It’s rare that a poker book gets picked up by a mainstream publisher (in this case, Harper Collins) and attention from mainstream media. So when Molly Bloom’s memoir was released this summer during the World Series of Poker, I was excited to read it and get the dirt on the million-dollar private games in New York and Los Angeles that every poker pro has heard about and dreams of playing.
We all knew the story already. Small-town girl moves to Los Angeles and uses her sex appeal and hustle to become the poker world’s highest stakes gamerunner. She had access to the game’s biggest stars, like Ben Affleck, Toby Maguire, Nelly and A-Rod. She had a rolodex of the biggest whales in poker, like Guy Laliberte. And eventually, her games got too big and came crashing down. She was cast into the spotlight after appearing in the Taiwanchik-Trincher indictment for her involvement in the New York underground. With her games gone and a felony conviction all but certain, Bloom did what any narcissistic D-list celebutante would do… she signed a book deal.
The end result? Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker. Perhaps the longest subtitle in all of poker literature.
Reading this book was a frustrating process. Imagine a reality show where a Victoria’s Secret model joins the Hell’s Angels. Then make it into a book and you basically have Molly Bloom’s story. From the very beginning, she comes off as delusional and superficial. She talks about the “fakery” in Los Angeles in one paragraph, and then describes in excruciating detail her shopping trip to buy the perfect dress to host her LA poker games. The situational irony seems lost on her.
Molly tells us over and again how she was basically a fly on the wall during what were among the biggest poker hands in the history of the world. She passed this book off as a poker memoir, and that is what we as the readers want to hear. We want to read about specifics. What was the joke that Todd Phillips told which had everyone at the table crying in laughter? What was the board when Tobey Maguire talked his opponent into folding the best hand (Molly incorrectly called this “folding the nuts” which just further demonstrates her poker ignorance)? What were the four hands which went all-in preflop in the first Ben Affleck poker game? We don’t know. But we can be sure she’ll tell us what kind of wine she ordered during her date with the Dodger’s heir Drew McCourt. We can be sure she’ll tell us how amazing it felt to speed down a Los Angeles highway, outrunning a cop car to pull into the Beverly Hills Hotel. Giggles and laughter, what an adventure!
The book was nauseating in the way it glossed over moral quandary after moral quandary. Over and over, she describes how she lets people down in her life. She volunteers at a children’s cancer ward, then promptly quits when her boss, a guy she calls “Reardon Green” (Darin Feinstein in real life… the name change being Molly’s lame attempt at protecting his identity), tells her she’s too poor to volunteer. She steals Reardon’s poker game after he fires her for going home to spend Christmas with her family. Then she destroys Tobey Maguire in the book when he steals the game back from her after deciding that a Hollywood gamerunner shouldn’t be making five figures a week… or maybe because she won’t literally “bark like a seal asking for a fish” to get a $1,000 tip from him.
Yes. This happens in the book. Spiderman acting like a huge dick, coming off a winning session and holding a grand above Molly while issuing that strange request in front of the other players in the game. It was awkward and I cringed just reading it. I didn’t have a high opinion of Tobey to begin with, after hearing some other first-hand stories from friends while I lived in Culver City back in the old Crew days. And this single story confirmed it… Tobey Maguire might be great at poker, but this story makes him come off as a really creepy dude. And frankly, this scene by itself made the book worth the price of admission for me.
But let’s not be too hard on Tobey. It’s obvious that Molly just has an axe to grind against the 3,178th all-time US money winner. The truth is, the seal bark scene pails in comparison to the type of demeaning behavior other characters regularly display in Molly Bloom’s autobiography. Nobody comes off sleazier than Reardon, yet he’s held up in her book as some sort of hero and mentor… or roguish as Bloom might say.
And then there’s Molly herself.
Molly Bloom always seems to find herself on the right side of the questions. This is evident from the very premise of the book… is running a high-stakes underground poker game in Los Angeles illegal? According to Molly, it’s not. Her lawyer told her so (after demanding $25k retainer, obv). But I don’t need a law degree(which I incidentally have) to tell you this is another case of a Molly Bloom delusion. She somehow thinks that by classifying the rake as a “tip”, it makes everything above board. But by her own admission, the players understood that a tip was required to be invited back. Running the game was illegal, black and white, pure and simple. Even using a shuffle master, which she leased from Tobey Maguire (another crime!) was in itself illegal (checkout Cal. Pen. Code § 330a).
She repeatedly says things like “loophole”, “technicality”, “technically legal” and “grey area”. Could she really believe that what she was doing was legal? Seemingly so… and I almost buy it. Until, that is, about halfway through the book when her attorney tells her, “don’t break the law when you’re breaking the law.” Game over, Molly. You knew it was criminal and you did it anyway.
