Director Aaron Sorkin says Molly’s Game is not a poker movie. That is probably a fair assessment. However, it does have some poker in it. Namely, a pivotal scene where a capable player gets pushed off a big hand when a reckless recreational player runs a massive bluff.
Rather than trusting his limited poker knowledge, Sorkin turned to Molly Bloom herself and her network of poker players. One person in that network? New York-based poker pro, David Paredes.
Paredes did not officially consult on the movie, but his advice on the scene did end up in the final product. And we have to say, it is probably one of the most accurate poker hands to ever appear on film.
We spoke with Paredes about how he got involved with the Oscar-contending film, what inspired the scene, and what it was like to actually play in Molly’s Game, one of the most famous underground poker games in history.
If you haven’t seen the film, we do not discuss major plot elements, but we do discuss major characters and minor action, so consider this your spoiler alert.
US Poker: How did you end up consulting on Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut?
David Paredes: Well, first I guess I should clarify that I was not a consultant on the film. The way it started was a couple of years ago Molly (Bloom) had contacted me because they were writing a poker scene. They needed some help with it. She asked if I would mind helping to try and write a scene. Mind you, I’ve done a lot writing in my life, I have an MFA in Fiction, but I’ve never done any screenwriting. So I didn’t necessarily know exactly what to do, but she gave me some basic frameworks.
I was actually at Foxwoods when she contacted me. I literally went up to Noodles, their Asian restaurant, and sat on my iPhone and wrote the scene in like an hour and a half. I did the best I could, then sent it back. Apparently, he really liked it, and that scene made it into the film relatively intact.
US Poker: The scene you did was the one where one player folds a full house to what turned out to be a bluff from a bad player, right?
David Paredes: Yeah. The inspiration for the scene was twofold. the first thing was the Phil Ivey hand against Brad Booth where Ivey laid down pocket kings to Brad Booth’s ridiculous overbet shove. The reason why is because I heard interviews after [the hand happened] with Barry Greenstein, who said there was a couple of reasons Ivey folded.
One was that he had never played with Brad Booth before. He thought he was like, a businessman, or something. Second was that he only brought the amount of money with him. So, it is possible that a good, solid pro or, in this case, a solid grinder type, can lay down a very big hand not knowing who the other player was.
[In regards to the scene in Molly’s Game] He did not realize this guy was a Ponzi schemer. This guy Brad was playing absolutely crazy and did something nonsensical. If you had not known how Brad plays and it was the first time you ever played with him, it is very very possible you might make a huge, exploitative fold.
I’ve played in Molly’s game before, and there has been times in my career and I’ve made huge folds to people not knowing how they played. Then afterwards, had I played with them a half hour more, I would be like “Oh my God, why did I fold that hand?”
That was the framework I was given. That he was bluffed off a big hand then proceeded to go on tilt. Again, I cannot take credit for writing the scene. Aaron obviously made it better and added more in. The basic concept of the hand was that. And I thought it was pretty cool that the hand I wrote relatively intact with some of the logic I had in the hand and some of the things like the carotid artery throbbing and the stiff hands and some of that language that is more poker distinct that Aaron wouldn’t know or realize.
US Poker: Poker movies, the hands can go one of two ways generally. It is either the massive cooler, which is what people are used to seeing. Or, in the case of bluffs, it has to be some psychological thing like, “oh he picked up a cookie.” I think it is fair to suggest this is probably the most sophisticated representation of how people think through a poker hand when they are a professional.
David Paredes: It is bar none the most sophisticated hand I’ve ever seen on film. I’m proud to have written it.
US Poker: You said Molly Bloom was the one who got in touch with you, but how much did you get to interact with Sorkin during this project?
David Paredes: As soon as I wrote the scene, I got an immediate response from Molly saying Aaron was hard to impress and I had impressed him. He sent me an email that night or the next day saying how much he enjoyed the scene and basically said I was a real mensch for helping him out.
I did it as a favor because I really love poker and I wanted to do a really good job so that poker when it is portrayed on the big screen, gets the proper sophistication and the intricacies [of the game].
After that, we had talked about me being a consultant on the film, broadening my role. From what I’ve been told, the producer of the movie said, since it was shooting in Toronto, you had to hire a Canadian before an American, so they hired a Canadian consultant.
