What if… The Movies Got Poker Right?

Let’s examine the biggest hands from the biggest poker movies!

Steve McQueen starred in the poker classic 'Cincinnati Kid' back in 1965, but was his play GTO? (Image: GettyImages.com)
Steve McQueen starred in the poker classic 'Cincinnati Kid' back in 1965, but was his play GTO? (Image: GettyImages.com)

Poker and movies go together like the raise and the c-bet, like the Super High Roller Bowl and ordering lobster from room service and like Justin Bonomo and pink hair. For years we’ve enjoyed them, and long may they remain. However, whilst being fair to those acting out the greatest card game on Earth, poker isn’t always easy to translate from the felt to the silver screen.

For today’s deep dive into an alternate reality, we’ve analyzed five examples of where the stars in our favorite poker movies might have altered their play….and what would have happened to them if they did.

The Cincinnati Kid
Year: 1965
Tagline: He’ll take on anyone at anything, anytime

Crucial Hand: The Kid, looking down at a spread of , , [10d] and , fails to guess that his opponent holds the gutter-ball , thereby losing everything. (Note – Spoiler Alert)

Action: Overcome by the aggressive nature of his opponent’s constant string-betting, The Kid gets into an Itchy-and-Scratchy-style raising war with Howard, leading to him losing to a straight flush and getting berated by all and sundry on his way to the rail. He’s then beaten at penny-pitching by a young boy outside.

Adjustment: The Kid, realizing that he’s on extreme ego-based tilt, folds and uses his restroom break to go outside and have a smoke. Seeing the even younger kid asking him to pitch pennies, he instead offers the boy his seat in the game. The younger boy (or ‘Young Kid’? – Ed) promptly beats Howard down in twenty minutes. Turning to him, Howard asks for the Young Kid’s name. “Me? My name’s Ivey. But my friends call me Jerome.”

Maverick
Year: 1994
Tagline: In their hands, a deck of cards was the only thing more dangerous than a gun. 

Crucial Hand: Maverick draws one card to make a Royal Flush, leading to a shootout between him and the film’s baddies.

Action: Maverick, in cahoots with Cooper, is not-very-subtly recreating The Sting but in Wild West taverns. However, his trick is noticed by the romantic interest in Maverick, Jodie Foster’s Annabelle Bransford.

Adjustment: Realising that it’s better to play it safe that draw for a gutshot, Maverick folds, living to fight another hand. In the next hand, his full house is outdrawn by Alfred Molina’s Angel, and Maverick slinks back to Pops with his tail between his legs. Bransford and Angel hit it off so well they marry, leaving Maverick penniless save for half his stake money which he kept in his boots.

Rounders
Year: 1998
Tagline: Trust everyone… but always cut the cards

Crucial Hand: Mike McDermott check-calls all three streets to win back his three stacks of high society and flee to Las Vegas to enter the World Series (crib notes, he overacts).

Action: Having been flopped the nut straight, Mikey then puts up with all manner of goading from his opponent, Teddy KGB, who is played by The Muppets’ Fozzy Bear.

Adjustment: After Teddy bets the flop, Mikey raises for value. But this scares Teddy, who lays the hand down like a hero. Mikey loses it, sending the table of playing cards, poker chips and Oreos all over the floor like so many broken dreams. He is employed by Teddy KGB for the remaining 48 years of his life, dealing cards to pay back the tremendous debts he has accrued.

Special bonus: Listen to Norm Macdonald talk about Rounders and his relationship with poker, gambling and Las Vegas on the Heads Up with Remko Podcast.

Casino Royale
Year: 2006
Tagline: Always Bet on Bond

Crucial Hand: Bond, four-handed wins with a straight flush to eliminate all the remaining players, down his vodka martini and cause the death of his mortal enemy, Le Chiffre.

Action: Clearly, with the remaining four players averaging around 7 big blinds each, there is more scared money in Monte Carlo at this private game than there is in the $25k WSOP draft after the first dozen picks. Bond, having somehow luckboxed his way to a straight flush against two flushes and a full house, manages to get it quietly yet still look so smug that we’d shoot him just for the way he pulls in the chips unnecessarily.

Adjustment: Le Chiffre, dabbing a tear of blood from his eye, realises in this very hand that to keep checking or calling is going to – literally – be the death of him. Instead, he shoves his ace-high, buys the blinds, then is in such an unassailable position that he uses ICM pressure to dominate the table. Bond is sacked by Her Majesty’s Government for blowing their $10m and assassinated by the CIA for losing Felix Leiter’s pension. Le Chiffre pays back his debt and assumes total control of the world.

Runner Runner
Year: 2013
Tagline: You have no idea who you’re playing with

Crucial Hand: Justin Timberlake’s character, Richie Furst (we’re not joking) loses a hand of online poker, and realises to his horror, that he was cheated out of his hard-earned college funds by evil megalomaniac Ivan Block (we’re still not joking), played by Ben Affleck (also true).

Action: Furst raises, is all-in, and is called. Glitched out of his winnings, his friends all commiserate with him in the same manner we all do when someone tells us about their bad beat, that is to say, not caring and wanting him to shut up.

Adjustment: Unable to live up to his ridiculous name even in heads-up poker online, Furst takes a step back after coming second and has an epiphany. He’s a sophomore at college and goes out to party. He never plays poker again and the film ends within seven minutes. Moviegoers worldwide are so relieved it is over they don’t even ask for their money back, leaving everyone a ‘winner winner’ at the end of Runner, Runner.

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