Category Archives: Movies

Movie Posts

Although poker frowns upon Hollywooding, Hollywood certainly loves poker. Of course, we’d prefer quality over quantity, but we’ll take what we can get.

Before the three popular posts about the first and last hands from Rounders and the last hand of Casino Royale, the Hold ‘Em at Home blog actually kicked off with Mike McDermott’s explanation of Texas Hold ‘Em in Rounders, and the M and Q article couldn’t help referencing the two James Bond characters while actually discussing Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker.

Stan’s Lists have tackled movies in three different ways. Movie Taglines noted eighteen films that were about poker or just sounded like they were; Poker Movies listed Stan’s favorite poker movies and documentaries; and Poker Movie Scenes listed his favorite scenes, even if the movies otherwise had nothing to do with poker.

Of course, if Rounders 2 ever gets made, it’ll fill this blog for months…

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Stan’s Lists – Poker Movie Scenes


[LL] “Pretty much every poker game in the world is now played with table stakes1“, Leroy the Lion commented. “So why do all these stupid movie scenes go the Wild West ‘bet-your-life-savings-if-you-want’ route?”2 [Casino Royale works around this cutely with the car keys] [Movies set in the Wild West get a pass, I guess]

[RR] “Too many scenes with cheating,3 too”, Roderick the Rock added.

[SS] “It’s pretty sad for Hollywood that ridiculously unlikely monster hands4 only rank as their third biggest poker sin”,5 suggested Stan the Stat.

[LL] “I understand that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public, but it truly is insulting…”

[RR] “But in Hollywood, every car that crashes explodes, too.”

[SS] “After disqualifying all the hands that had non-table stakes, cheating, or monster hands (and sometimes all three), it was fairly easy to select my top ten movie poker scenes (although I limited Rounders to two scenes, when it could have had more):”

The Best Poker Movie Scenes (in alphabetical order)

Movie Scene (video link) Year (IMDB) Scene Description6
California Split 1974 The movie starts with an explanation of some poker etiquette as they play 5-card draw lowball in a casino.
Casino Royale 2006 James Bond (Daniel Craig) plays Texas Hold ‘Em in a Bahamas casino.
The Cincinnati Kid 1965 The title character Eric Stoner (Steve McQueen) plays 5-card stud.
Cool Hand Luke 1967 The title character (Paul Newman) plays dollar-limit 5-card stud against other prisoners.
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story 2003 No Limit Hold ‘Em is explained and played as a savvy pro makes some moves.
In Time 2011 Texas Hold ‘Em players bet a portion of time from their lives instead of money.
Lucky You 2007 L.C. Cheever (Robert Duvall) gives his son Huck (Eric Bana) a Texas Hold ‘Em lesson in a diner.
Maverick 1994 Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) meets and plays poker with Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster) for the first time; says he’ll lose for the first hour to get Angel (Alfred Molina) to let him play.
Rounders 1998 Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) reads all the hands in the judges’ game of 7-card stud.
Rounders 1998 Mike McDermott and some of his fellow grinders feast on the tourists and businessmen in Atlantic City.

Footnotes:

  1. Table stakes mean that players can only bet the chips and money they have visible on the table.
  2. Non-table stakes examples: The Cincinnati Kid and Honeymoon in Vegas.
  3. Cheating examples: The Lady Eve, Lucky You (collusion), Shade, The Sting, and Trinity Is Still My Name (hilarious though).
  4. Monster hand examples: Casino Royale, Dreamgirls, Ocean’s Eleven, and The Parent Trap.
  5. Other Hollywood annoyances: string bets and raises, splashing the pot, discussing the current hand out loud, and slowrolling.
  6. Some scene spoilers (highlight to see): : in the Casino Royale scene, Bond wins his famous car (Aston Martin) as the car keys on the table are allowed to be bet, cleverly working around the table stakes rule. The Cincinnati Kid makes a great read, calling an overbet with just a pair of Eights, beating a pair of Sixes. The Cool Hand Luke scene is the one that gave the movie its title, as the hero bluffs out the winning hand. In the Stu Ungar scene, the veteran cleverly agrees to show one of his hole cards for a chip on a 7332 board (he has 72, so the young guy assumes he has a full house). In the In Time scene, Salas gambles on an inside straight draw and hits on the river to get paid off just before his time expires. In the Maverick scene, the title character keeps to his word, using the hour to spot everyone’s tells.

