BET RAISE FOLD: The Story of Online Poker

BET RAISE FOLD: The Story of Online Poker

Thursday, 23 May 2013

by Jay Rosenkrantz

I stared, totally numb and probably in shock, at the FBI/DOJ shutdown notice filling up the monitor in my home office in New York City. My phone vibrated again and again, overrun with texts and frantic phone calls wondering if this was it, if this really was the end of online poker. My dog looked up at me and whined, sensing something wasn’t right. Online poker had just been dealt the sickest river card anyone could have imagined, the one that everyone suspected was possible but no one believed would ever fall. A sick, twisted joke.

I fell in love with poker as soon as I learnt how to play as a teenager; obsessed over online poker during college; played and taught professionally for five years after graduating. Online poker was my passion, my game, my past and my present. It was supposed to be my future. It was my identity, and now it was snatched from me by forces I couldn't control.

I felt the familiar heat of anger rising through my body – the kind of dangerous emotion I’d wrestled with throughout the course of my poker career. I breathed deep and thought long and hard about my life. The first call I returned was to Ryan Firpo, the director of BET RAISE FOLD: The Story of Online Poker. He was one step ahead of me. Our cameras were already rolling.

The idea for a feature-length online poker boom documentary originally came from Dean Strachan, an economics student and TwoPlusTwo-er, at the tail end of a weekend trip to Atlantic City, near the end of 2006 – smack in the middle of the glory days of the poker explosion. Dean and I both found the world of online poker fascinating: the epic heads up battles, the legendary screen names, the jaw-dropping financial swings, the absurd sums of money changing hands between teenagers, college dropouts and Ivey League graduates.

Dean wondered if anyone had ever thought about making a documentary about the world of online poker professionals. Some savvy Googling and a post we made several months later on TwoPlusTwo confirmed that we were onto something and, with the poker community’s encouragement, we leapt towards the challenge with little sense of how to actually accomplish it. Before playing online poker professionally I had gone to film school, but I still had a lot to learn about filmmaking, and no practical experience making a documentary.

It was then that Ryan Firpo, a San Francisco Bay area filmmaker and poker player, emailed me out of the blue. He had seen our TwoPlusTwo post and had been thinking about the same concept, a documentary exploring the subculture of these modern day, mouse-clicking poker mavericks. Ryan's passion and motivation made an instant impression on me; at the time my mind was squarely focused on online poker strategy, but Ryan’s frequent emails and dedication to making the project happen were what got us off the ground.

He tracked me down in Las Vegas during the 2007 WSOP, and dropped a story treatment in my lap over lunch at Sushi Roku. It was decided quickly: we would make a short film as a test and a learning experience, and from there springboard into the feature film. From Busto to Robusto Episode 1: Captain Zeebo took us almost two years to complete, but in June of 2009 we released it on the internet to the online poker community. Captain Zeebo was an online poker hero, but the actual person, Greg Lavery, was a quirky Wisconsite with an extensive Simpsons figurine collection and a loving girlfriend who helped him deal with bipolar disorder.

The short film was a hit, racking up over one hundred thousand views almost immediately and establishing Ryan as a director to watch in the poker world. We had proof there was an audience for this kind of thing, and they wanted more. We faced many more obstacles between Zeebo and BET RAISE FOLD, but we kept moving forward.


I met Taylor Caby at a bar in New York City in 2006. I admired his successes, both at the online tables as Green Plastic (another high-stakes superhero) and in business as Taylor Caby, the founder of Cardrunners, one of the original poker training sites. A mutual friend introduced us and we kept in touch throughout the years, joining up for a feature on online poker coaching and frequently trading friendly gossip about the poker training industry and online poker in general. We often floated the idea of working together on something, but it wasn't until 2010 that the right project presented itself.

That summer at the WSOP I sat down with Taylor for coffee, told him that we thought we were ready to make the feature film and asked him if he wanted to come on board to help produce it with us. I had the notion that if Taylor bought in, others would too, and we could fully fund the film’s sizable budget with investments from high stakes poker playing peers. Taylor found the possibility exciting, having taken his own path through the boom, building his identity as a result of the opportunity online poker afforded, as had so many people we had met throughout our years in the industry.

Everyone we talked to outside of poker seemed intrigued by aspects of our experience, but nearly all of those people had serious misconceptions about what online poker was actually like. We knew we were well positioned to be the ones to take on the challenge of telling the entire story - we had the experience now, we knew the audience, we had the access, and most importantly, we had a personal, vested interest in telling the story right. We quickly wrote a business plan and pitched it to an elite group of poker playing friends. Nearly all of them decided to take the gamble. I don't think I'll ever have an easier time funding a creative venture again than raising money for a poker movie from a bunch of high stakes gamblers with too much cash on their hands. It was an incredibly exciting moment. We had no idea what we were in for.


The next step in the journey was to choose our online poker mavericks, the people to follow who would eventually become the heart and soul of our story. We aggressively brainstormed before pitching the business plan, tossing forth ideas like Prahlad Friedman, Annette Obrestad, Daniel “Jungleman” Cates, David “Viffer” Peat, Cole South, LuckyChewy and Kristy Arnett.

