Teddy KGB – Meet One of the Most Famous Fictional Poker Players
Filmed in 1998 and starring Matt Damon, Rounders may not be on too many Hollywood top lists, but to this day, it remains the most popular mainstream movie about the world of poker players.
Mike McDermott, who is played by Matt Damon himself, is the main protagonist of the film and a character that many young poker players saw glimpses of themselves in.
However, I want to talk about another character altogether, the movie's main antagonist, Teddy KGB, who is played by the legendary John Malkovich.
Rounders came out several years before the poker boom, which means that players like Mike McDermott were still few and far between when it was filmed.
With online poker still not a thing and New York being a place where no legal casinos operate, poker players in the city were forced to play in private poker clubs that were often run by mobsters.
Teddy KGB is the ultimate mobster character, connected to the top of the Russian mafia in the US and a guy you certainly don’t want to mess with.
As much as Mike may be a character that many poker players can relate to, Teddy KGB is also the type of character you would certainly meet in the real world poker scene, especially a few decades ago.
But who exactly is Teddy KGB, and what is he really all about? Is Teddy a good poker player or just a common thug who happens to get lucky against Mikey early in the film? Let’s find out!
The World of Private Poker Games
To many poker players who were raised in the poker boom era and after it, the scenes from the movie Rounders may seem a bit nonsensical at times.
The games that Mike plays in are completely illegal, run by mobsters, and attended by thugs who don't take their losses too well.
You can easily tell this in the scenes in which Mike's friend Worm plays against the Russian mobsters in another private club in the city.
Yet, in many parts of the world and for many years, poker was exactly like this.
Even back in the 90s, poker was run legally in places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but you could only find illegal games in a place like New York.
As you would expect, illegal games are run by people who live on the brink of society, which means mafia and mobsters are going to be involved.
In fact, when mobsters run the games, you can always expect to see some of their friends sitting at the tables, and this is something that can hardly be avoided.
From all we see in the movie, Teddy KGB runs a relatively fair business, although loan-sharking is a big part of it, which, in fact, it would be in such a club.
When it comes to describing how underground poker games work, Rounders did a pretty good job.
I can tell you from personal experience that private games often look quite a bit like the ones in Rounders in many parts of the world these days.
Of course, poker has evolved in many ways, and the types of players who play the game these days are often quite different from the ones who used to play it back then.
For that reason, characters like Teddy KGB may not be such a big part of the poker scene these days. But I can assure you that they still exist in the poker community and are often quite prominent.
Teddy KGB as a Poker Player
When it comes to actually playing poker, I would say that Teddy KGB is also depicted quite realistically, as he sort of plays the exact style of poker you would expect him to.
What style of poker is that? Well, simply put, he plays terrible poker and makes fundamental mistakes that no one who knows the first thing about poker would make.
Teddy's entire poker game is based on live reads, getting into his opponent's head, and intimidation.
Don't get me wrong, these can all play a part in the game of poker but definitely can't be the basis of your game.
That said, quite a few live poker players, especially the “old school” ones, tend to play this way, which is exactly the reason they are not serious competitors against anyone who can play actual poker.
After looking over the hands he plays in the movie, you will realize that Teddy KGB is bad at pretty much everything you can be bad at in poker.
His raise and bet sizing is all over the place and very inconsistent, his hand selection is beyond silly, and his general approach to the game lacks even the basic principles that would make him a good poker player.
That said, he is not actually supposed to be a good poker player but rather a dangerous gangster that people are afraid to go up against.
That is, everyone is afraid until young Mike decides that Teddy is just another poker player and that he will build up his bankroll by playing him heads up.
As we know, things go from bad to worse for Mikey until he finally finds Teddy’s tell and turns things around to beat the Russian gangster and make his way to Las Vegas.
All that said, Teddy never really beats Mike by playing good poker, but rather by winning a few cooler hands that can’t be avoided. Let’s talk a bit about the famous hands Teddy plays in the movie.
Famous Teddy KGB Poker Hands
Now that I’ve talked about Teddy KGB as a person and as a poker player, let’s delve into a few of the poker hands he plays in the movie and think about just how he played them.
I want to start out with the hand in which Teddy takes Mike’s bankroll at the start of the movie and talk about all the reasons I think that hand got totally misinterpreted by the general public.
Except for this, I will also go into the hand in which Mike “discovers Teddy’s tell” and the final hand in which Mike wins big. Let’s get into it.
Hand #1 – Teddy’s AA vs. Mike’s A9
The first big poker hand we see in Rounders is one played at a ring game table, with Teddy and Mike joined by a few other players in a high stakes poker game, with blinds at $50/100.
Mike walks into the club with his entire bankroll and buys in for $30.000. Apparently, he builds that up to around $50,000 as that’s what he has to start this hand off.
The hand starts with Mike opening up the button with A♣9♣, a very standard play. Teddy has pocket aces in the big blind and decides to just call the $500 raise, which is definitely the wrong play.
