April 15th, 2011. For millions of Americans around the country, it was a day they will never forget, for all of the wrong reasons. That was the day the Department of Justice shut down Pokerstars, Full Tilt, and Absolute poker, seizing the domains, and shutting all American players out. In a flash, countless poker players were left wondering if their money, in some players cases, a majority of their life finances, was safe, or if it was gone forever. Bet Raise Fold tells the story of Black Friday, and it’s affect on three specific players, giving detail to an epidemic that affects the nation’s poker players.
The film tells the story of the boom of online poker, ending on Black Friday, through three different subjects. There’s Tony Dunst, the online grinder who has to choose whether to leave the country to play online poker, or stay with his new job at WPT, a career making opportunity. There’s Danielle Anderson, an online grinder who played solely online poker to support her family, including her son. And there’s Martin Bradstreet, a Canadian based online pro who plays in some of the biggest games on the internet.
The weaving of the various stories is impeccable, as the film has a consistent and smooth flow throughout it’s entirety. Bet Raise Fold does a great job of breaking down not just Black Friday, but the steps leading up to it, including Chris Moneymaker’s unprecedented Main Event win in 2003 that started the poker boom. However, the part that intrigued me most was the discuss of the UIEGA, the first step towards banning online poker in the US.
UIEGA, or the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, was passed in 2006, and was the reason juggernaut Party Poker left the market. The act banned people from depositing funds online to gambling websites, and while it didn’t shut the other main online poker websites down, it certainly put players on notice. The film excelled with it’s breakdown of how the act was put into place. I knew that the bill was “snuck in” at the end of Bush’s run as president, but I didn’t quite know how. Tur ns out a politician plugged the UIEGA into a port act that was already voted through two houses of the government, and had nothing to do with the act, which prevented terrorism access to the US and was never going to be voted against. It was, at it’s essence, a dirty and dishonest move that has yet to be punished. But I digress.
The film does a fantastic job of keeping focus on the overarching theme of online poker while also bringing in the personal stories of all three players. By doing so, it pulls the audience in, either as a player sympathizing with them, or an outsider fascinated by and thrust into their unfortunate circumstances. That is one of the most important factors for why I enjoyed this movie so much, and highly recommend it to anyone, poker player or not. It manages to reach out to both sides of the debate, all the while laying out the cold hard truth behind this life changing moment that is still affecting countless players, including myself, today.
Bet Raise Fold is a highly intoxicating documentary that appeals to a wide audience. Poker can be played by anyone, so it makes sense that a movie about poker could appeal to everyone, and the film makers, Jay Rosenkrantz, Taylor Caby, and Ryan Firpo, all poker players themselves, made a flick that echoes that sentiment. We give Bet Raise Fold 4 out of 5 stars, and highly recommend it for poker players, fans, and beginners alike.