A new TV show is aiming to shed light on the underground poker scene and show how the cards fall away from the glitz and glamour of the professional circuit.
Even though underground games have received some negative press in recent years, 99 Problems is aiming to win over TV executives and poker players alike.
By focusing on the grittier side of live poker and a culture that casual fans aren’t typically exposed to, creator Milad Rad wants to provide a more “authentic” product.
Exclusive Access to Underground Poker
CardsChat was given access to the pilot episode, and there were some undeniable similarities to Rounders. Using backroom settings and an array of colorful characters, the show aims to capture the spirit of poker on an amateur level.
Speaking exclusively to Rad, we dug a little deeper into his inspiration for 99 Problems, and how he wants it to connect with players.
“My inspiration for the show came when I was working in an underground poker club (Krukan Club) in Stockholm. At the time, there were five clubs competing with each other.
It was a battle to have the local monopoly. Every club wanted to have the best dealers because the best dealers attracted more players and, therefore, generated more action,” Rad told us.
With the dealers being hot commodities, competition wasn’t only rife among the clubs.
As the poker player and producer told us, everyone wanted to be known as the best dealer in town.
“We started an unofficial competition to find out who was the best dealer. We competed against each other in several ways. We wanted to know who the fastest dealer was, who could deal for 25 hours straight, who could offer the best customer service.
The dealer competition became a sport for us, and that led me to apply for a Guinness World Record. After receiving instructions on how to set up an official attempt, I dealt an entire deck in 15.7 seconds, beating the previous record of 20 seconds (see video above).
Unfortunately, due to the number of applications that year, Guinness didn’t publish the record. However, the achievement helped to boost my profile, and gave me the freedom to work in all the poker clubs and high-stakes games in Sweden,” explained Rad.
Inspiration No Problem for Rad
With his reputation set, Rad was able to see how poker was played at the highest levels on the underground scene. It was these experiences that led him to document what he saw and develop 99 problems.
“I was the only person that worked in all the poker clubs. I started writing down the all the strange incidents I witnessed, but that nobody talks about. These crazy stories, absurd poker hands, strange people, and unique competitions all went into 99 problems. It took me six years and more than 400 rewrites to finish the script,” said Rad.
From the general public’s perspective, underground poker games are a closed shop. Over the years, the only insights offered are when something goes wrong and police investigations take place.
For Rad, these games haven’t always been a haven for criminal activity. With a script ready and tales to tell, the next step was to produce a pilot. Such was his passion for the project that Rad made a risky play to finance his dream.
“There was nothing more I wanted to do than to shoot this pilot, that’s why I had to sell my house to finance the pilot,” Rad continued.
When asked why he was prepared to go to such extreme lengths, he told us there is a lack of “authenticity” in many poker movies.
Rad Makes Major Play for 99 Problems’ Success
Even though Rounders is regarded as a cult classic, many subsequent offerings haven’t hit the market. Rad doesn’t want to fall into the same category.
“Every time I saw a boring poker scene, I was disappointed as they don’t depict how people play poker today. That’s why we had to mix our actors with real poker players, and make it as authentic as possible.
That’s the key difference between 99 Problems and other poker movies and shows. We chose the poker community as our main target audience, and not necessarily people that don’t understand the game,” the show’s creator said.
Like any creative offering, 99 Problems is going to have its own problems. Poker players are notoriously protective of the game they love, not to mention naturally skeptical.
By his own admission, Rad is aiming for authenticity, but he also acknowledges a level of parody in his product. In the trailer above, shades of Breaking Bad have crept into the narrative as he tries to capture the raw emotions involved both in the game of poker, and the business of it.
In part two of our interview, we’ll touch more on Rad’s hopes for 99 Problems, what his next steps are, and offer up another a teaser.