The recent death of Kenny Rogers got us thinking about his incredible album and movie ‘The Gambler’. As far as poker-related cinematic releases go, Rogers’ effort is one of the best-known in history. But that also got us to thinking about other poker moments in film and, well, let’s just say that Hollywood has had more than its fair share of scenes on the felt.
Whether it’s KGB’s tell in Rounders, that Casino Royale scene, or the many scenes in Big Hand for Little Lady, the game of poker has played an integral role in plotlines on the silver screen for decades. But before we get to those epic moments, what about poker on the small screen?
Poker on TV
Poker also made it onto the small screen within the hugely popular HBO series Deadwood. The murder of Wild Bill at the poker table while playing Dead Man’s Hand is a pivotal moment in the series. The great things about this scene are that it’s as much about the background as it is about the actual game being played.
Remember that show back in the 90s and early 00s called Friends? Yep, sure you do, but what about the poker episode? You probably forgot all about it, right? The episode rather comically suggests that anyone can master the game with just a little practice. Laughable we know, but it’s still a great watch.
If you’re looking for laughs and poker on TV then you’re in luck, because there’s also that Curb your Enthusiasm episode where Larry manages to offend everyone at the table. Or you could watch the Kevin Hart’s take on that Casino Royale scene in What Now?
For us though, the silver screen is where poker has its true home on film, so let’s take a look at those epic moments.
Rounders – Spotting Teddy KGB’s tell
The last scene in Rounders is nothing short of cinematic genius. Matt Damon’s character Mike is playing the game of his life in an attempt to help his childhood friend get out of debt. His nemesis throughout the movie is Jon Malkovich’s character Teddy KGB. Teddy was the one who destroyed Mike previously and was the main cause for his leaving the tables.
As Mike returns to aid his friend, we come to that final scene where it’s all on the line. Mike has somehow spotted Teddy’s tell with the Oreos and the game is up. But not before Mike has some fun and ups the ante. Of course, Mike wins, Teddy loses the plot, and we all leave the cinema wanting to take up the game and hit the nearest casino as soon as possible. Excellent writing and directing.
Casino Royale – The poker scene
If ever you wanted a taste of how true high rollers roll, then this is the movie to watch. Bond sets the scene with his various interactions with the other characters throughout the earlier parts of the movie. 007 looks to be a careless player intent on losing all the money he has. It’s a great set up and what we could call a bluff of the highest order. But unknown to the villain Le Chiffre, Bond has been studying his moves.
In the final poker scene, the pot gets to over $120 million. Not quite what you would call small change. Each player looks convinced that they have the winning hand and Bond is dismissed as a chump who doesn’t know when to quit.
As each player reveals a pretty strong hand, the tension is unbearable. Le Chiffre has just about topped the other players with his Ace of Clubs and 6 of Hearts, but Bond has a surprise. The only possible winning hand is a straight flush and what do you know, that’s exactly what Bond has.
Let’s hope the next Bond movie has something equally as tense in store for us.
Big Hand for the Little Lady – The final hand
Way back in 1966, Henry Fonda and Joanne Woodward starred in what would become one of the most talked-about twists in cinema for decades. The plot revolves around a drunken gambler who bets the family savings on a game of poker. His wife finds out and is distraught. But when the man collapses and dies at the table, his wife is invited to finish the hand or lose the savings.
She duly obliges and what follows is nothing short of perfection as the cliché bad guys around the table get the surprise of their lives. We’ll let you watch it for yourselves.
Lock, Stock, and Two Smokin’ Barrels – Eddy loses it all
This one is a particular favourite, after all, who doesn’t love a Guy Ritchie flick? He just has a way with directing that reels you in hook, line, and sinker. Okay, enough with the figures of speech, what about the poker scene?Hatchet Harry has our hero Eddy in his sights and that’s not such a bad thing, as Eddy is a phenomenal poker player. However, Harry is a low down cheat who has cameras on Eddy’s hand. It gets down to the last two players at the table and Eddy, although confident that he can beat Harry, has nothing left to call his opponent. Harry offers to lend Eddy the money and as you know, this is when the alarm bells should have rang true in Eddy’s mind. But he takes the bait and loses it all. What follows is a great sequence with a killer tune.
Maverick – The first poker scene
Yes, you may be thinking that the final scene of Mel Gibson’s 1996 movie is as good as it gets, but the first scene really sets the tone for the rest of the film. Gibson’s Maverick is seen as a bit of a fool by the others at the table. He promises to never cheat or bluff and even suggests that he will lose for the first hour of the game.
He even goes so far as to show his opponents his cards! The fun really starts when he wins his first hand at the table and his opponent (a gunfighter) refuses to accept defeat. Mayhem ensues and the guns come out. It’s not quite the poker scene you’re expecting, but like that Friends episode we mentioned earlier, it’s great fun to watch.
Honorable mentions go to The Sting, Cool Hand Luke, Ocean’s Eleven, and Tombstone. Now, that’s your poker-related film content sorted for at least a few weeks!