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Stan’s Lists – Poker Movies


[RR] “You guys want to join us for Gutshot Straight?”1 Roderick the Rock asked.

[FF] “The new Steven Seagal poker movie?” Figaro the Fish inquired.

[LL] “Yeah”, Leroy the Lion confirmed. “We’re going to catch the midnight showing at the cineplex on Sunday night.”

[FF] “Sure. I can always sleep at work.”

[RR] “Isn’t that technically Monday at midnight?”

[LL] “I consider it the same day until I’ve gone to sleep and woken up.”

[SS] “I’m in”, Stan the Stat volunteered. “Haven’t seen a good poker movie in a while.”

[RR] “What do you consider to be a good poker movie?”

[SS] “Pretty much anything that revolves around poker, as opposed to a movie with just have a random poker scene or two.”

[LL] “And of course, you have a list?”

[SS] “You know me too well. It wasn’t much of a list a decade ago, but we’re in the prime of poker movies. My ten favorite poker movies, sorted alphabetically rather than ranked; Rounders would be number one by far:”2

The Best Poker Movies

Movie (IMDB link) Year Poker Summary
California Split 1974 Bill Denny (George Segal) and Charlie Waters (Elliott Gould) team up to gamble and have fun but go broke; pawning all their possessions, they head for the big poker game in Reno.
Casino Royale 2006 James Bond (Daniel Craig) plays in a $10,000,000 buy-in Texas Hold ‘Em tournament with the terrorist banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen).
The Cincinnati Kid 1965 The title character Eric Stoner (Steve McQueen) plays high stakes stud against the old master Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson).
Deal 2008 Retired poker pro Tommy Vinson (Burt Reynolds) trains hotshot Alex Stillman (Bret Harrison) then unretires and faces him in the WPT championship.
The Grand 2007 One Eyed Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson) and others improv their way through a poker tournament.
Lucky You 2007 Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) tries to beg, borrow, and steal $10,000 to play in the WSOP Main Event. Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore) is a love interest and victim.
Maverick 1994 The title character (Mel Gibson) tries to win a $25,000 buy-in, winner-take-all, 5-card draw poker tournament in the Wild West.
Poker Night 2014 Policeman Stan Jeter (Beau Mirchoff) plays poker with other cops, gets locked in a basement with a young girl by a psychopath (Ron Perlman), and needs to use what he learned at the poker table to escape.
Rounders 1998 Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is studying to become a lawyer, but his heart belongs to poker. He and buddy Lester Murphy (Edward Norton) play in a variety of games to try to settle the Worm’s poker debts.
Shade 2003 A group of small-time con artists try for a big score in a poker game.

[SS] “The past decade has also seen the release of a number of poker documentaries:”

The Best Poker Documentaries

Documentary (IMDB link) Year Summary
All In: The Poker Movie 2009 The post-Moneymaker poker boom with interviews of many poker pros.
Bet Raise Fold 2013 Online poker from the early 2000s through Black Friday as seen through three poker players.
Drawing Dead: The Highs & Lows of Online Poker 2013 Poker perspectives from a successful online pro and a struggling gambling addict.
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story 2003 The story of the 3-time WSOP Main Event champion, flashing back from his death bed.
No Limit: A Search for the American Dream on the Poker Tournament Trail 2006 The real-life story of a young couple trying to make it playing high-stakes tournament poker.3

Footnotes:

  1. Gutshot Straight is rumored to be debuting in U.S. theaters on September 1, 2014. {Update 9/1/14: alas, the release didn’t happen, so the wait continues. Update 11/25/14: finally debuting on December 2, 2014.}
  2. At least until Rounders 2 comes out.
  3. This film also deserves a footnote in the Poker Reality Television Shows post.

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Rounders Last Hand

[RR] “Heads-up has so much more psychology than full-table games”, Roderick the Rock asserted. “After enough hands, you can really get inside your opponent’s head, and in the last hand in Rounders, Mike pretty much understood Teddy perfectly and was able to use his aggression against him.”

