Last week, I wrote an editorial about how there wasn’t a need for a Rounders 2 in the Poker Cinematic Universe (or the PCU, which you can say you heard it here first!). One thing that is timeless, however, are documentaries, as seen by the recent Ken Burns opus Country Music (well worth the time spent watching, for your information). Poker also has a long documentarian trail, one that recently had an addition in the doc For Love or Money.
A Look Back at the 2018 WSOP Through Two Players
For Love or Money is a documentary currently available on Amazon Video that, to be brutally honest, tries to cover a bit too much territory with its efforts. Edited, directed and executive produced by Michael Bailey (with 2017 World Series of Poker Championship Event winner Scott Blumstein serving as a producer and one of the subjects of the film as a production assistant), For Love or Money pulls in a wide array of people to talk about the game of poker. It opens with the recollections of many poker people, including professional players Chris Leong (the production assistant), Stanley Lee (East Coast poker pro, $1.3 million in career earnings), Michael Rocco, Roberto Begni, Asher Conniff, Spencer Uniss (2011 Heartland Poker Tour champion and investor in 2013 WSOP World Champion Ryan Riess) and authors/poker coaches such as Tommy Angelo, Greg Vail and Gene Hull (among many others) and how they got into the game. After this open, it then tracks into what will be a “secondary story” that will run along through the film.
The film’s secondary track is following Leong and Lee as they go through the 2018 WSOP. Over the course of 46 days, Bailey follows the duo, capturing the highs and lows of a six-week grind in the Las Vegas summer. He shows very accurately the different approaches that the two men take, with Leong selling a package of $30,000 in tournaments for investors – basically making him play for the investors who backed him – versus Lee’s more laid back approach of “If I feel like playing, I’ll play…if I don’t, I’ll take the day off.”
If you look at the short-term approach, it pays off better for Lee than for Leong. Leong struggles with his game over the run of the 2018 WSOP, while Lee runs deep in the Millionaire Maker (finishing in the final 50 players of the event for the fourth straight year in 2018). In the Main Event, the duo continue their respective good and bad runs as Leong suffers a difficult beat in the very first level of Day 1 (flops a set of Jacks against pocket Kings only to see a King on the river) while Lee runs deep in finishing in 122nd place but lamenting the lost opportunity of going even deeper.
As this story is told, other side stories go on to add to the viewers entertainment. Some of the subjects discussed include the difference between tournaments and cash games (Begni has a good line on this by saying “Tournaments are for the fame, while cash games are for the money”), how Conniff misclicked his way to the 2015 World Poker Tour World Championship (he won an online satellite after mistakenly entering the event and would go on to win the WPT title), whether poker is gambling or not (split decision) and the differences in the game between now and a decade ago (bottom line: no one is weak in the game anymore because of coaching, analytical tools and educational materials), among other things. It makes for a very packed 65 minutes of viewing for the audience, one that you might miss something if you blink
Film’s Direction is Difficult to Decide
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this film, perhaps too much.
The documentary seems to lack a definitive direction as to what it wants to do. Is it the story of Lee and Leong and the travails that they face at the WSOP? Is it meant to be an extremely condensed history of 21st century poker? Does it want to show some of the difficulties in the game – cash game player Thomas Bailey states “Everyone goes broke, it’s inevitable” while Leong actually says “I just want to fucking die” after spewing off a big stack of chips in a Wynn Classic event away from the WSOP – or the ways that pros absorb the hits through staking deals? Or is it meant to be a training ground for new players, offering advice on how to approach the game in the 21st century?
For Love or Money is at times inspirational and at times depressing. Sometimes it is trying to educate the viewer while others it shows the recent history of the game. It is happy and sad at the same time and it never really seems to find a footing on what direction it wants to take.
Overall, the film was a brisk view (if you can get by the noncapitalization of things that should be capitalized, such as “world series of poker” – some of the captions in the movie were poorly done) and it was a bit entertaining, but it didn’t broach any new information. I would have preferred that Bailey maybe focused more on Lee and Leong, perhaps a couple of other players, and their mental and physical approaches to the WSOP. It might have been a different film if they had taken the excellent contributors that they tapped (although there was one problem here – there were no women in the documentary involved in the discussion of the game) and thoroughly went further in depth into many of the subjects they brought up. There were at least two different movies in the documentary For Love or Money and, by trying to do too much at one time, it didn’t give either storyline the time that it really deserved. For Love or Money isn’t a waste of time for the money spent ($5.99 on Amazon Video), but it probably could have been better if it were a bit longer or if it were two different film documentaries.