I found this book by accident perusing the games section at the local Chapters and was pleasantly delighted. I’ve discovered great reading material this way. It was an easy read filled with fascinating anecdotes. For someone who’s interested in the A-lister celebrity + high stakes and seedy juxtaposition of the poker world this is a book that’ll keep one captivated.
The story begins with Molly Bloom, a Colorado native girl next door type tasked with assisting a real estate mogul in running a card game at The Viper Room. Bloom deftly performed menial tasks of phoning the players to confirm, setting up the poker tables, being the sommelier even, then quickly elevated herself to taking over the game altogether and hosting it. It’s instrumental to note that Molly came from a family of competitive gamers and athletes to understand her mindset. Her brother was two-time Olympic skier and Philadelphia Eagles player, Jeremy Bloom. She was close to making the olympic ski team herself. After missing the spot on the Olympic team she embarked on a journey to California in search of a new career path; poker host extraordinaire.
“The energy in the room was palpable. It felt more like a sports arena than the basement of the Viper Room.”
“Word was out now about the big game, and I had received a few calls from professional poker players practically begging me for a seat. Some offered me straight cash, and some a “free roll,” which means if they won I would get a percentage, and if they lost I wouldn’t have any liability. I knew that letting pros into this game would be a surefire way to lose it. The pros would win all the money, and part of what made my game so special was the chemistry at the table and the fact that nobody there played poker for a living.
And it wasn’t just that every cardplayer in Hollywood wanted to come to the games; everyone’s friends and their friends wanted to come to watch. I felt that a huge part of this enterprise depended on discretion, so I tried to discourage spectators when I could, but I couldn’t stop the guys from bringing girlfriends along to show off in front of, or the occasional celebrity from stopping by. Sometimes the rap producer Irv would bring Nelly along. Celebrities were always allowed, to be honest.
Like when the Olsen twins showed up with a billionaire I was trying to land for the game. They were in, no questions asked.”
With vivid exerpts like that it was akin to watching your favorite TV show series unfold before your eyes. I was glued and completely absorbed in this world. Once I picked it up I blew through it in two days. As someone who hosted regular poker cash games and tournies there was an immediate affinity. “Molly’s Game” offered an inside look in the underground world of truly high stakes poker. Some of the players in LA included Leonardo Dicaprio, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Tobia Mcguire, Nick Cassavetes, Rick Salomon, media moguls, hedge fund managers and business titans from New York. While the Olsen twins did not engage in the action they were on the rail watching intently. Her game attracted top shelf celebrities.
The way it was run was really quite ingenious. There were no rakes. Only tips. Most were very generous with the exception of Tobey Maguire.
Bloom said that Maguire once asked her to “bark like a seal who wants a fish” for a $1,000 chip. Maguire also was “the worst tipper,” despite consistently being the biggest winner, Bloom said. Bloom added that the games ended because Maguire thought she was making too much money for facilitating the games. Bloom was earning as much as $50,000 a night for her hard work.
It wasn’t until she moved her game to New York where she began taking in a rake. Subsequently that was partly the reason why her game eventually got shut down. She even ran afoul with the Italian mafia who apparently wanted a piece of the action. After being threatened she still kept silent and continued however surreptitiously.
Even the mafia couldn’t deter her from raking in truck loads of cash. It wasn’t until a multi-millionaire hedge fund manager by the name of Brad Ruderman who became the wild card. In this game, you had to be vetted by Bloom to get in. “You had to have pedigree,” said Ruderman. Ruderman and Bloom’s A-list clientele preferred private games. Why? “It’s the convenience factor of playing in a controlled environment with a stable group of people where you don’t have to go into a casino, and you don’t have to subject yourself to, A, getting to a casino, and, B, dealing with all the riff raff that’s at a casino,” Ruderman explained. It was a no brainer for him to join the game. What became a $50,000 buy in quickly ballooned into a $5.2 million dollar downswing. Ruderman with his mini-Madoff $25 million ponzi scheme used his investors’ funds to pay off his poker debts. The Feds pulled him into questioning completely unrelated to Molly’s game. Call it a cooler. His investors were now suing the players to retrieve their investments back. Other players who were sued were Gabe Kaplan, Cassavetes (director of Notebook), and Soloman. Rather than risk negative publicity all of the players settled.
As one player recounted: “The irony of it all is that the game finally found the biggest fish ever, Ruderman, and we did our best to bury him every week and win his millions. Now those who fleeced him of millions are embroiled in this lawsuit. It’s like he turned the tables on us with no skill, just sheer stupidity.”
The moral of the story is a Faustian principle. A tale of adventure, high flying celebrities from Hollywood to Wall-streeters, millions being swapped on the tables, infused with the New York criminal underworld weaving a fascinating narrative of underground high stakes poker only Hollywood could offer.
~ JJJ ~
Social Network script writer Aaron Sorkin has signed on to direct his first feature film debut on the poker drama “Molly’s Game.” Academy award winner with “Money Ball”, “Steve Jobs”, “The American President”, and “The West wing” under his belt you can be sure that everyone in the poker world will be keeping an eye out on this.