[AA] “Well, it’s always nice to flop the nuts”, Al the Almost diverted, “but the key was extracting maximum value from his straight, which, having minraised preflop1, he did by checking the flop, turn, and river.”

[RR] “Teddy might have bet that way with almost any two cards, but I think he had a real hand, probably a set of some sort, and quite possibly a set of Aces, as he claimed, ‘That ace could not have helped you’.”

[AA] “Since he’d been playing so aggressively, he might think that Mike could put him on almost any two cards there and call with just a pair. And Mike’s actual holding seemed pretty unlikely to Teddy, so he expected to win the hand almost every time, whether Mike folded or not.”

[RR] “As much as the movie helped fuel the Texas Hold ‘Em boom, it’s unfortunate that it also portrayed string bets, pot splashing, temper tantrums, and cheating without nearly enough discouragement of those actions from the hero.”

[AA] “It was a movie, not a training video.2 I’m sure Miss Manners Guide to Etiquette at the Poker Table is a best-seller at Amazon.”

Footnotes:

  1. KGB was dealing and must have called from the small blind, although that isn’t shown.
  2. We covered Table Manners a few months ago.

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Flash replayer version of the hand (estimated chip stacks)

Full Tilt Poker formatted version, suitable for inputting into various poker analysis tools

Full Tilt Poker Game #0000010022: Table Teddy KGB's Place - 50/100 - No Limit Hold'em - 00:01:01 EDT - 1998/09/11
Seat 1: McDermott (41,400)
Seat 2: KGB (18,600)
McDermott posts the big blind of 100
KGB posts the small blind of 50
The button is in seat #2
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to McDermott [9s 8s]
KGB calls 50
McDermott raises to 200
KGB calls 100
*** FLOP *** [6d 7s Th]
McDermott checks
KGB bets 2,000
McDermott calls 2,000
*** TURN *** [6d 7s Th] [2c]
McDermott checks
KGB bets 4,400
McDermott calls 4,400
*** RIVER *** [6d 7s Th 2c] [As]
McDermott checks
KGB bets 12,000, and is all in
McDermott calls 12,000
*** SHOW DOWN ***
McDermott shows [9s 8s] straight, Nine high
KGB mucks
McDermott wins the pot (37,200) with straight, Nine high
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 37,200 | Rake 0
Board: [6d 7s Th 2c As]
Seat 1: McDermott (button) showed [9s 8s] and won (37,200) with straight, Nine high
Seat 2: KGB (big blind) mucked

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Rounders First Hand

[RR] Roderick the Rock reported back to Al the Almost, “I finally got around to watching Rounders1 again, and I definitely enjoyed it more the second time around, even though I knew how it would end. Maybe it’s because I know how to play Hold ‘Em better now.”

[AA] “Watch it a couple dozen more times like I have, then you can really understand its brilliance”, Al insisted.

[RR] “What I certainly appreciate more now then fifteen years ago was that the poker hands weren’t over-the-top straight flush vs. four Aces hands like other in most other movies.”2

[AA] “Yep, the biggest hand they showed was only a full house. Realistic.”

[RR] “That first hand against Teddy KGB seemed far-fetched to me when I saw it in the movie theater, but now I realize that it was just an unavoidable cooler.”

[AA] “Zeebo’s Theorem.3 Especially four-handed, there’s no way Mike can fold his full house. With A♣9♣, he raised from the button preflop and got called by Teddy in the big blind. Overbet his top two pair on the A♠9♠8♣ flop to make it look like a continuation bet and steal attempt. Slowplayed by checking behind on the 9♥ turn, which gave him his boat. And then bet and reraised all in on the harmless 3♠ river, which he hoped gave Teddy a flush.”

[RR] “The betting was too big — double reverse psychology or whatnot — but there’s no way to get away from a big loss there… unless he’s spotted a reliable tell.”

[AA] “Ah yes, the tell. People complained that no pro-caliber poker player would have such a blatant tell, but we’ll call that artistic license. If all Teddy did was twitch his nose, it would have been too subtle for most viewers to notice. I forgive them for the exaggeration.”

