Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on December 30, 2012
I play weekly poker games, and for the last game of the year – one that we played three scant days ago – I saw my triple-digit potential winnings whittled down to almost nothing, and it all happened in the last hand of the night. Emotions ran high, and there was a lot of chaos and commotion. Adding insult to injury, there is still some dispute as to the particulars of the evening that have not been completely settled. In honor of the five winning cards that (should have) split the pot, I’ve decided to revisit five winning hands committed to celluloid.
The following films are simply the first that come to mind where I remember nice build-ups to the winning hand. My hope is that this will prime the pump for other card-carrying contenders favored by readers who might care to chime in.
The winning hand:
Winner’s line: “You owe me 15 grand, pal.”
Loser’s response (later to confidante): “”What was I supposed to do? Call him for cheating better than me in front of the others?!”
Hint: One of the most beloved films about both gambling and cheating.
Moral of the story: Don’t bullsh-t a bullsh-tter, especially when that bullsh-tter is wayyy better at that whole bulsh-tting thing.
Next winning hand:
Winner’s line: “I flopped the nut straight.” (Unseen are the six of diamonds, the seven of clubs, and the ten of hearts.)
Loser’s response: “This son of beech all night he chick-chick-chick, he tripped me!”
Hint: This film is often cited as the reason for the surge in popularity for Texas Hold’em.
Moral of the story: Over-the-top Russian accents can add a lot of campy fun to tense proceedings.
Next winning hand:
Winner’s line: “You’re good kid. But as long as I’m around you’re second best, you might as well learn to live with it.”
Loser’s response: “I’m through.” (True enough, he even loses the penny-ante game that follows with a real kid.)
Hint: You already have it the lines above.
Moral of the story: “It’s about making the wrong move at the right time.”
Next winning hand:
Winner’s line: (Steely-eyed silence)
Loser’s response: (Stomps off in a huff.)
Hint: When you say how much money is in the pot, put your pinky in your mouth and put a goofy emphasis on the word “million.”
Moral of the story: It’s probably not a good idea to be playing against an opponent who is being bankrolled with unlimited funds courtesy of the Queen of England.
Next winning hand:
Winner’s line: “Sometime’s nothing can be a real cool hand.” (A off-suit King, 10, 9, 4, 3, crap cards, a total bluff, takes it.)
Stakes: A paltry handful of dollars.
Spectator’s response: “He beat you with nuthin’. Just like today when he kept coming back at me… with nuthin’.”
Hint: You don’t always need a fake deck to bullsh-t your opponent.
Moral of the story: Already stated above, the sentiment is further echoed by Janis Joplin when she sung about freedom being just another word for nothing left to lose.
TCM viewers probably already know the titles to the winning hands above, so I’ll add a few insights from real poker players about the films in question.
The Sting (George Roy Hill, 1973)
The title itself, according to screenwriter David Ward, defines “The Sting” as the moment a con man separates a mark from his money.
Player’s perspective: “This isn’t really a poker movie but it does contain one famous poker scene where Paul Newman cheats the crime boss in a high-stakes game onboard a train and also has a scene where Paul Newman’s character shows off some very skilled cheat shuffling, although the hands seen belong to John Scarne who was one of the top gambling experts in the last century and served as technical advisor on The Sting.” (Everypoker.com)
Rounders (John Dahl, 1998)
In similar spirit to The Sting’s observation about separating marks from their money, our protagonist (Matt Damon as Mike McDermott) says: “Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.”
Player’s perspective: “Rounders provided the most realistic portrait of the underground New York poker scene years before many of its participants (including Poker Hall of Famers Erik Seidel and Dan Harrington) became famous. Today, online poker rooms are filled with ‘MikeMcD’s and ‘TeddyKGB’s, all seeking to capture the essence of this classic film.” (Gerald Hanks, pokerology.com)
The Cincinnati Kid (Norman Jewison, 1965) – the clipped poster already graces the top of this post.
The game being played is Five Card Stud with no limit and no antes. In the big hand, The Cincinnati Kid scores a full house of Aces full of Tens, while The Man reveals a straight flush, Eight to Queen. While The Sting had the affable charm of Newman and Redford, The Cincinnati kid has the dynamic duo of Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson – and Robinson is definitely on top of his game.
Player’s perspective: “The odds against any full house beating any straight flush, in a two-handed game, are 45,102,784 to 1.” (Anthony Holden, Big Deal: Confessions of a Professional Poker Player.)
Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006)
There’s never really any doubt that James Bond will win, is there? That certainty has a way of draining some of the tension from the proceedings, not matter how evil the snarling bad guy and opponent is.
Player’s perspective: “For a government agent with expertise in extracting secrets, Bond is so incompetent at poker that he can’t notice a ‘false tell’ when he sees one. The difference between the ridiculous final hand here and the one in Maverick is that the Maverick hand is played for laughs, while the Casino Royale finale just looks like a Hollywood writer’s idea of how poker should look.” (Gerald Hanks)
And here’s another: “Cinematically, this scene is nicely done, but it’s almost as ludicrous as Maverick.We get an ace-high flush, losing to a boat, losing to a bigger boat, and finally, losing to Bond’s straight flush. All of this occurs in a hand worth $115 million, and conveniently, the hands are revealed in order from weakest to strongest. The African guy who flops a set would most likely have gone all-in on the flop with the threat of a flush and a straight on the board, but instead, he checks. Had he bet, Bond may have folded and the perhaps the free world isn’t saved from LeChiffre’s evil schemes. So hurray for weak-tight poker! Also, LeChiffre had more chips than 007 at the start of the hand, but afterwards, he storms off as if Bond had won everything. He didn’t mind leaving a few million behind on the table? Finally, Bond delivers the biggest slow-roll in movie history, but since he does it against a master criminal with schemes for global terror, we can forgive Bond for poor poker table etiquette.” (Matt Pusateri, examiner.com)
Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg, 1967)
I love the fact that Paul Newman has a chain around his neck that’s attached to a bottle-opener throughout the whole film.
Player’s perspective: “Although the poker scene in this referenced quote is riddled with effronteries to the rules of the game, it will forever be remembered by all who’ve seen it. ‘Kick a buck,’ repeats Newman’s character Luke, who snares the 5-stud jailhouse pot by running his king high through an open pair of 7s. It was a dubious one dollar laydown for the 7s, as the player holding them had already committed over four dollars to the pot, but this is Hollywood portraying the game of poker.” (Roger Rodd)
The films above represent the memorable winning hands that I can remember off the top of my head. I now check to the big betters out there who might be able to add some titles to the pot. What about the Westerns? (The Gunfighter, Cheyenne Autumn), the silent-era (Dr. Mabuse – The Gambler), or quirky obscurities (California Split, Kaleidoscope)? I’d genuinely be curious what other films are out there that fellow gamblers would heartily recommend. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even learn a trick or two that will help me at the table – I could certainly use it.
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