The Magic Poker Equation
aka: Magic Poker Equation
"Guess I should have warned ya — whenever I'm about to lose, I draw exactly what I need!"
A law of probability which only exists in television and movie poker
, and can be expressed thus:
L = s*i
Where L = luck, s = skill and i = importance.
It describes the phenomenon in TV poker games whereby the better the poker player, or the more crucial the hand of poker being played
, the better the players' hands are.
In TV, the most talented poker players get threes of a kind, full houses, straights and flushes with remarkable frequency; it would seem that while real life poker savants are masters of risk management and psychological warfare, TV poker savants are masters of getting dealt good cards.
But even novice players can get full houses and flushes if the hand in question is an amazing climactic hand on which the plot hinges. When both factors are in play, the values of the hands hit the stratosphere - the best poker player in the world, playing the most important hand of his life, will probably beat a straight flush with a royal flush. In real life, he'd probably just beat two pair with a better two pair.
In trading card games, this is referred to as "mising," mise being a Magic: The Gathering
contraction of "might as well have" (drawn some specific obviously gamewinning card). Of course, it's far more justified in this case than poker and similar games, since a key part of deckbuilding strategy is making sure that there are quite a few cards you can use to get yourself out of any seemingly unwinnable situation.
Related TV poker phenomena:
- Even in unimportant five card hands with regular players, nobody ever has less than two pair. If the players ever do have just a pair (or lower), it's because a point is being made of how bad/unlucky the player is, how good they are at bluffing, or how lame the game is.
- In a game of three or more players, almost every hand is quickly whittled down to two players - usually the same two, time and time again.
- The more important the hand, the closer together the values. A climactic hand will not be won by a straight flush over two pair; more likely it will be four kings over four queens. When both players have great hands, both are more likely to stay in the hand and bet high. If one goes all-in and loses, it becomes by definition the climactic hand. A hand involving poor cards isn't likely to be the final one unless growing blinds force the players to play anything.
- Three of a kind/four of a kind is the only time it will come down to the value of the individual cards, except for the "royal flush beats straight flush" cliché. You never see a full house with queens showing beating a full house with nines showing, or a jack-high flush beating a nine-high flush.
- The person who puts their cards down first loses. Especially if they've got such a good hand they don't even wait to see the other person's cards before they start cackling and raking in their winnings. (See also: Assumed Win) Exception: the person puts their cards down and the other player concedes defeat without showing their own cards - because they're throwing the game.
- The amateur can often be seen beating "veterans" of the game. (Also see Bested At Bowling.) It's true that there is a factor of luck involved in poker, but it's not enough to make up for lack of skill.
- Expert poker players who must be defeated by the hero always have a 'tell' (i.e. a subconscious move they make when they are bluffing, or have a good hand). Rule of Perception is that any plot-important tell has to be clear and visible so the audience can see it, but it often ends up so obvious that viewers are left wondering how the person in question got to be such an expert. Seems to happen more in drama than in comedy.
- Poker in fiction is typically played for open stakes, meaning that when the hero's four-of-a-kind is up against the villain's straight flush, the hero will end up borrowing vast amounts of money to bet with, being forced to come up with a wacky scheme to repay the resulting debt. In real life, poker is always played for table stakes: you can only bet with the money you have at the table, and may only bring more to the table between hands.
- In the pivotal hand, at least one of the poker players will announce a raise as follows: "I see your bet..." (Dramatic Pause) "...and raise you." While fairly commonplace and tolerated in many informal home games, this sort of action is called a "String Bet" and the intended raise would not stand at any respectable casino (the action is over once the player announces their intent to call, to prevent players from calling, and then waiting to see if other players' reactions suggest raising would also be a good idea).
- Similarly, the winner will take an inordinate amount of time to reveal the winning hand in order to build up suspense. While this does happen, in Real Life it's called "slow rolling" and is very poor sportsmanship, since it slows down the game for everyone, even those not involved in the hand who just want to get on to the next one. Doing it habitually will get you kicked out of casinos.