[RR] “What was far worse than the tell was Mike showing off his cards when he could have mucked them after folding because of the tell.”

[AA] “Yeah, laying down two pairs on the flop heads-up is pretty extreme. He might as well have admitted that he’d spotted the Oreo-eating tell, and Teddy didn’t take long to figure that out and smash his cookie rack against the wall. But Mike’s narration explains his rationale, claiming that the tilt factor was worth more than the tell.”

[RR] “Except that a good poker player shouldn’t be that easy to unhinge.”

[AA] “Maybe Mike expected Teddy to realize it out on his own anyway at some point. Rather than depending on a tell that could become unreliable and cost him a lot of money, he cashed it in for what he could get right then and there.”

Footnotes:

  1. Al and Rod previously discussed Rounders in The Basics of Texas Hold ‘Em.
  2. For example, The Most Famous Hold ‘Em Hand.
  3. See the previous discussion of Zeebo’s Theorem.

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Flash replayer version of the full house hand (estimated chip stacks)

Full Tilt Poker formatted version, suitable for inputting into various poker analysis tools

Full Tilt Poker Game #0000000022: Table Teddy KGB's Place - 100/200 - No Limit Hold'em - 00:00:01 EDT - 1998/09/11
Seat 1: McDermott (50,500)
Seat 2: Player3 (21,000)
Seat 3: KGB (62,500)
Seat 4: Player4 (16,000)
Player3 posts the small blind of 100
KGB posts the big blind of 200
The button is in seat #1
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to McDermott [Ac 9c]
Player4 folds
McDermott raises to 500
Player3 folds
KGB calls 300
*** FLOP *** [As 9s 8c]
KGB checks
McDermott bets 2,000
KGB calls 2,000
*** TURN *** [As 9s 8c] [9h]
KGB checks
McDermott checks
*** RIVER *** [As 9s 8c 9h] [3s]
KGB bets 15,000
McDermott raises to 48,000, and is all in
KGB calls 33,000
*** SHOW DOWN ***
McDermott shows [Ac 9c] full house, Nines over Aces
KGB shows [Ad Ah] full house, Aces over Nines
KGB wins the pot (101,100) with full house, Aces over Nines
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 101,100 | Rake 0
Board: [As 9s 8c 9h 3s]
Seat 1: McDermott (big blind) showed [Ac 9c] and lost with full house, Nines over Aces
Seat 2: Player3 didn't bet (folded)
Seat 3: KGB (button) showed [Ac 6h] and won (101,100) with full house, Aces over Nines
Seat 4: Player4 (small blind) didn't bet (folded)

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The Most Famous Hold ‘Em Hand

[EE] Elias the Eagle interrupted the clacking of chips, “You guys ever see the comedy version of ‘Casino Royale’?”

[SS] A mixture of yeses and nos came from around the table before Stan the Stat grumbled, “It couldn’t have been any worse than the Daniel Craig version!”

[EE] “Well, it had the original Bond girl, Ursula Andress, and lots of great actors: Peter Sellers, David Niven, and even Orson Welles and Woody Allen. Not a usual 007 movie (non-canonical, I think they call it), but I liked it.”

[EE] “But why didn’t you like the remake?”

[SS] “Are you kidding me? The Texas Hold ‘Em hands kept getting more and more ridiculous until the final hand set a new cinematic low for improbability.”

[EE] “It was a James Bond movie! His whole existence is based on the unlikely meeting the unimaginable striking the inconceivable (oops, sorry, wrong film1).”

[EE] “The 1967 version featured baccarat (or rather Chemin de Fer) from the Ian Fleming novel. Modernizing that completely boring, skill-forsaken betting game to Hold ‘Em, allowed for more complexity, excitement, and suspense.”

[SS] Stan objected, “But c’mon, that last hand…”.

[EE] “Let me find it”, Elias interrupted. A moment later, he had the hand summary on his iPhone screen.

[EE] “The movie picks up the action with 24 million already in the pot and an A♥8♠6♠ flop showing on the board. The turn is the 4♠, and all four players remaining in the tournament check.”

