Created By: IronLion on July 21, 2012 Last Edited By: IronLion on August 12, 2012

Open Stakes Poker

Fictional poker games violate a basic betting rule

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Trope

Note: This is currently mentioned on The Magic Poker Equation among "related TV poker phenomena", but I think it ought to be a trope in its own right.

In a poker game, the hero holds a monster hand against the villain. So sure is he of winning that he borrows vast amounts of money to stake, either from the villain himself or from someone else at the table. Invariably, the villain cleans him out, leaving the hero Trapped by Gambling Debts and forcing him to come up with a Zany Scheme to raise the money.

This may once have been how poker was played in real life, but the game is now always played for table stakes: you can only bet with the chips you have at the table, and may only buy more chips between hands - a rule which exists to prevent these situations.

This trope is often a Necessary Weasel, since most poker plots require someone to end up way over their head, and that's not going to happen if they're able to pony up the cash in the first place. Nonetheless, it's discredited now that poker is popular enough for audiences to have a familiarity with it.

See also Absurdly High-Stakes Game, as in many cases the villain will attempt to use the situation to gain more than money from the hero.

Although poker is mentioned here, the trope can apply equally to related games which have a similar betting system.

Examples

Film
  • In the three-card brag game in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, the putative Professional Gambler Eddie borrows half a million pounds from his opponent, the Loan Shark Hatchet Harry, who has the advantage of an associate signalling Eddie's hand strength to him via a device attached to the back of his leg.
  • In Honeymoon In Vegas, the villain rigs a game so that the protagonist holds a jack-high straight flush against his own queen-high straight flush; the hero ends up $65,000 in debt.
  • A Big Hand For The Little Lady: A woman who knows nothing about poker ends up in a deadly serious game for some reason, and when she can't match the bet, she leaves the table, taking all the other players with her, goes to the bank, asks for a loan, and offers her cards as collateral. The banker says he's never seen such a good piece of collateral and gives her the loan, causing all the other players to fold. Of course, it was a bluff.

Live Action Television
  • In an episode of M*A*S*H Trapper John has a hot poker hand but he doesn't have the cash to cover the bet, so he goes aound the camp asking for loans.
Community Feedback Replies: 15
  • July 21, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • In an episode of MASH Trapper John has a hot poker hand but he doesn't have the cash to cover the bet, so he goes aound the camp asking for loans.
    • In Casino Royale (the book) Bond plays Le Chiffre in Baccarat. Le Chiffre cleans Bond out, which under normal circumstances would knock Bond out of the game, but Felix Leiter of the CIA gives Bond a large loan so he can continue playing. It is between hands, but not between betters: in Baccarat as shown in the book, the house (in this case Le Chiffre) plays against one player at a time, who either calls "banco" to continue playing or passes to the next player if he decides to stop or is tapped out.
  • July 22, 2012
    NimmerStill
    In what circumstances does this basic betting rule, that you always play for table stakes, apply? In casinos? The trope may well still be justified in modern times if we're talking about informal or underground games.
  • July 22, 2012
    IronLion
    It's conceivable that informal games could play this way if everyone involved learnt everything they know about the game from TV. Can't speak with any authority on underground games, but I can only imagine that they'd play for table stakes too, as it's still in most people's interest to make sure that everyone's able to pay.

    I think the Casino Royale example might fit better under Trapped By Gambling Debts (assuming that that's what happens to Bond), since they're not doing anything wrong by arranging a loan between hands.
  • July 22, 2012
    robinjohnson
    A Big Hand For The Little Lady - a woman who knows nothing about poker ends up in a deadly serious game for some reason, and when she can't match the bet, she leaves the table, taking all the other players with her, goes to the bank, asks for a loan, and offers her cards as collateral. The banker says he's never seen such a good piece of collateral and gives her the loan, causing all the other players to fold. Of course, it was a bluff.
  • July 22, 2012
    nielas
    ^ She was in the game because her husband is The Gambling Addict and bet all their money on the hand and then had a heart attack. She is a woman and 'a proper lady' so the other male players feel honor-bound to help her as much as possible without actually throwing the game to her. For them the game is not really about money but bragging rights so they are bending over backwards to not make themselves look like jackasses in front of the entire town. It's actually one big con orchestrated by the banker.
  • July 22, 2012
    NimmerStill
    ^^^It still seems weird to include in the description an apparent rule which a) came into existence some time in history, and b) somehow covers most instances of anyone playing the game, in any setting, no matter who's hosting the game. It's certainly not a rule ingrained into the basic gameplay the way the ranking of hands is.

