How Hollywood Has Helped Shape Poker

The history of poker didn’t start with the World Series of Poker or any recent tournament that receives national exposure courtesy of cable television. The popularity dates back before moving pictures ever existed and even before when cowboys actually rode their horses into town to gamble at the local saloon.

In effort to avoid a long and storied history lesson, we thought we’d give you quick rundown of how poker has been portrayed on the big screen and why it is the happening thing to do.

Casino Royale
Strapped with good looks, charm and an aggressive personality, Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond took gambling to new heights. Matched up against Le Chiffe (played by Mads Mikkelsen), Bond must outwit and overcome the odds – literally, Le Chiffe is a master at statistics and knew the percentage of landing a straight – to win out in the deadly poker tournament.

As the most recent film to make our list, Casino Royale piggybacked on the newfound popularity of Texas hold em poker and helped elevate the phenomenon to a more legitimate status among all crowds in the current decade. If Bond plays poker, it must be cool; right?

This 1998 film has been turned into a cult classic as of recent times due to the credibility Texas hold ‘em has received in the last ten years. While it wasn’t received with welcoming arms when it debuted, over time, the rise of poker and the need for fans to attach themselves to a film of any sort that pertains to their favorite card game has paved way for Rounders to be included in many favorite lists.

As outlandish and contrived as it may have been – it starred a poker player/cheater who could read people, but wasn’t able to read his best friend or girlfriend? – Rounders has nestled itself as one of the few mainstream modern poker movies worth talking about. Just don’t go about speaking your love for the film among circles of indie film buffs.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
While Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels may be a stretch to be placed on the list – film starts off with the main characters putting together a game of three card brag, an ancestor card game to poker – there’s no denying that the film has guile behind it to intelligently craft a film around gambling and the repercussions of not being able to pay the piper.

Many may doubt the legitimacy of any card game in general, but the many forms of poker often has tempers flaring and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels puts it all on the line when the protagonists find themselves in a rigged game where they must pay a £500,000 debt within one week. A wildly entertaining film, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels proves that not everything can go right within a card game.

The Sting
An Oscar-winning film from 1973, The Sting follows two con-artists as they attempt to con a mob boss. How poker plays into the film is simple: One of the main characters enters into a high stakes poker game (are they ever anything other than high stakes?) on a train ride and must out cheat his opponent to obtain victory.

With so many double-crosses and betrayals, The Sting is what poker is all about: Knowing your opponent’s next move. The Sting proves that it isn’t so much about what cards you hold but how you decide play them.

Cool Hand Luke
One of my personal favorites of all time, Cool Hand Luke stars Paul Newman (who also starred in The Sting), one of the better actors to ever grace the big screen, as he bluffs his way to earning the nickname that serves as the title.

Poker is used within Cool Hand Luke to earn the hero of the story power and respect among the prisoners that he resides with in a prison camp in Florida. As a tipping point to push attention upon Luke, poker ultimately raises him into stardom of sorts and shows that even a card game can change the way perception of how people look upon the players, whether they win or lose.