Poker in Cinema: A Timeless Winning Hand

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The allure of poker is undeniable. A game of savvy, wit and chance, watching it can be as exciting as playing it. And there are many opportunities for both sides of this coin. The movie industry is certainly not giving up on the poker theme, judging by the upcoming biographical drama Molly’s Game, starring Jessica Chastain and expected to hit theatres in November 2017.

Motivated by the big screen as well as their own skill, players around the world continue to tackle poker, with features like webcams and live dealers continuing to pleasingly blur the lines between live and digital poker action. It is easier than ever to act the part of a favorite on-screen poker face, while putting one’s abilities to the test. All that remains is research into the many memorable stories and characters that have emerged throughout the years. But let us begin with three. 

Casino Royale (2006)

The film that tends to immediately spring to a 21st-century mind is that which entangles agent 007 in a deadly poker tournament at Montenegro’s fictional Le Casino Royale. Daniel Craig’s rival in his first venture into the role of James Bond was Le Chiffre, cunning banker to terrorists and excellently portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen (Rogue One, 2016). Endowed with 95% approval from critics on Rotten Tomatoes and so much more acclaim besides, this title has two engaging characters to choose from for inspiration. The bad guys have as much to teach as the good.  

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Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1999)

Guy Ritchie’s directorial debut and enduring classic starts with Eddy (Nick Moran) facing off gangster Hatchet Harry (P. H. Moriarty) and a few others in an underground poker game, but which Harry has rigged. Eddy’s sizeable loss drops him and his friends, comprised of actors Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng and Dexter Fletcher, into the middle of a Cockney mess of mistakes and shoot-outs. Acting and narrative praised by Metacritic reviewers, it has even been compared to Pulp Fiction. To put it simply, it is a more than worthwhile movie to be watched by poker players.

The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

Steve McQueen and Ann-Margret lead one of the most prominent golden oldies of poker films. In a similar manner as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, McQueen’s character, the Cincinnati Kid, bites off more than he can chew when he challenges The Man (Edward G. Robinson) and the plot, as they say, thickens. Scoring a 7.3 on IMDb, Norman Jewison’s direction and star-studded cast created what fans have in short described as a cinematographic gem of slick, sharp suspense about the world of poker and its personalities, underdogs, rounders and all.  

This is but a sample of the rich material available out there, not including invaluable documentaries focused on various aspects of poker. Whatever the need, whether mere entertainment or training in terms of characters or playing techniques, there is a film, if not several, that can help. Grab your cards. Grab your popcorn. And enjoy the show.   

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Don Draper
Donald Francis "Don" Draper is a founding partner and the Creative Director at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Advertising Agency in Manhattan, NY. Prior to that position, he was the Director of the Creative Department at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. He is regarded among his colleagues as the best to ever pitch copy.


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