- In the past, the game in question will usually be "Five Card Draw." This probably has to do with the fact that it was the only legal form of poker in California for many years. It was supplanted by stud and community card variants in most other places before the end of the 19th century. The explosion in popularity of televised poker tournaments seems to have changed the preference to Texas Hold-Em.
Of course, this also appears in other games of chance, of which poker is just the most common. It also appears with Roulette and Craps. If you have a Calvinball
game, then this overlaps with New Rules as the Plot Demands
. Overuse of this trope can make the player's skill to be an Informed Ability
Also see Hustling The Mark
, a con
featuring a professional card player disguised as an amateur.
open/close all folders
- An Old Spice commercial has a poker game where a man not wearing Old Spice is holding a royal flush, but it's then subverted because the guy somehow is pressured into folding on a literally unbeatable hand.
Anime and Manga
- It is the central trope of the anime Yu-Gi-Oh!, where skilled players have an uncanny ability to always draw the "only" card that will help them, even if it is the ONLY copy of that card in their entire 40-60 card deck. In the manga on which the series is based, this is explicitly a superpower of the main character, but in the anime, it appears to be a function of skill and faith, particularly in the English dub by 4Kids Entertainment.
- This is a common scenario in Yu-Gi-Oh!: the Big Bad or someone like him is about to duel for the first time. His opponent will manage to summon their strongest monster on the very first turn. Even if, nay, especially if, that card is Awesome but Impractical. They will have the exact combination of cards in their hand to play it. Examples include Insector Haga and Dinosaur Ryuzaki taking on Siegfried in the Kaiba Corp tournament only to get hit hard by Ride of the Valkyries, "The D's" first opponent summoning a powerful monster and also two monsters to make him completely immune to attack and having Nightmare Wheel facedown only to get wiped out by Destiny Hero Plasma, Edo Phoenix summoning Dogma on his first turn only for it to get killed by Plasma (unusual in that Edo won that duel anyway). Yeah, this is a predictable formula.
- Jonouchi's luck is also improbable. He has a lot of luck-based cards in his deck (Graceful Dice, Skull Dice, Time Wizard, Roulette Spider, those two in the Courtroom Chaos duel [the monster/magic pick, although you can psych your opponent out with that one; and the coin flip one]), and he almost always rolls/flips/spins right. On the flipside, he also has a lot of bad draws.
- Detailed in the manga is the 'spirit of the cards', which serves as a Karma Meter mechanic for the game. Play nobly, treat your cards well, don't sacrifice willy-nilly, be cool and your luck increases. Be a jerk, cheat, try to cheat, your luck goes spiraling downwards. One should think the jerks would get it.
- They've even turned it into a game mechanic in Tag Force 2; called "Destiny Draw", it can be assigned to up to 5 cards, and it only kicks in when you're about to lose.
- They also almost never use Boring but Practical cards, except as a Worf Barrage to show the opponent can deal with them. Pretty much any time a player gets their ace out, it gets beaten by the opponent's ace, often by using cards that would be complete overkill in any practical situation. To reword an above rule, the best Duelist in the world, playing the most important game of his life, will probably beat a monster with 5000 ATK by playing a monster with 10,000 ATK. In real life, he'd probably just play Bottomless Trap Hole and kill it when it hits the field.
- This is turned Up to Eleven at the climax of Yugi's final duel in the Virtual World arc. To recap: The current standing: Yugi has 100 Life Points, and his opponent has 10000 Life Points. Furthermore, Yugi has no cards in his hand or on the field, and his opponent has a monster with 2800 Attack Points on the field. Step 1: Yugi draws and activates "Card of Sanctity", which causes both players to draw until they have six cards in their hand. The six cards that Yugi draws are two Blue-Eyes White Dragons, Monster Reborn, Polymerization, Quick Attack, and De-Fusion. Step 2: Yugi plays Monster Reborn to Special Summonnote a Blue-Eyes White Dragon from the Graveyard. Step 3: Yugi plays Polymerization to fuse the three Blue-Eyes White Dragons in his hand and on the field into Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon, a monster with 4500 Attack Points. Step 4: Yugi plays Quick Attack, allowing Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon to attack immediately. Yugi attacks and destroys his opponent's only monster on the field, knocking his opponent's Life Points to 8300. Step 5: Yugi plays De-Fusion, which recalls his Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon, and allows him to Special Summon three Blue-Eyes White Dragons, which each have 3000 Attack Points. Step 6: Yugi attacks with his recently summoned monsters to knock his exposed opponent's Life Points down to 0.
- Noah had a lot of this going on. His deck was a theme mishmash based on the ages of the world, and he drew the cards he needed to create his narrative in perfect sequence - he draws Greco-Roman cards and earthquake cards on his first turns, then plays Giant Flood, then Giant Rex, then Ice Age Panic, then Black Hole and Victory Viper's support cards. It goes beyond a martial art. It's the one true religion.
- This was invoked in Jonouchi's duel with Keith Howard. Keith has a giant Slot Machine robot thing which can be powered up by a card called "7 Completed". 7 Completed, consequentally, can only be used with the Slot Machine, and Keith has three of these 7 Completed cards in his deck. After using one, he declares that he will use the others to power up his Slot Machine and beat Jonouchi, to which Jonouchi replies that just because he has them in his deck doesn't mean he will draw them. This is shocking when you consider that at no other point, before or after in the series, has a main character in a major duel ever failed to get the exact card they wanted for their specific situation. Even the bad guys always draw the card they want. In this instance, though, Keith cheats by pulling cards out of his sleeve.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL has an early episode where the opponents in a tag duel are drawing exactly the cards they need to pull off unlikely combos - and the heroes notice their hands are too good. Turns out the opponents were cheaters stacking their decks, but seriously, with the way people draw on this show, how could you tell?
- Entertainingly subverted in a scene in the manga where Kaiba needs to draw a card to throw at a gunman, and prays he'll get a common card. He's disgusted to see it's one of his prized Blue Eyes White Dragons.
- Played with in GX, where Misawa (for part of the series, anyway) has actually calculated the Magic Poker Equation but doesn't rely on it at all, preferring quick thinking to luck.
- Kaiser, who, throughout the first season, and as lampshaded in flashbacks to his training dojo days, always pulls out Cyber End Dragon within his first 3 turns.
- Edo doesn't rely on it much, but when he dueled using a Elemental Hero/Destiny Hero hybrid deck, he somehow draws all the Elemental Heroes first, then suddenly only has Destiny Heroes.
- Johan uses a deck consisting of the seven Gem Beasts, of which there are only one of each. This means that Johan has only seven monsters in his entire 40-card deck (and Rainbow Dragon, but that has a special summoning condition). Despite this, he never has a problem drawing at least two Gem Beasts in his opening hand.
- Lucien Grimley relies on Slash Draw, which discards cards from his deck equal to the number of cards on the field, then lets him draw a card, and if it's another Slash Draw, he destroys every card on the field and inflicts 1000 damage to his opponent for each one. He never fails, though it's revealed that he achieves this with a Deal with the Devil.
- Damon relies on Miracle Draw, which inflicts 1000 damage to his opponent each time he correctly guesses what card he will draw, and 1000 damage to himself if he guesses wrong. He trained to "draw better" by dropping out of school and pulling cards out of a waterfall, enabling him to use Miracle Draw effectively. Jaden tried to make an aesop about not relying on predicting what you would draw... before shuffling his deck and pulling out the card he needed.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Yusei is often depicted as seeing the winning path depicted as a line of electricity linking the cards in the chain that will pull it out for him. The winning path is determined after the draw and is in part due to Yusei's ability to read what cards his opponents have and determine the best course of action. However since in the world of Yu-Gi-Oh! every deck seems to run only 1 of each cards, Yusei still has to guess at what cards out of a staggeringly huge large card pool and still drawing the necessary cards to play around/against/counter against said opponents.
