Drawing Dead: The Highs and Lows of Online PokerCulture
Easy money, that is the allure of poker. The truth is it’s not easy and simply entering a tournament does not guarantee success. Nothing highlights this better than the “Moneymaker effect”: Chris Moneymaker, a regular joe won the 2003 World Series of Poker. He became an instant millionaire and at the same time caused an explosion in the popularity of poker. However, there is a dark side to it as well, the significantly higher risk and occurrence of gambling addiction. The 2013 documentary on online poker Drawing Dead: The Highs and Lows of Online Poker, written and directed by Mike Weeks, brings you in touch with the incredibly bright and dark sides of poker.
Drawing Dead unravels the story of online poker’s allure through two characters at the opposite ends of the spectrum: the first is Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt, a pro who earned millions; the second is Michael Korpi Jr, an honour student and athlete who succumbed to the charm of money, with disastrous consequences that have seen him plummet into the dark world of gambling addiction.
The stories of the two men are as different as chalk and cheese. Dusty was at one time an aspiring pro golfer who had to quit his golfing dreams after suffering a heart attack. He picked up online poker as a hobby on a friend’s advice. He turned out to be good at it, climbed up the rankings, won tournaments and ended up becoming very wealthy. Korpi, on the other hand, was a bright student whose life suffered irreparable damage as he became addicted to online poker. He stole from friends, saw his GPA freefall from 4.0 to 1.5 and was thrown out of school. And all the time he was looking for that elusive big win, shaking off loss after successive loss in the hope that the next one would be the big one.
The documentary format
The best thing about Drawing Dead is its narrative style. The documentary format allows first-time director Mike Weeks to take an in-depth look at the online poker industry without seeming too educational or even boring. The objective may have been to present a balanced image but that is precisely the problem with the documentary style, when you lay out the bare facts the balancing act becomes almost impossible to achieve, especially when you have riches on one end and addiction on the other.
The history of the World Series of Poker Main Event is shown in full detail and it is not a passing reference as could be tempting in a fictional feature film.
There is also a clear depiction of the events of Black Friday, the darkest day in poker history in the United States. It was on that Friday that officials of the US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment running into 52 pages against high-ranking executives of three big online poker organisations: PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, besides filing civilian complaints against the executives that asked for a massive $2 billion in penalties from the organisations. The result was the shutting down of PokerStars and Full Tilt operations in the US. Absolute Poker did the same a little later, along with UltimateBet, its sister concern.
While the depiction is spot-on, what takes away a little bit from the whole narrative is the director’s personal opinion, which seems to tilt convincingly the anti-poker way.
Schmidt and Korpi: Two stories tell a tale
Dusty Schmidt is representative of the online poker players who got the game to work for them, the successful ones that went on to make millions. While Schmidt occupies a substantial part of the narrative, most of the storytelling is from the point of view of Korpi. His is a story that is steeped in tragedy, of aspirations and talent wasted because he could not handle his love for the famous card game. When love turns to addiction the results are disastrous and Korpi is seen as a living example of this.
What strikes you throughout the film is that Korpi is not a bad guy or someone with a criminal mind. He is just a good guy who lost control of one thing wrong in life and let that dominate his existence.
Apart from the stories of Schmidt and Korpi, the film also incorporates interviews with professionals and experts who work with people with a gambling problem. Another interesting insight that surfaces through the film is a wealth of poker-related facts and, more importantly, their almost subterranean link to addiction. There are interviews with Jaime Gold, former World Series of Poker main event champion, Dr Henry Lesieu, a psychologist specialising in problem gambling, and also Dr David Linden, a neurologist, which are very enlightening.
Drawing Dead: Bringing important issues to light
Drawing Dead is one of three documentaries about online poker that were released in 2013. Prior to this came the documentary by Jay Rosenkrantz and Taylor Caby titled Bet Raise Fold, and Ultimate Beat by Scott Bell. Watch these for a broader understanding of the issues.
Drawing Dead raises awareness about a number of boiling issues that permeate the industry at different levels. These include the risk of underage gambling, something that has been statistically on the rise in the UK with the arrival of the smartphone. Industry leading sites such as Gambling Kingz work hard to ensure that the casinos that they promote are strict about issues such as enforcing no underage gaming and the use of reputable software.
The documentary brings up very important issues and the sooner these are addressed, the faster lawmakers will be inclined to begin the process of legalising online poker betting nationwide.
The editorial unit
Watch the trailer for Drawing Dead here: