jo (Gretchen Mol) to not play the game anymore. Mentor and fellow rounder Knish (John Turturro) offers him a part-time job driving a delivery truck to make ends meet.

Time passes, and Mike is true to his promise. He does not play cards, and focuses on school and work until his childhood friend Lester 'Worm' Murphy (Edward Norton) is released from prison. Worm is also a card player, who owes an outstanding debt accumulated before his incarceration. At Worm's influence, Mike is soon rounding again, which interferes with his studies and hurts his relationship with Jo, who eventually leaves him.

When Worm is given a five day deadline to pay off his debt, Mike joins him in a furious race to earn the money by playing in several card games in and around New York City. The two come close to making the $15,000 needed, yet end up losing their entire bankroll when they are caught cheating at a poker game, despite Mike's insistence on playing the game straight. After this incident, Worm decides to leave the city, and advises Mike to do the same. This is when he reveals to Mike that his debt is due to KGB, the very same Russian mobster who had cleaned Mike out of his $30,000 bankroll months before. Infuriated, Mike cuts ties with Worm once and for all.

Mike refuses to flee, and instead, with the help of a loan from his law school professor Petrovsky (Martin Landau), sits down to play KGB heads-up in a No-Limit Texas Hold'em game. In a race against time to pay off Worm's debt, Mike gets his shot at redemption as he puts his life on the line against the man who had forced him out of the game.

Mike eventually beats KGB in two heated heads-up matches in which he ultimately wins enough to pay off Worm's debt, repay his loan to the professor, and regain his original bankroll of about $30,000. The movie ends with Mike officially dropping out of law school, saying goodbye to Jo and going to Las Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker Main Event.


Rounders began filming in December 1997 and was set mostly in New York, with the notable exceptions being that the law school scenes were filmed at Rutgers Law School in Newark, New Jersey and the State Trooper poker game and parking lot scenes which were taped at B.P.O Elks Lodge on Spruce Avenue in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey.



Rounders was released on September 11, 1998 in 2,176 theaters and grossed $8.5 million during its opening weekend. It went on to make $22.9 million domestically.[1]

Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote: "Rounders sometimes has a noir look but it never has a noir feel, because it's not about losers (or at least it doesn't admit it is). It's essentially a sports picture, in which the talented hero wins, loses, faces disaster, and then is paired off one last time against the champ".[2] In her review for the New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote: "Though John Dahl's Rounders finally adds up to less than meets the eye, what does meet the eye (and ear) is mischievously entertaining".[3] USA Today gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "The card playing is well-staged, and even those who don't know a Texas hold-'em ("the Cadillac of poker") from a Texas hoedown will get a vicarious charge out of the action".[4] Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "Norton, cast in what might have once been the Sean Penn role (hideous shirts, screw-you attitude), gives Worm a shifty, amphetamine soul and a pleasing alacrity ... Norton's performance never really goes anywhere, but that's okay, since the story is just an excuse to lead the characters from one poker table to the next".[5]

Peter Travers, in his review for Rolling Stone said of John Malkovich's performance: "Of course, no one could guess the extent to which Malkovich is now capable of chewing scenery. He surpasses even his eyeballrolling as Cyrus the Virus in Con Air. Munching Oreo cookies, splashing the pot with chips (a poker no-no) and speaking with a Russian accent that defies deciphering ("Ho-kay, Meester sum of a beech"), Malkovich soars so far over the top, he's passing Pluto".[6] In his review for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle said of Damon's performance: "Mike should supply the drive the film otherwise lacks, and Damon doesn't. We might believe he can play cards, but we don't believe he needs to do it, in the way, say, that the 12-year-old Mozart needed to write symphonies. He's not consumed with genius. He's a nice guy with a skill".[7] In his review for the Globe and Mail, Liam Lacey wrote, "The main problem with Rounders is that the movie never quite knows what it is about: What is the moral ante?"[8]

Despite an unremarkable theatrical release, Rounders has a following, particularly among poker enthusiasts.[9] In an interesting chicken or the egg situation, some speculate the film is directly responsible for the recent increase in the popularity of Texas hold 'em, while others believe that the substantial increase in the popularity of poker has nothing to do with the movie, but that same increase does have everything to do with the come-lately increase in the popularity of the film, so many years after its theatrical release.[9]

There are pro poker players today who credit the movie for getting them into the game.[10] The film drew in recent successful players such as Hevad Khan, Gavin Griffin and Dutch Boyd.

Pro player Vanessa Rousso has said of the movie's influence, "There have been lots of movies that have included poker, but only Rounders really captures the energy and tension in the game. And that's why it stands as the best poker movie ever made."[10]


  1. ^ "Rounders". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  2. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 11, 1998). "Rounders". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  3. ^ Maslin, Janet (September 11, 1998). "Knowing When to Hold 'em and Fold 'em but Just Not When to Run". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  4. ^ Wloszczyna, Susan (September 11, 1998). "Rounders hedges bets with Damon in the ante". USA Today: p. 11E. 
  5. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (September 18, 1998). "Rounders". Entertainment Weekly.,,284869,00.html. Retrieved 2009-11-25. 
  6. ^ Travers, Peter (October 1, 1998). "Rounders". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  7. ^ LaSalle, Mick (September 11, 1998). "Rounders Deals Out a Mediocre Hand". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  8. ^ Lacey, Liam (September 11, 1998). "If they'd played their cards right, this could have been a winner". Globe and Mail: p. C7. 
  9. ^ a b Tobias, Scott (October 30, 2008). "The New Cult Canon: Rounders". The Onion A.V. Club. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  10. ^ a b Polson, Sarah (March 4, 2009). "Pros discuss Rounders' impact on poker". 

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