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From the dusty saloons with gunslingers of Spaghetti Western movies to the gritty and grimy underbelly locales of gangster movies to the higher social echelons of James Bond at the VIP casino tables, gambling has featured, time and again, in different forms in movies. But it’s all make-believe, right? We know that. Despite this, can there be a trace of realism in any of the most iconic silver screen scenes? Or better, can we take away any strategies from them that will work in real life?
In this article, we’ll be looking at what Poker scenes in movies teach us about the real game.
While any given round of poker can knock you off your feet and set you back with an unlucky hand, understanding that the best players spin the game out for as long as they can is vital. James Bond understood this in Casino Royale. Bond initially loses $5 million to his enemy Le Chiffre. He, then, makes a comeback after finding a new backer who grants him a new $5 million. He gets back at Le Chiffre with, what is considered, the most unrealistic poker hand to appear in a movie to date.
So, the takeaway here is that regardless of the ups and downs of luck, skill is the determining factor in the long run.
It’s a typical case scenario: someone is dealt a fairly decent hand and he gets overzealous too fast. He gets carried away with his wagers only to find out that his opponent had him beat all along. In Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, that’s what happens to Eddy. While it’s true to say that Harry “The Hatchet” is cheating as he has his men watching Eddy’s cards with a camera, Eddy fails to exercise caution, putting himself in a pinch that spirals down into the desperate measure of committing a heist alongside Vinnie Jones.
We’ve heard time and again the famous quote from The Art of War – know your enemy. While we don’t necessarily need to go as far as calling the person sitting across from us at the table “our enemy”, knowing your opponent is undoubtedly a key strategy. The more you get in their mind, the more you can manipulate them to call, fold, or bluff, even without mind-reading super powers!
Paul Newman knows this well in The Sting as he is playing the violent mobster and notorious cheater Doyle Lonnegan. A few sleights of hand and trick shuffling later, Newman has his dangerous opponent right under his thumb.
The gambler par excellence in the Wild West was Doc Holliday, most adequately represented by Val Kilmer in the ’93 Spaghetti Western classic piece Tombstone. Holliday sharp poker skills are only rivalled by his own unrestrained, fast-talking, verging on trash-talking, tendencies. As a result, there is escalated tension between the Earps and the violent cowboys.
The jargon for talking your way under your opponent’s skin is known as “needling”. This is acceptable within limits. But you need to know your limits! Taking it too far can backfire entirely if your players just up and leave.
Are you in the mood for a few hands of Poker yet? So, head over to a poker table and test your skills and luck. Who knows? Maybe you’ll come up with your own winning strategies that will take you a long way.