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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