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Poker in Pop Culture: From ‘Rounders’ to the World Series of Poker

by Scott Kacsmar
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Rounders 1998 - IMDb

It’s another terrific day, and here at Joe Wager, we’re diving into the fascinating world of poker in popular culture. From the unforgettable ‘Rounders’ to the iconic World Series of Poker, we’re about to explore how this card game has woven itself into the fabric of our entertainment and daily lives.

So, why did ‘Rounders’ create such a poker frenzy to the point that there was a boom in online poker sites a few years later? It was Ed Norton at his absolute best, playing the enigmatic Worm, a character you couldn’t help but love to hate. This gritty portrayal of a poker player’s life, full of hustle and heart, reignited our fascination with the game. But that’s just the beginning.

Join us as we journey through the world of poker, from A-listers taking on the World Series to Bond facing off in ‘Casino Royale,’ and discover how this game of strategy has left an indelible mark on our popular culture. So grab your chips, and let’s get started!

Why Rounders Was the Rise of Poker in Pop Culture?

Many critics say, Rounders (1998) was such an iconic film in popular culture because it captured Ed Norton at his absolute best, playing a character (Worm) who the audience loved to hate.

Norton had sprung to prominence in his third ever film a couple of years earlier, when he played the the split personality of Aaron or Roy, Primal Fear, alongside Richard Gere who was at the peak of his powers at the time.

In Rounders his role of Worm saw him elevate his acting prowess further along with Matt Damon his long-suffering friend who tried to keep him on the straight and narrow. The film was a gritty interpretation of a poker player’s life or in Worm’s case a hustler’s and brought the game back into the media mainstream.

Many A-Listers Wanted to Play the World Series of Poker

Rounders kick started the Poker boom in America and when Matt Damon went to play the World Series of Poker, it coincided with increased coverage on ESPN. There was also the celebrity Ante-up for Africa event as part of the World Series of Poker, that was played just before the main event. A-list celebrities such as Damon, Ben Affleck, Don Cheadle and Ray Ramano rubbed shoulders with the poker stars Phil Hellmuth, the late Doyle Brunson and Annie Duke who organized the fund-raising event that made nearly $3,000,000.

I Sat Next to Toby Maguire in the World Series

By the time that I played the World Series of Poker Main Event for the first time in 2007, there was a slew of A-list celebrities entering Poker’s showpiece.

At the end of day 2, when speaking to my partner I said I thought recognised the guy next to me and did she recognise him. Much to her amusement, she told me it was “Toby Maguire” from Spiderman. Yes, I had watched the films with my kids, but it was just a face to me, but when we went back for day-3 he was kind enough to do a signed autograph for them.

You can qualify for the World Series of Poker online. I was evidence of the poker explosion having qualified for the 2007 WSOP Main event online and then turning it into $45,000 when I ran to 282nd on Day 5.

Casino Royale Featured Poker

In 2006, Daniel Craig’s debut role as James Bond captured the popularity of the time that poker was garnering from the American public. At the heart of the film was a multi-million-dollar poker game that featured Mads Mikkelsen playing the bad guy Le Chiffre, and I dare say, it was Craig’s best Bond film for many.

Ben Affleck Was Keen to Fetch Poker to the Big Screen

In 2013, Ben Affleck played the main protagonist Ivan Block who ran an empire of online gaming houses based in Costa Rica called “Runner Runner”. The film was about Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake), a graduate who plays online poker to pay for his student fees and his power struggle with Block. Affleck as mentioned earlier was a keen participant at the World Series of Poker and he used his assumed knowledge of the poker and gaming industry for the film set around a true story.

Don’t Forget Poker Had Its Own TV Shows Just After the Millennium

In the early years of the millennium, Poker breached the world of TV Shows on Bravo with the popular “Celebrity Poker Showdown” that saw celebrities and poker pros cross swords. Then NBC produced “Poker after Dark” to our TV screens between 2007-2011 which featured direct competition between the top professionals of the poker world who had featured in the World Series.

What Has Been the Impact of Poker in Popular Culture?

The influence of Poker on Popular Culture should not be underestimated given the impact is a new generation of poker players that has been created. The beauty of that popularity was a rise in online poker sites for players to enjoy the game from the comfort of their own homes.

Those films illustrated how taking calculated risks can lead to success in life, skills that can make a difference in the business world or everyday life.

If you’ve never tried the game of poker, here at Joe Wager we recommend trying and there are many free play or micro-stake games online to have fun while learning how to play.

With Popular Culture, Poker is more than just a game, it can be a way of life for many!

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Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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