[EE] “The river is the A♠, and Bond checks. Fukutu bets 6 million, all in, Infante calls with 1 million less, and the antagonist LeChiffre minraises to 12 million. Bond thinks a bit then reraises all in for 40.5 million. LeChiffre considers, but not for long, before calling for all his chips (Bond had him outchipped by a million).”

[EE] “Fukutu2 flips over the K♠Q♠ for the nut flush. Infante excitedly tops him with 8♣8♥ for a full house, Eights over Aces. Then LeChiffre reveals a bigger boat with A♣6♥ for Aces over Sixes. Finally, Bond completely unsurprisingly shows the 7♠5♠ for the Eight-high straight flush and the win.”

[SS] “Horrible poker.”

[EE] “Look at it more closely, it wasn’t as bad as you think. Let’s go back through the action now that we know everyone’s hole cards. We’ll have to fill in a few gaps that the movie skipped over, starting with presuming that the blinds were 750,000/1,500,000 (500,000/1,000,000 would also work).”

[EE] “Two players are running low on chips, Fukutu with 12 million and Infante with 11 million, LeChiffre has 45 and a half million, and Bond has a million more than that. If Infante and LeChiffre both limped in front of him, Bond but could reasonably limp with his Group 6 suited, one-gapper, with Fukutu checking his option after. Any objections?”

[SS] “Infante should have been in jam or fold3 mode. He’s too short to set-mine.”

[EE] “Maybe there’s been a lot of limping, so he’s pretty sure he can see the flop for cheap.”

[EE] “Anyway, with 6 million in the pot, the flop is A♥8♠6♠. First to act, Bond has a killer draw, with 2 outs to a straight flush, 7 to a flush, and 6 to a straight, but he may have checked planning to check-raise. Fukutu has the second nut flush draw, so he may have checked hoping for a free turn. Infante has a set of Eights and charges the draws with a bet of three-fourths of the pot (4,500,000). Each player can reasonably call that, with Bond aborting his check-raise because of the call in front, since his fold vig is now almost zero.”

[SS] “Fukutu should have shoved.”

[EE] “Maybe, but he’d definitely get called, so he’d be risking the rest of his chips for what…”

[SS] “At best a 9-outer (35%); worse as it turns out.”

[EE] “With 24 million in the pot, the turn is the 4♠, improving both Bond and LeChiffre, yet all four players check. Bond has the obvious slowplay with the unbeatable nuts. Fukutu also checks despite hitting the second nut flush; not a terrible play given that his remaining stack is only a fourth of the pot, so a raise wouldn’t necessarily fold anyone. Infante still has just a set, so his check with a possible flush out there is reasonable. And LeChiffre still has just his two pairs, so his check is good.”

[SS] “No problem with those plays.”

[EE] “The river is the most exciting card in the deck, the A♠. Bond continues his slowplay with a check. Fukutu has upgraded to the nut flush and pushes in his remaining 6 million. Infante has filled up, so calling with his remaining 5 million is clear. LeChiffre’s minraise here is solid. He’s only losing to the A8, for a better boat, and the unlikely straight flush. Up until now, Bond has done nothing but limp, check, and call, so when he shoves all-in for about two-thirds of the pot, LeChiffre has a fairly easy call to make.”

[SS] “Incredibly unlikely hands.”

[EE] “Standard artistic license for any movie, let alone a 007 thriller. We don’t see much of the tournament’s action, so we know little about the players’ styles except that they all seem to like tricky play. In isolation, each of the checks, bets, raises, and calls appears defensible.”

[TT] “I’m still rather Fond / Of typical Bond / With fiction beyond / The conner gets conned”, concluded Tyrone.4

Footnotes:

  1. One of the all-time funniest movies for all ages, although it’s disguised as a children’s bedtime story, is The Princess Bride.
  2. Casinos can have their own rules about which order players reveal their hole cards, but the order here is for maximal dramatic effect.
  3. A future post will cover the very short stack strategy known as jam or fold.
  4. If you have any hands that you’ve played (they don’t have to be against THETA Poker Pro) that you want to share, please email them to hands@thetapoker.com. Good reads, bad beats, interesting stories, and more are all welcome!

