Lee Davy reviews the Victor Saumont documentary Nosebleed. A 90-minute peek into the lives of two high stakes online cash game players as they try to capture a World Series of Poker bracelet.
Sitting through a 90-minute documentary about poker doesn’t inspire me. You may find that strange. I am a poker writer after all. But poker is inherently boring. Even more so when you watch it. But I was told that Nosebleed (a documentary about two French High Stakes poker players attempting to win a World Series of Poker bracelet) was worth 90-minutes of my life.
So what’s the verdict?
I’m certainly glad that I watched it. It was worth my time. But I feel a little unsatisfied. I couldn’t help but wonder why we were watching two of the world’s best online cash game players trying to play live tournaments?
It is, of course, about the dream.
“The money wouldn’t change anything to me…I would perhaps spend more on wine.” Said Alex ‘Alexonmoon’ Luneau when questioned about the $10m first prize in the WSOP Main Event.
Luneau is one of the biggest winners in the online cash game nosebleed stakes on Full Tilt and PokerStars. The young Frenchman lives in London, as does his friend and former mentor, Sebastien “Seb86” Sabic. They both have a dream to win a WSOP bracelet, and the main bulk of the 90-minute journey follows them through Vegas.
“It would be ridiculous to go through my whole life and not win a bracelet.” Says Luneau.
It started so well. The pair were being filmed in their London apartment where they have their grinding station. It seemed surreal to see them both playing on what appeared to be a breakfast bar. Hundreds of thousands of dollars being won, or lost, in the kitchen?
There were large parts of the documentary that I felt were slow. I suspect this was deliberate. The pace of the documentary pitched perfectly against the pace of poker. However, it affected my levels of interest, as they also jumped up and down with the rhythm of the game.
The first thing that I thought was how easy it would be for people to collude at this level. At one point during the documentary the pair find a fish at a table and play paper, rock, scissors, to see who would take the seat because, ‘they cannot play at the same table when in the same apartment.’ I can’t wire a plug, so I don’t know if the online poker rooms can tell if two players are seated at the same cash table, in the same house, and what the rules are concerning this, other than the obvious ethical issues?
I really got into the documentary at that point. You followed Luneau into the gym where he showed his talent for boxing, but other than that you got the distinct impression that all they did was play poker, and when they weren’t playing they were idly sat around waiting to play.
At one point when Sabic is describing the golden years when Gus Hansen and Viktor Blom were donating to the French players bankroll, he said, “I remember those were the only nights of my life where I slept with the computer turned on. If someone popped up at the table it would wake me up. I also asked friends to Skype me if they saw Isildur1 in the lobby.”
It was interested to hear the maverick Isildur1 being spoken about as if he was some huge fish. Phil Ivey was referred to as ‘the end boss’ but when asked if he was really that good, the answer was returned in the negative. Luneau even told a story of how Ivey deliberately sought him out to play heads-up against him because he said: ‘you have to keep playing against the best to keep improving.’
The one player who really came out of this documentary looking like a complete and utter twat was Gus Hansen. It left a sour taste in the mouth. The final insult was to ask him to appear on the documentary – which he graciously did – despite ripping ten tons of shit out of him during the entire documentary. At one point during filming even Luneau’s girlfriend said: “Poor Gus…Gus if you are watching this…we love you.”
“Alex had a million bankroll, then he went down to $500k, and then came Gus and the $18 million upswing.” Said Sabic.
Hansen could even be blamed for disrupting both players’ sex lives, with the Great Dane getting more attention than both players women. They even had a ‘guard system’ where only one couple would go out at a time, whilst the other couple stayed at home and monitored the lobby in case Hansen would make an appearance.
It was a shame to see one of poker’s former great’s to be ridiculed in that way. I am sure they could have been a little easier on him, but I can’t complain. I always advocate authenticity. It’s clear that you have to earn the Frenchmen’s respect. They clearly respect the very best in the game (the Germans were included in this bracket), and Hansen just isn’t one of the best. Far from it.
It also reminds you that cash games, and tournaments, are a world apart. There is a scene when Luneau is playing in a tournament. Next to him is a man with a Batman cap and t-shirt. A super hero. And nobody even realized that the true super hero was sitting next to him. High stakes online cash game grinders who the world don’t even know. The Clark Kent’s of the poker world are the real super heroes, and yet it’s the tournament players who get noticed as they don their capes and fly high across the sky.
“The only really cool thing about tournaments is the feeling of adrenaline and the tension when you reach the final tables. It’s really extraordinary and it only exists in tournaments. It’s a shame it’s not really related to skill at all. The amount of pure chance in a tournament is just huge.” Said Luneau after busting from the Main Event.
There is a great scene at the back of the Rio where Bruno Fitoussi is talking to Luneau.
“I thought you were still in Thailand.” Said Fitoussi.
“It was great, but after a while you have to come back to real life.” Said Luneau.
And that’s what the documentary missed for me. I wanted to see more real life. The WSOP grind is like Groundhog Day. It’s not real life. We get a snippet of this at the beginning of the documentary, but just as it gets interesting everyone boards the plane.
“Poker is not a perfect science.” Says Sabic.
Nor is creating poker documentaries I guess.