In what’s becoming more and more common to the point that it’s becoming an everyday, viable option, the new poker documentary Bet Raise Fold was recently released as a DRM-free downloadable movie file or for instant streaming.  Helped by Kickstarter funds and a legion of poker pros, Bet Raise Fold is an excellent documentary focusing on people whose entire livelihood depended on internet poker and saw it crash down on April 15, 2011.  The film starts just by following these players, with no knowledge that Black Friday is coming.  So it begins with a solid foundation of a story before the real craziness begins.

Bet Raise Fold: A Review

Coming from filmmakers Taylor Caby, Jason Rosenkrantz, and Ryan Firpo, the documentary focuses on three different players: Tony Dunst (online poker alias: bond18), Danielle Moon-Andersen (dmoongirl), and Martin Bradstreet (alexeimartov).

Dunst is pretty well-known among even the most casual of poker fans, he has a segment on the World Poker Tour called “The Raw Deal” and he made a pretty good run in the 2010 World Series of Poker (50th place) and was featured prominently on ESPN’s telecast: he was the well-dressed, extremely-likeable one.  Here’s “The Raw Deal” on WPT:

Danielle Moon-Andersen is the emotional core of the documentary, the one with a family to support through online poker, a husband and a young son.  She’s a pretty face but lethal at the poker table, something many men are finding out about a lot of female players when they enter a room.  Obviously, Black Friday is going to hit her hard, and hearing her talk about what poker means to her before she knows what’s going to happen on April 15, 2011 is devastating to hear.

Martin Bradstreet fits the bill of the extremely wired-in math nerd that poker has attracted over the years.  The movie doesn’t focus on him as much, because you’ll see a reason why Black Friday doesn’t affect him like the other two.  That said, Martin’s story, along with Danielle’s and Tony’s, illustrate the importance of having other interests outside of poker.

A trailer for Bet Raise Fold:

So, we have characters, we have story, now here’s the background: Bet Raise Fold reaches back to the “Poker Boom” of 2003, when amateur Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker.  The “boom” was not just for the WSOP itself, but the interest in internet poker, mainly because people from states with no casinos wanted to play the game.  And you could play multiple tables at once, something you see all three main players do in the course of the film.

But why did Black Friday happen?  The film does a great job of showing how a bill with no support found its way into law.  It feels like bad fiction writing when you see the steps it took to get the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act through.  Beginning as a fuzzy interpretation of the Wire Act, which prohibited betting over telephone or other means of communication across state lines, and inspired by a senator’s run for the Presidency that didn’t gain much steam in the long run, this act still needed a most ridiculous Hail Mary to pass.

The film has a ton of interviews providing insight into the world of online poker, a number of big names lending their voice to the proceedings.  Noticeably absent, and definitely for a reason, are the professional players who became owners in the site Full Tilt Poker.  Decisions they made in running the site are as much, if not more, of a sin than the bill’s passing.  While we hear a “doesn’t mean much” apology from Howard Lederer in the film, others like Phil Ivey and Chris Ferguson don’t have anything to say.  The film doesn’t explain whether they tried to get many of these players to comment on the situation.

Bet Raise Fold is a fascinating documentary for those who play poker, and quite possibly for those who don’t.  This story is a lot more than just a bunch of people making loads of money playing internet poker and living the good life seemingly without an ounce of work.  The machinations of our government and the inner workings of a business like Full Tilt, which was not run by businessmen, shed light on the kind of world we live in.

If you’re interested, you can click here for some viewing options.