Classic Scenes: Rounders (1998)

Rounders isn’t a perfect film but it features some great poker scenes thanks largely to the performances of its support cast including John Malkovich & Edward Norton. It is, however, Matt Damon who’s front and centre in this classic scene…

Classic Poker Scenes, Rounders - Top 10 Films

I “flopped the nut straight” says Matt Damon’s Michael McDermott, somehow holding back a cacophony of emotion having just won a huge pot of cash from Russian mobster “KGB” (played by John Malkovich). He put it all on the line and won. But was it just luck?

McDermott is a great poker player but he previously lost it all and had to quit the game. However, his friend – a small-time crook called Worm (Edward Norton) – gets out of prison owing money to the wrong sorts of people. It forces McDermott to put aside promises he made to his girlfriend and head back to the poker table.

By the time we get to the final games, he’s desperate. Having won back the money he needed to pay Worm’s debts, McDermott is coerced into a big-money re-match with KGB. The thrill of the game is too much to dismiss and he lays it all on the line.

As the final hand is dealt, McDermott slow-plays it; his emotionless poker face hiding the fact the first three community cards have given him a “straight”. He checks on each round of betting. KGB obviously believes the cards on the table have either left McDermott with nothing or, at the very best, a low pair.

Taunting him, and believing he can win the mind game, KGB bets at each opportunity, increasing the pot’s total winnings and putting pressure on McDermott who is the only one with everything to lose. However, McDermott also knows that, at best, KGB is likely to have only a low pair. He’s also confident he knows KGB’s “tell”, an unwitting signal from an opponent that reveals the quality of cards being held and weight, or lack of, behind a bet.

McDermott, with a strong hand of his own, relies on his experience of the game to deduce he’s winning. Therefore, having lured KGB into thinking he’s ahead, he puts himself in a position to win everything. It’s about handling the pressure but not showing you’re under the gun. You can always find out how good you are thanks to modern online casinos. In Rounders, when the cards are eventually all dealt and the players reveal their hands, KGB initially throws a fit of rage but succumbs to the fact he’s been beaten fairly. McDermott keeps his cool and casually walks back into a life that will never be the same again.

See more classic scenes on Top 10 Films…

Words by Dan Stephens

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Dan Grant Reply

    Rounders is one of the all time great films. That last scene is certainly a classic…..and it’s culminated with KGB showing that he is not just a Russian thug.

    Mike: “You feeling satisfied now Teddy? Cause I could go on bustin you up all night”

    Grama comes at Mike like he’s going to kill him.

    Teddy: Nyet!!! He beat me, straight up. Pay him. Pay that man his money”. (he then retreats behind closed doors)

    Rounders is a terrific film and this scene that you talk about here is one of the best ones in the film.

  2. Neal Damiano Reply

    This is one of my all time favorite scenes and I often quote it. “He beat me straught up, pay him….pay that man his money ” with a thick Russian accent! Malkovich was outstanding, what a performance!!

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