Then there are other iffy situations, like when she steals the game from under Reardon. When she stiffs her dealer, Diego, from the split they had agreed on. When she breaks up with Eugene Trincher (the New York Russian mobster) so that she won’t feel bad for sleeping with Glen Reynolds (no idea what he does). When she leaves her family on Christmas without even saying a word. When she steals a sex tape from one of Reardon’s assistants so that she can earn favor from a rock star who was about to be extorted by it. When she decides not to out a player she caught cheating, one “Willy Engelbert”, to the other NY gamerunners as long as he paid her off… and of course she doesn’t out him to her readers either.
And then there is the ultimate iffy situation, when she gets shaken down and brutally beaten by a New Jersey Italian mob enforcer who tells her in no uncertain terms that her family back in Colorado is in mortal danger… and she makes a conscious decision to keep going forward with her underground life, only stopping when the FBI finally raids her underground game.
It’s funny to me writing this, because I more than perhaps anybody might relate to Molly’s story. Yet, I just couldn’t identify with her. I wanted to reach through the pages and shake her. And yell at her. Take responsibility. Show some remorse. Open your eyes and at least recognize what you were involved in. But she never does. In fact, she ends the book with what comes off as more or less a self-affirmation.
“If I had to do it all over, would I choose the same path? The answer is yes, a thousand times, yes. I had a grand adventure. I learned to believe in myself. I was brave, and I went big. I was also reckless and selfish. I got lost along the way. I abandoned the things that mattered and traded them for wealth and statues [sic?]. I lusted for power and I hurt people. But I was forced to face myself, to lose everything, to fall on my face in front of the world, and the lessons I learned on the way up were just as valuable as the ones on the way down.”
There is an incredible lack of detail in the book overall, but especially in the second half, i.e. the New York act. Molly Bloom was hobnobbing with some of the scariest people in New York. I’ve played with Vadim Trincher before at the WSOP… and the guy came off like a psychopathic murderer. I’m not exaggerating when I say it wouldn’t have surprised me if he pulled out a gun right there at the Rio table and shot an opponent who had given him a bad beat. He was literally the scariest person I’ve ever sat at a table with, and that was before I found out he was a lieutenant to Alimzhan “Taiwanchik” Tokhtakhunov… twice in the FBI’s top 10 most wanted criminals in the world, who just happens to live openly in Russia.
Ahhh… Taiwanchik. Here is a guy who probably fixed the 2002 Winter Olympics, and was the key person named in Molly’s indictment and he doesn’t even get so much as a mention in the book. Likewise, her treatment of Illya Trincher, Eugene Trincher, Helly Nahmad, and others in the New York underground feel glossed over and superficial. It’s like watching her rub the stomach of a big German Shepard that we know from the blood stains on his snout has just eaten man-flesh. But look how cuddly and sweet he is when Molly rubs his belly! I couldn’t help but think of the late Joan Rivers’ “blood money” rant against Annie Duke. Where was the money coming from, Molly? This side of her New York games are completely glossed over and ignored.
So what are we to take away from Molly’s Game? For one thing, you shouldn’t rush a book to meet a deadline. There were so many grammar issues and typos with the version I read that I had to wonder if anyone at Harper Collins actually read the thing before pushing “print”. It was obviously rushed to get out during the World Series of Poker, presumably to increase sales.
But I don’t think poker players were really the audience this book was written for. In all 262 pages, there is not even a single hand history. There is more poker in the average 2+2 trip report than in this book. I think the real audience are women in their twenties, thirties, and forties… living the type of “barefoot and pregnant” existence that Bloom rebels so hard against. The book offers the same type of escapism that I’d imagine can be found in titles like 50 Shades of Grey. But I don’t really know what can be found in titles like 50 Shades of Grey… because I’m a mid-thirties professional poker player and I don’t read shit like that unless it’s passed off as a poker book.
There are some loose ends that would have been tied up had Molly and the publisher waited even just a few short months to release Molly’s Game. When the book went to print, Molly Bloom had plead guilty to charges in New York but still hadn’t been sentenced. But even before the book hit the shelves, she had been given probation and 200 hours of community service (I strongly suspect the judge wouldn’t have been as lenient had he read her concluding paragraph). What a great ending it would have been had the book reflected the outcome, with the last scene describing Molly Bloom walking back into the same children’s cancer ward that she had quit to keep her poker game.I guess we’ll have to wait for the Lifetime movie.
The bottom line: Molly’s Game is light, easy reading that gives us an all-to-small peek into the high-stakes underground poker games in Los Angeles and New York. It baits readers with the unrealized promise of underbelly detail and switches that for exhausting accounts of shopping trips and relationship melodrama. It leaves the reader feeling a little bit empty and a lot bit disappointed. Molly Bloom comes off as slightly unlikeable, which is a tragedy because underneath the gloss there is a story of growth and change that has yet to be told… primarily because this book was probably released too early for the lessons to have sunk in.
- Breezy, light reading... quick to finish.
- Inside look at the Hollywood A-list poker game
- Tobey Maguire comes off as a creep.
- Painted over the bad parts.
- Not enough poker detail.
- Pointless and superficial.