People who follow my Twitter Feed knows that I am a poker nut. I love the game. I have always been a fan of card games, was taught pretty young about how to play games like Gin, Euchre, and even Bridge. But Poker, there’s something special about that game. It’s real excitement, and challenge, most importantly, fun.

One movie that falls into my top ten of all time is the poker classic, Rounders. Rounders is essentially a remake of “The Hustler”, but poker instead of pool. Matt Damon plays a guy named Mike, a law student who must raise funds to help a friend, and must return to the underground poker circuit that he tried to escape, after losing his entire life savings to a Russian gangster named KGB, played by John Malkovich. It also stars Edward Norton, among other recognizable names and faces, like Gretchen Mol and Famke Jansen (Really, Jean Grey is in this, and she’s gorgeous in this movie).

The movie works as a starting ground to learn Texas Hold ’em Poker, referred in the movie as “The Cadillac of poker”. The movie helped skyrocket the game into popularity. It’s now the most popular form of poker to play at casinos and poker events. The game is simple in rules, by comparison to most variations of poker. It’s like the slogan on the board game “Othello”. “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master”. Texas Hold’em works the same way.

To the people who don’t know the game, I’ll try to explain the terms as we go along. But, for now, a quick summary of how the game works. Everyone at the table gets two cards face down. One round of betting is done to see who’s in the hand. (We’ll not worry at the moment about blinds, and straddles and stuff like that, that will make it more confusing). At any time of betting, you can fold your hand, meaning you’re out of that particular hand. Then comes what called the “Flop”, three cards face up, into the community. These are the cards that can be used by anyone at the table to make the best 5-card poker hand. After another round of betting, a single card is added to the community, called the “Turn” (or Fourth Street). After another round of betting, the final card comes to the community called the “River”. One last round of bets, and the hands get revealed. Best five-card poker hand wins.

The final scenes of the movie involves a head’s up battle between Damon’s character Mike, and Malcovich’s Teddy KGB. And as an avid player, I know that head’s up is where the real game begins. One-on-One is the most difficult form of poker, and can make or break the best of players.

After a couple of dramatic hands shown, where Mike wins the first game, he gets coaxed into a second game, double or nothing, where he starts to lose the money he earned. But a hand later, where he reveals KGB’s “Tell”, the game goes back to almost balance. (A tell is a quirk or common reaction that makes skilled players know the strength of their opponent’s hand.)

The final hand starts. KGB is dealing, and from what is perceived from the conversations, the blinds are $50 and $100. This means that KGB pays $50 and Mike pays $100 into the pot before the cards are dealt. (Don’t worry why if you don’t know the game, it’s a bit confusing if you don’t know). I am also under the assumption that the two men are splitting $60000 between them (The amount mentioned at the end of the movie what was won), and Mike, is slightly winning.

Mike reveals his hand to the camera to be 8-9 of Spades. This is called “Suited Connectors”. It means that two cards are side by side in order, and they have the same suit. This makes the hand easier to get a flush or a straight than most hands. A lot of people love to play these type of hands, but if the flop comes, for example, Ace-King-2, all hearts or diamonds, your hand is worthless, so they can be just as dangerous. I personally like to, at least, see a flop with these hands, to see where I stand. If I miss, I’m out of there as fast as possible. If I touch anything, like a flush draw, I might pay to see the next card. (A draw means that I don’t have a hand yet, but the next card might give me a better hand. So for example, if I have 2 spades in my hand, and there are 2 spades on the flop, I have a flush draw, and I need either of the next two card to be a spade to get my flush)

Mike raised with “double the blinds”, meaning that they both commit $200 to the pot, making it $400. I’ll give the movie a pass for the fact that KGB was supposed to act first in heads up, and we don’t see him call his small blind. (Again, if you don’t know the game too much, you can trust me with the rules. In head’s up, the dealer is the small blind, and acts first before the flop. Afterwards, it’s the other player that acts first for betting.)

The flop comes: 6 of diamonds-7 of spades-10 of hearts.

Mike flopped the straight. He flopped the nuts. (Nuts means that he has the best hand possible with the cards out there).

Now normally, this is when some players will start humming “We’re in the money” in their mind, while simultaneously suppressing all happiness and jubilant behavior. But you’re not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot. Two more cards are due, and they can screw you up big time. More detail on that in a bit.

Mike checks. He does this to disguise his hand, and try to convince his opponent that he has nothing . It can a very dangerous play, because your rival can check it down, and you get nothing for your beautiful hand.

He’s doing this to recreate the hand mentioned earlier in the movie where Johnny Chan slow plays Eric Seidel in the World Series of Poker. Chan flopped the nuts straight in the video, and Seidel thought his top pair was good. Chan convinced Seidel that he missed his draws and shoved all in on the river, walking right into Chan’s nut straight.

The pot is at $400, and KGB bets out $2000. That’s five times the pot. It’s an intimidating play, usually used to scare someone off the hand, but Mike calls. The actions are also similar to the first hand showed in the movie, where we get a narrative from Mike about how he played the hand that gave him top two pair, he bet high to make it look like he’s scaring everyone off the pot.

So what does Mike not want to see in the next two cards? Simple, another 6, 7, or a 10. If the board pairs, it gives KGB the opportunity to represent the full house, which beats a straight. Mike isn’t worried about a higher straight or a flush. Yet. Depends on what the turn card is. Mike also doesn’t want to see anything runner-runner (where the next two cards are the exact cards your opponent was chasing to make the perfect hand.). So if the next two cards are the same suit, it could be a flush potential. Mike also doesn’t want to see an 8 or a 9, because that could give his opponent the same straight, making it a split pot, which would defeat the purpose of having the best hand. (I’ve seen it happen, it makes grown men cry.)

