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Zeroing in on the most memorable poker scenes from the movies

Poker is the most famous card game in the world. The drama of everything resting of the turn of a card, the piles of gambling chips accumulating in the pot, the bluff and double bluff – it’s no wonder that poker has been a crucial plot device in so many Hollywood blockbusters.  

In fact, it is fair to say that many of us know all that we know about poker from what we’ve seen on the big screen. But do the movies give an accurate representation of what a poker game is really like? Or do they take a few liberties with the truth for the sake of pushing the plot along? Let’s take a look at some of the movie world’s great poker scenes and find out.  

Casino Royale  

One of the greatest Bond movies ever and the one that marked Daniel Craig’s debut in the role, Casino Royale had a poker scene that was central to the entire plot. Strangely enough, this whole aspect was created entirely for the movie – in Ian Fleming’s original novel, the game was baccarat, but the film makers felt contemporary audiences would identify better with poker.  

The producers were definitely aiming for entertainment over authenticity. $115 million in the pot? That’s improbable given that the highest ever pot was about $600,000, but it’s not impossible. What’s harder to swallow is that having accumulated the biggest pot ever, all four players had winning hands. Still, we don’t watch James Bond movies for realism, and it remains one of the most iconic moments of the franchise’s 60-year history. 

Cold Deck 

Poker is huge in Canada, and Canadian audiences are knowledgeable about the game. In this age of online casinos, it’s easy to learn the basics and there are plenty of online casino reviews to help point players to the best poker platforms. That goes some way to explaining why Toronto Director Zack Bernbaum was painstakingly attentive to detail in his 2015 movie Cold Deck.  

If you’ve not seen this indie flick, it is well worth seeing out and we’ll steer clear of spoilers. Suffice it to say you won’t see a more realistic poker game than the one that plays out in the movie’s opening minutes.  

The Sting 

Arguably the greatest caper movie of all time, The Sting centres around a horse race betting scam. But the seeds for the long con are sewn during a poker game that features gangster Doyle Lonnegan and professional con artist Henry Gondorff, played to perfection by Robert Shaw and Paul Newman respectively.  

The scene is nine minutes of movie magic as Lonnegan fixes the deck but Gondorff proves to be the superior cheat. However, the poker gameplay itself is littered with errors, from Gondorff’s “your 500 and I’ll raise you 300” (he would have to raise at least 500 more) to the strange way chips of the same colour suddenly adopt different values. As with Casino Royale, these details don’t detract from the movie, but poker playing movie buff Paul Harris’s detailed analysis is nevertheless an intriguing read.  


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