EXCLUSIVE: STX Entertainment is on the verge of making the first big-money deal of the Cannes Film Festival market. It is in exclusive negotiations to pay around $9 million for U.S. and China rights to Molly’s Game, with Aaron Sorkin directing and Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba starring. Sorkin wrote the script based on the Molly Bloom memoir and signed on to make his directing debut when his Steve Jobs producer Mark Gordon optioned the book in late 2014.

eOne and The Mark Gordon Company are financing, and Gordon is producing the film with Pascal Pictures’ Amy Pascal. Leopoldo Gout is exec producer.

Jessica Chastain Idris ElbaTalk had swirled that STX was one of several sitting at this poker table with big chip on the table. Paramount Pictures (which often buys big packages here that included the Denise Villenueve-directed Story Of My Life), was said to be another. But STX will likely emerge with another big, smart picture that will help define its mandate to make tasteful films with breakout potential for reasonable budgets. This film falls in the $30 millon range. The script is long, and buyers read it before the bidding started. It’s quintessential Sorkin, who is coming off Steve Jobs and whose other top-notch writing includes everything from A Few Good Men to The West Wing and The Social Network and Moneyball.

Sorkin sparked to Bloom’s unlikely life story for his directing debut. Bloom, a beautiful, young Olympic-class skier, ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Her players included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and finally, unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob. Her only ally becomes her criminal defense lawyer, who learns that there’s much more to Molly than the tabloids lead us to believe. Elba just signed on before Cannes.

The market has been a bit slow so far, but I have found that after the first big deal occurs, a lot more follow in its wake. Coming in, this was expected to be the title that would likely create the most sparks. Molly’s Game is being sold here by CAA and WME Global for domestic, while Sierra/Affinity handles international territories. Entertainment One will distribute the pic in Canada, the UK, Australia/New Zealand, Benelux and Spain. Attempts to reach STX were unavailing.

Stay tuned.