They are playing very deep-stacked, and with Teddy having a wild reputation to begin with, it would only be right to make a big raise and represent that he is bluffing, as he so often does.
The flop now comes off A♠9♠8♣. Teddy KGB checks as he should, and Mike decides to overbet the pot and bet $2,000.
This is a smidge too big from a GTO perspective but probably not a terrible play against some bad live players who still won’t fold any draws to the overbet.
Teddy once again decides to just call, even though he could use this opportunity to finally starts building the pot. That said, the turn card does it for him as the 9♥ rolls off, giving both players a full house.
Both players check the turn, and Mike's check is definitely pretty standard given the board structure.
However, against someone like Teddy, betting once again could be reasonable as he would be likely to call with a draw despite the paired board.
The river is the 3♠, and this time around, Teddy KGB decides to bet $15,000 into $5,000. This is an insane overbet, and there were several better opportunities to build a big pot.
With his river overbet, Teddy really only gets called by other full houses and maybe occasionally by a flush, but the bet makes very little sense in the grand scheme of things.
The important thing to say here is that Mike’s shove over the $15k bet is still pretty standard with the second nuts, and there is no getting away from this hand, regardless of how it is played.
Later on in the movie, Mike will reference the hand and say how he was outplayed, but this is just a massive mistake in the script.
This hand is the definition of a “cooler,” and there is no reason to ever even try getting away from hands like this.
Instead, the only thing Mike did wrong was to put his entire bankroll on the table, as there is always a chance you will get coolered even if you are by far the best player at the table.
Hand #2 – Teddy’s 24 vs. Mike’s A5
The second Teddy KGB poker hand I want to talk about is the one in which Mike discovers Teddy's tell. As usual, Hollywood likes to show bad beats and coolers, and it does so again in this one.
In a hand shown earlier in the same session, Teddy folds to Mike’s preflop shove after opening up one of his Oreo cookies while just looking at it.
On this hand, we jump into the action on the flop with Mike holding A♥5♦ and the board reading Ac 5s 3d.
Mike has an absolute monster and, in reality, could never get away from this hand heads up.
However, he now notices Teddy do something, open up an Oreo after “listening” to it next to his ear as he opens it up.
Mike checks to Teddy KGB to start off, and once again, Teddy goes wild and bets about $5,000 into a pot of just $1,000.
With Mike only having about $5k behind, there is really nothing to do but call, but Mike decides that because of the tell he spotted, he is going to fold his top two.
He makes Teddy KGB for a flopped straight and says, “he doesn't want to draw against a maniac,” although drawing with two pair against a straight is not really a thing anyway.
In either case, this hand is another classic example of exaggeration.
Teddy should feel as if he has the nuts even if he had a hand like A3 or even AJ, given the situation, and a hand like 53 is also in his range (considering 42 is).
However, Mike finds a way to put Teddy on the stone-cold nuts and fold his monster. In the process, he also tips off that he knows Teddy's unmistakable poker tell, which is a TERRIBLE idea.
Given his small stack and the fact that he can now tell exactly when Teddy has a monster or when he has draws, he should silently fold his cards and keep playing and using the tell whenever he can.
Hand #3 – Mike’s 98 vs. Teddy’s XX
This final hand of the movie starts off with Mike opening the small blind (old school heads up) with 9♠8♠ and Teddy calling with two cards we don’t get to see.
The pot is now just $400, and Mike flops a straight on the 6♦7♠10♥ board. Mike checks his straight, which is a little unorthodox given that he’s the preflop raiser.
For whatever reason, Teddy now decides to overbet the pot significantly and bet $2,000 into just $400. Quite the opposite of when he was not raising it up when he had the nuts in the AA hand.
Mike calls and says “he'll gamble,” which Teddy, for some reason, takes at face value. He then rolls over the 2♦ on the turn, which means Mike's straight is still the nuts.
After Mike’s check, Teddy KGB now bets the pot, $4,400. Mike once again just check-calls and we go to the river, which is the A♠.
Mike checks for the third time and manages to induce the bluff shove from Teddy, which he snaps off with his straight, ending the match.
Once again, Teddy KGB shows his inaptitude for the game. He allowed Mike to trap him and bet way too big on every single street while holding presumably nothing but pure air.
Him believing Mike for his word when he said he was drawing is a beginner’s mistake, and the excess aggression in this hand cost him the whole match and his stack.
Teddy KGB – A Legendary of the Poker World
The movie Rounders is by far the most iconic poker film out there, and it is one that portrays a relatively realistic image of the poker scene in NYC in the 90s.
As one of the main characters in the movie, Teddy KGB has become a legendary part of poker folklore, with Teddy KGB quotes often used by players across the world in table chit-chat and referred to by popular poker content creators like Doug Polk.
Love him or hate him, Teddy KGB is a character that won't go away from poker players' minds anytime soon.
Poker players around the world are still hoping that Rounders 2 will be made so we could get some more of Teddy KGB and enjoy some more interesting, even if possibly not very realistic, poker hands.