Flash replayer version of the hand:

Full Tilt Poker formatted version, suitable for inputting into various poker analysis tools:

Full Tilt Poker Game #0000000123: $10,000,000 + $0 Casino Royale (000001), Table 1 - 750000/1500000 - No Limit Hold'em - 00:00:01 GMT - 2006/11/17
Seat 1: Fukutu (12,000,000)
Seat 2: Infante (11,000,000)
Seat 3: LeChiffre (45,500,000)
Seat 4: Bond (46,500,000)
Bond posts the small blind of 750,000
Fukutu posts the big blind of 1,500,000
The button is in seat #3
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Bond [7s 5s]
Infante calls 1,500,000
LeChiffre calls 1,500,000
Bond calls 750,000
Fukutu checks
*** FLOP *** [Ah 8s 6s]
Bond checks
Fukutu checks
Infante bets 4,500,000
LeChiffre calls 4,500,000
Bond calls 4,500,000
Fukutu calls 4,500,000
*** TURN *** [Ah 8s 6s] [4s]
Bond checks
Fukutu checks
Infante checks
LeChiffre checks
*** RIVER *** [Ah 8s 6s 4s] [As]
Bond checks
Fukutu bets 6,000,000, and is all in
Infante calls 5,000,000, and is all in
LeChiffre raises to 12,000,000
Bond raises to 40,500,000, and is all in
LeChiffre calls 27,500,000
Uncalled bet of 1,000,000 returned to Bond
*** SHOW DOWN ***
Fukutu shows [Ks Qs] flush, Ace high
Infante shows [8c 8h] full house, Eights over Aces
LeChiffre shows [Ac 6h] full house, Aces over Sixes
Bond shows [7s 5s] straight flush, Eight high
Bond wins the pot (71,000,000) with straight flush
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 71,000,000 | Rake 0
Board: [Ah 8s 6s 4s As]
Seat 1: Fukutu (big blind) showed [Ks Qs] and lost with flush, Ace high
Seat 2: Infante showed [8c 8h] and lost with full house, Eights over Aces
Seat 3: LeChiffre (button) showed [Ac 6h] and lost with full house, Aces over Sixes
Seat 4: Bond (small blind) showed [7s 5s] and won (71,000,000) with straight flush, Eight high

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The Basics of Texas Hold ‘Em – Rounders Quote

Al the Almost was among the first to arrive, so as he helped Roderick the Rock set up, they got talking about their favorite movies.

[AA] “Rounders is my all-time number one movie by a mile. It came out in 1998, five years before Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker, so Rounders can take a lot of credit for helping fuel the Texas Hold ‘Em boom. I’ve seen it so many times, I can quote most of the movie by heart. Like when Mike McDermott narrates how the game works {Al goes into his best Matt Damon impersonation}:

No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em is the Cadillac of poker1.

Each player is dealt two cards face down.

Five cards are then dealt face up across the middle.

These are community cards everyone can use to make the best five card hand.

He could have added that two forced bets, the small blind and the big blind, are made before the deal, and betting rounds follow the deal, the three-card flop, the one-card turn, and the one-card river. But that’s pretty much it for the major rules2. Truly a “minute-to-learn, lifetime-to-master” game.

The key to the game is playing the man, not the cards.

Bet an eight-ball3.

There’s no other game in which fortunes can change so much from hand to hand4.

A brilliant player can get a strong hand cracked, go on tilt5

and lose his mind along with every single chip in front of him.

This is why the World Series of Poker is decided over a No-Limit Hold ‘Em table.

Some people, pros even, won’t play No-Limit.

They can’t handle the swings.

But there are others, like Doyle Brunson, who consider No-Limit the only pure game left.

[RR] Roderick had just finished setting out the last of the chips and could only gasp at Al’s memory, “Man, I gotta watch that movie again now.”

Footnotes:

  1. Doyle Brunson, one of the original inventors of Texas Hold ‘Em, is credited with this quote.
  2. If you’re a neophyte, here’s a somewhat longer but still brief explanation of the rules.
  3. An eight-ball, from the obvious pool analogy, is $800.
  4. McDermott clearly never played Guts with someone like Viktor Blom ;-).
  5. Play too emotionally. Pinball manufacturers added a tilt detector to their machines when players started saving balls from draining by jerking the cabinet around violently.

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