US Poker: In the final version, there are a couple of poker errors. There is a scene where someone folds what we are told is the nuts. There is also a big pot where there is an illegal raise. Any thoughts on those inconsistencies?
David Paredes: One was just language inconsistency. Aaron probably wrote the movie knowing it was not really a poker movie, so he wasn’t too concerned about making every single detail 100 percent realistic…Unless someone with a poker background is writing the movie, some of those are bound to happen. Even if you do get someone who knows poker writing the movie, it can happen.
US Poker: And, at a point, you have to do what you can for the larger audience. You don’t want to explain to a layperson what the fourth nuts in.
David Paredes: Exactly. Having the effective nuts is a very complex thing that shouldn’t be explained in a movie like that. The point was that the player viciously bluffed another guy.
US Poker: As someone who played in Molly’s game in New York, did you recognize some of the thinly veiled characters beyond Player X, who most assume is Tobey Maguire and the WSOP champ, who seems to be a version of Jamie Gold? How much fun was it watching a big screen version of a game you played in?
DP: I thought the [Jamie Gold] scene was pretty interesting. Molly did ask me how realistic it would be to watch the TV version of the WSOP and realize this guy might not be a great player. I said I thought it would be possible, and that made it into the movie.
I do think Jamie Gold ended up playing in her game, and you can speculate how he did. I think apparently behind the scenes, she got a bunch of pushback from the players about letting a pro in the game.
US Poker: How did you get into Molly Bloom’s game?
David Paredes: I was living in New York at the time. I was working at a hedge fund about the time that she was moving from LA to New York. I had played in many private games and my reputation was good in terms of always playing promptly and giving action. Plus, I wasn’t a true grinder type. I was friendly with all the recreational players and I actually had a job at that point, so I wasn’t technically a pro.
I knew her game was going on, and a couple of times a friend I knew who played in her game said he might be able to get me in. Then finally I did get it and it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. The game was in an amazing apartment in a very fancy building Downtown. There were models and actresses walking around serving drinks. The environment was incredible. Everything you wanted was at your fingertips.
This was something I’d never seen before. I ended up winning my first session and she wrote me a check for my winnings on the spot.
US Poker: Wait, like a paper check?
David Paredes: She literally wrote me a paper check. I was like, “Wait a minute. You don’t have to collect from the other players before paying me? Is that real?” She was like “Yeah, I guarantee the game. You play, you win.” I was like “This is the most incredible game I have ever played in my life.”
That is unheard of for a game. It was just amazing. She had such good credit that her checks were like gold. You could literally bring a check of hers to another game and, if you lost, you could use her check as currency.
She ran, for sure, the best games I’ve ever played in. She was just amazing at what she did. She made everyone feel welcome and special. She took an interest in you and was the most incredible host. Hearing what she did in her life…her two brothers are massive overachievers so she had big shoes to fill and her dad put a lot of pressure on her. What she did was decide to be the best game-runner in the world and she did that. That’s pretty amazing.
US Poker: Do you think the movie is a good representation of your experience with Molly Bloom as a person?
David Paredes: I think so, yes. I would say Jessica Chastain did an amazing job. I would not be surprised if she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. But, there is a difference between actually knowing the person and seeing them as the lead character in a movie. I read an article where Chastain said she only had a chance to meet with Molly a couple of times. There were a couple of moments in the movie where her voice sounded just like Molly’s. That just goes to show the amazing aptitude an actress like Jessica Chastain has.
I think they did capture the fact that she was able to have everything so tightly organized and run and be so detail-oriented. Also showing how she talked with everyone and gave time to all the players.
US Poker: You have a writing background. You got a taste of screenwriting. Do you think there is a chance in the feature you would write a poker movie of your own?
David Paredes: I love to write. I am always looking for more opportunities to write. Technically, I’ve never written professionally because, until someone hands you a check, I don’t think you can consider yourself a professional. But I would love to become a professional writer at some point in my life. I’m currently at work on a couple of different projects, one of which is poker-related. I think it is pretty interesting, and hopefully, it will be fun to write as well as fun to read.