The turn comes: 2 of clubs.

The board is now rainbow (All suits are shown, and no flushes are possible). Mike’s straight is still good.

Nice. Now all flush opportunities are dead. The highest thing KGB could possibly have, at this moment, is a pair, two pairs or three of a kind, all of which lose to the straight. He could also have the exact same cards as Mike for a split pot, but it’s statistically unlikely.

Mike checks again. Far more safer than before, because he knows his opponent will bet out to him again, and checking allows him to hide the quality of his hand. In the unlikely event that KGB checks as well, they go straight to the river. If that happened, Mike better bet on the river, or else his payout for the hand is not as great as it should be. Mike’s objective is to get the most chips into the pot, because so far, it’s all his.

KGB bets the pot, $4400. When you “bet the pot”, it means that your wager matches the exact amount currently in the pot. From the blinds, and the original hand ($200 each from the pre-flop, and the bet on the flop, we get $4400).

Now, Mike has two to one “pot odds” to call his hand. If KGB is correct in the assumption, and Mike is only on a straight draw from the start, that means that Mike would only have 4 outs. If Mike had an 8 in his hand, he needs a 9 for the straight, and so on. That’s only approximately 8% to win from the turn. So according to the pot odds, it’s an 8% chance to the 33% payout (Invest $4400 to make $13,200). That’s very low odds of winning, for such a large payout if successful.

Mike Calls. Why not, he’s has the winning hand so far. He could have raised, or shoved all in, but if he did, KGB might get the hint that he’s losing and fold. It’s a gamble to slowly try to trap him, but that’s the fun of the game.

So now, Matt Damon’s character still has to dodge another 6,7,10 and 2 to avoid the board pairing, and another 8 or 9 to potentially tie. All the other cards are good. A 5 wouldn’t help KGB because if he had 4-3, that would give him the bottom end of a lower straight, and a Jack wouldn’t give him a higher straight.

River is the Ace of Spades.

Mike did it, he dodged all the scare cards and sits there with the best hand possible. Nothing can beat him. There’s no flush and there’s no Full house possibilities. The highest hand he could possibly have, outside of the same hand, is a set of Aces. (A set is another term for three of a kind. Another term is trips, but that’s when you have one in your hand and two come in the community cards, as opposed to a set, when you have two in your hand, and one shows up in the community) Now, the question remains, can he get all of KGB’s money?

Mike checks. He hopes that KGB continues his betting pattern. If KGB checks, Mike just gets the pot of $13,200. Big chunk out of his opponent, but still not enough to win. But if Mike shoved all in, KGB might fold, and he gets just the $13,200 profit. In this situation, it all depends on, well, everything. You need to know for certain what you’re opponent will do. In this case, Malcovich’s character is getting cocky, and trying to bully with his hand, and he also revealed that he thinks he missed his draw. So, it’s safe to say that he’ll bet.

Fortune smiles upon thee, KGB shoves all in. Mike instantly calls and reveals his nut straight. He won the hand, and the game.

Needless to say, Teddy KGB gets furious that he lost, but concedes to his loss gracefully. Our hero turned $10,000 into $60,000 overnight. Imagine that payday.

It’s an exciting climax to watch, especially in a movie about a card game where you play the person more than you play the cards. There are some professionals that can play head’s up without looking at their cards, and still beat their opponent, all because they know exactly how their opponent plays. I wish I was that good, but I have a long way to go to get that good. Hey, you never know, I might be good enough that you’ll see me on television playing the game. A man can dream.

But one question remains, and still bugs me, at the end of all this. What the hell did KGB have, to keep betting the way he did?

  • Kid’s got alligator blood. Can’t get rid of him.

    • I’m not going anywhere. Double the blind. 🙂

  • ProfPoobah

    My guess on KGBs hand? Pocket 10s

  • Pretty likely Teddy had AA in the last hand. That’s why he KNOWS the A could not have helped Mike.

  • Thanks for the article! I know juuuuust enough about poker rules to make the mechanics of that scene totally confusing to me.

    One small typo:”You need to know for certain what you’re opponent will do.” should be ‘your’.

  • Mark Rose Jr.

    Umm… The button isn’t the small blind but it’s OK…

    • Paulo

      If you are playing Heads Up of course the button is the small blind (except in that hand in the movie, where bizarrely Mike acted first pre-flop).

  • Jake Middleton

    I think he had pocket aces

  • Jayson Love

    I believe it to be a pure bluff, or a weak pair., or something like AK (AK makes the most sense to me) KGB is convinced Mike is drawing at a straight or is on some kind of hand like a pair and draw that he thinks he can force Mike off of by being super aggressive. There’s a line earlier in the movie at the table in Atlantic City where Mike says “if a fish acts meek he has a hand, if he acts strong he’s bluffing”. KGB is no fish, but no poker player is immune to this classic tell from time to time especially as confident as KGB is in this scene. If KGB is convinced Mike has what is now a busted straight, why not check and simply show down? Mike isn’t calling with a busted draw. The only reason to shove would be if KGB is convinced Mike actually has a pair and is acting like he is on a draw…in that case KGB shoves the ace, Mike convinced it’s a bluff calls with his pair, and loses to KGB’s AK overplay which hit the Ace.