Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is a law student who drives delivery to pay the bills who is in a stable relationship with a pretty, young fellow student (Gretchen Mol). A scant few months before, Mike made his money playing cards, ultimately losing his savings in a single pot to a skilled Russian player nicknamed KGB (John Malkovich). Although that incident prompted him to swear off card playing, Mike rejoins the ranks of "rounders" when an old buddy nicknamed Worm (Edward Norton) gets out of jail and needs to make some quick money to pay off old debts. Unfortunately, Worm doesn’t always play "straight up", preferring to deal from the bottom of the deck whenever he thinks he can get away with it. This lands the pair in trouble, and makes very difficult their need to earn $15,000 in five days.
"Rounders" is a likeable film with likable performances from each of its leads. It fails to achieve greatness, though, because of the predictable nature of its plot. One quickly gets a feel for when our hero is going to win at times and why he is going to lose at others. The interaction between the characters, however, is quite good and has the ring of truth to it. Although I often flashed to the similarly-themed Martin Scorsese movie "The Color of Money", "Rounders" does eventually establish its own particular niche. Instead of being a primer on how to gamble, it comes off as a cautionary example of why not to.