    Plus, it's easily possible to avoid ridiculous betting without rigid table stakes if you just limit the betting amounts or restrict play to very small denominations. Such as penny ante.

    That said, to me it would seem a lot less uncomfortable if you just left out the following two sentences, and put an "almost" before "always":

    "This may once have been how poker was played in real life, but"

    "Nonetheless, it's discredited now that poker is popular enough for audiences to have a familiarity with it. "
  • July 22, 2012
    isk2837
    I think there's an episode of Friends that has this trope - a game of poker comes down to Rachel vs. Ross with Monica and Phoebe lending Rachel money and Chandler and Joey lending Ross money.
  • July 22, 2012
    IronLion
    ^^ Fair comment. It did somewhat bother me when I was writing it that I was thinking in absolutes, but the rule seemed close enough to universal.

    If we're establishing that it's not universal, then this is probably a bit too narrow to be tropable.
  • July 22, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Addendum to the Casino Royale example, which may or may not make it count (I'm no gambling expert). The CIA loan was on the downlow. Bond loses all of his stake, then is given an envelope which contains more cash, "wth the complements of the USA." Nobody else knows that he had tapped himself out or that he had been given the money. After he lost the previous hand he calls "Banco"again, but since there's so much money on the table he's forced to prove that he has the funds to match what's already there - 32 million francs - at which point he takes out the CIA money. Bond then wins the hand and goes on to clean out Le Chiffre.
  • July 23, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    FWIW playing table stakes has another function. To put it simply, a $5 bet isn't simply a $5 bet. The other players will also consider that bet in proportion to the size of the existing pot and in proportion to the bettor's stake. Five dollars has a different meaning to someone who has $500 (and can afford to bet or call a relatively small amount) than to someone who has $50 (and is likely to have confidence in their hand), and it's something else again when it's the player's last $5. Playing with open stakes makes it nigh on impossible for the players to make such assessments.

    Live-Action TV: In the 1981 Bret Maverick pilot, extra money is brought to the table during the final hand of a poker tournament, and the owner of the saloon (who's also playing) brings out the deed to the property to back her hand when she runs out of cash. Maverick wins the pot and decides to stay in the area, eventually purchasing a ranch he names "The Lazy Ace".
  • July 23, 2012
    CobraPrime
    The rule is mentioned in the movie version of Casino Royale: A henchman losing a ton of money to Bond is about to write a check, and the dealer tells him it's table stakes only. The guy then notes that his keys are on the table, so he bets his car. Bond convinces the dealer to let him "win back his money", only to win and take the guy's car.
  • July 24, 2012
    Arivne
    Film
    • The Sting. During the poker game on the train the players can bet as much as they want, getting more chips from the conductor as needed. At the end of the game, if they have less chips than they took they have to pay the difference to the bank so the players who ended up with more chips can be paid off.
  • July 25, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    I might also point out that this gets around another plot problem in a different way than in Real Life:

    In fiction, the extra funds/assets come out to keep the opponent(s) in the hand, under the assumption that failure to call the entire amount bet will force them to fold (this is particularly undesirable if the hand is strong and/or there is a heightened rivalry between the players). The writers often don't want anyone to win in this fashion to avoid being anticlimactic.

    Real Life is different. In casino poker games particularly, a side pot is formed from any bets and calls that one player cannot meet; if there are only two players, the betting simply ends, the wealthier player gets back any bet the opponent cannot call, and the showdown commences. Fair and practical, yes; dramatic, no.
  • August 1, 2012
    MrRuano
    Jojos Bizarre Adventure has this played when Jotaro is playing Poker with Daniel J D'Arby. Jotaro decides to bluff D'Arby by pulling the wagers of Avdol's soul, Kakyoin's soul (Who was in a hospital in Aswan at the moment, forcing Jotaro to counterfeit his signature) and even reaching to wagering his own sick mother's soul. This wager is then compounded with the condition that D'Arby must tell the secret to Dio's stand. Clearly unable to tell and unable to beat the wager issued, he has a BSOD. At the very end, Jotaro finally reveals his hand, revealing that he was screwing with everyone and that he had a trashy hand the whole time, and that he scared D'Arby into thinking that he fixed himself a godlike hand using Star Platinum.
  • August 12, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    On further consideration, the need to call all the bets (rather than form the practical and undramatic side pot) may be a Necessary Weasel due to the Rule Of Drama, making Open Stakes required instead of Table Stakes.
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