We had strong ideas about what would make good characters: we thought a woman was essential, to show once and for all that poker is a true democracy and not simply a game for men; we wanted a responsible professional who supported a family through online poker, in order to dispel misconceptions that poker pros are degenerate gamblers; we knew that the poker sites were peddling the dream of fame and fortune to their customers, so we wanted someone young and flashy who bought into that fantasy; and we liked the concept of a poker genius, to show the ways the game had evolved far beyond what was being depicted in poker books or on television.

We canvassed the poker world, announcing the project publicly and sending out dozens of questionnaires to interested parties and cold approaching others we thought might be a good fit. Eventually we found our three: Danielle "dmoongirl" Moon-Anderson, a 26-year old mother and high stakes poker pro, new to the tournament world and seeking sponsorship; Tony "bond18" Dunst, a young, Las Vegas personality who got into poker because he saw the World Poker Tour on television and now found himself its newest host; and Martin "AlexeiMartov" Bradstreet, an Australian poker genius who had been playing the highest stakes games online for years. They seemed to be the kinds of characters that possessed all the elements we thought we needed, the types of interesting personalities that even people outside of the poker world might be able to relate to. Before we knew it we were headed into production.


There’s a scene in BET RAISE FOLD that happens right after Black Friday. Danielle is sitting in her poker office – an office she had only recently built for herself – clicking refresh on TwoPlusTwo, explaining to the camera the chaos and confusion that’s unfolding on the internet. You can see the pain in Danielle’s eyes as she realises that everything she had worked so hard to achieve had just been swept away. It’s the same numb and unjust pain I was feeling on the other side of the country, and the same betrayal so many other poker players were feeling all around the United States of America. Danielle leaves for a car ride with her son Easton, and as she drives down the highway, staring out the window at the road before her, out of nowhere Easton begins to sing. I won’t spoil his song for you, but it's the kind of unexpected moment only made possible through documentary storytelling, and it breaks my heart every time I watch it.


Black Friday sent us reeling. After wrapping our heads around the impact the pokerpocalypse had on Danielle, Tony and Martin, we realised that in order to complete the film we needed to step back and obtain a deeper understanding of how the most significant event in online poker’s history fitted into the big picture. We dove headfirst down the rabbit hole. That summer we interviewed dozens of people, experts from all corners of the poker world, probing them for answers in an attempt to grasp the entirety of how and why Black Friday happened. The deeper we went, the more we uncovered. A seedy tale of politics and lies, white collar crime and deception, manipulation and scandal. Ryan spent months and months in the editing room, sifting through our 300-hour library of footage, working to weave it into a narrative, trying to tie together all the strands we had going into one complete story.

We made two runs at Sundance, two runs at the South by Southwest Film Festival, and still it was only in early 2013 that we felt like we finally cracked the code. We realised that the best angle was to return to our characters, doubling down on their journey throughout the boom years and viewing the major events of the poker boom through their eyes – from Moneymaker to the WPT, to Party Poker and PokerStars, Full Tilt and the UIGEA, the evolution of poker strategy, the post UIGEA resurgence, the nosebleed games on Full Tilt and the ultimate death and scandalous aftermath.

So many hours were poured into filming and editing, writing and rewriting, wrestling with motion graphics and music, licensing photos and footage. We slept in that editing room, doing everything we could to pull it all together into something that fulfilled our mission and our responsibility to the story we set out years ago to tell.

Now, standing on the verge of release, it’s a tremendously cathartic feeling for me, to have had such a close connection to the expression of such a personal story in my life, to feel satisfied that we put everything we had into the telling of it on film. I feel confident we’ve done justice to the game that was my worldly education, the game that was with me from boyhood and turned me into the man I am today.

BET RAISE FOLD is not Rounders. This is real, this happened, this is poker. I don't know that there's ever been a more personal poker movie ever made. We hope you enjoy the film and the trip down memory lane, back up the roller coaster and through the upside down loops, around the twisting turns and out the end of the tunnel, past that river and into the light, into the future.


BET RAISE FOLD: The Story of Online Poker is a story about the birth of an industry, the explosion of a subculture, the evolution of a game and the invention of a highly lucrative, open-source profession. It’s a story of good fortune, about being in the right place at the right time; about a brief moment in time that changed so many lives. It is a story about the struggle for survival, the slow death of a billion-dollar industry, and the sudden displacement on an entire generation of poker professionals. It’s about politics, stigma, money, injustice. Bad fortune, variance, and loss.

Overall, this is a coming of age story about the boom that manufactured a dream and the forces that took it away. It’s about risk-takers who followed their passions to achieve their dreams, fully aware of the consequences if their decisions did not work out. It’s for the poker player in all of us.

BET RAISE FOLD: The Story of Online Poker will be released online on June 30th. You can pre-order it directly from the filmmakers, at

Tags: BET RAISE FOLD, Movie, online poker, rosenkrantz