- Played straight, unfortunately, with Shooting Star Dragon. Every single time Yusei activates its "attack for all the Tuners on top of your Deck" effect, he gets at least three out of five cards.
- Subverted with Aporia as a Hope Spot. Aporia has the card After Glow, which shuffles itself into the deck and inflicts 4000 damage to the opponent when it is drawn again. To maximize his chances of success, he sends all the cards in his deck to the graveyard so that After Glow will be the only card and he will be sure to draw it. Z-One counters this tactic by using a card to shuffle Aporia's graveyard back into his deck, then declares that with a 1/34 chance, there is no way he can do it. Aporia declares he can do it and draws... Machine Emperor Grannel Infinity, and he loses.
- Used in Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL most of the time. Averted with the Shining Draw ability, which can let Yuma create a new card to draw, but he can only do so under specific circumstances. In the end, a total of eleven episodes featured the ability, only a small fraction.
- Yuma later faces Eliphas, who can do a Shining Draw whenever he feels like it, unlike Yuma, who can usually only do it once or twice a duel.
- Suffice to say, if the draw has a white streak following it, Power Echoes, or both, The Hero just got what he needed.
- Yuya from Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V has the tendency to draw his three main Pendulum Monsters (Stargazer Magician, Timegazer Magician, and Odd-Eyes Pendulum Dragon) in his first turn or only a few turns later. Though in episode 22, he starts with a dead hand, having six high-level monsters that cannot be Pendulum Summoned because his highest scale would be to low to summon anyone of them. He draws his Timegazer Magician in his third turn and then summons five monsters at once, but he is still followed with terrible unluck in the very same turn.
- Reiji Akaba's DD deck first averts this trope, since he uses cards that allow him to add specific cards from his deck to his hand, until he draws multiple cards at once, which turn out to be his three copies of his DDD Hell Armageddon of Cruel End and two other Pendulum Monsters that allow Reiji to summon all three copies at once.
- Cardfight!! Vanguard:
- It has this a lot in the anime thanks to the "Drive Check" mechanic that can decide games based on the luck of the draw. In a separate example, opponents in the anime will have no problem assembling their main strategy, whereas the protagonists frequently suffer from bad draws and have to think on the fly.
- The anime features "Psyqualia", a precognitive superpower that shows the user exactly which moves to make in order to win a match. However, in stark contrast to Yu-Gi-Oh! (where the protagonist uses supernatural assistance to win), Psyqualia has a corrosive effect on the user's personality and is ultimately condemned for being "an unfair advantage and nothing more".
- It subverts The Magic Poker Equation with Misaki, a character who uses her Photographic Memory and knowledge of odds to minimise the risk during draws. In one climatic match, she wins by cycling her entire deck so that she knows the exact order of her cards for the rest of the game. (That said, Misaki is also a frequent victim of The Worf Effect in the second season, and eventually learns an Aesop that encourages her to take more risks.)
- Kai pulling four Critical Triggers in one turn (all of them the same card no less) in the final fight of Season 4 might as well be the poster image for this trope.
- Subverted in manga series Et Cetera, where all but one of the poker games involve cheating through their teeth. To be fair, Baskerville only cheated to beat a cheater. Using the same device as Bandit above, though with far more speed and success.
- Saki has improbable luck with Mahjong, fairly explicitly. Somewhat grating, as the actual probabilities are mentioned early on.100011 Other than the main character, several other 'top players' display similar abilities. It's almost made explicit that these 'super-players' act as low-level Reality Warpers, manipulating probability to ensure the desired result.
- Yami No Matsuei at first subverts this with a hand in which the main character's body is his stake - which the main character loses. Then plays it straight when the main character's partner shows up just in time to win him back in the next hand. With a Royal Flush.
- In Vandread, the cool and collected Gasgone is seen constantly beating the hotheaded Hibiki at poker. Sadly, though she seems to do this through sheer luck, as the two of them get dealt more and more unlikely hands culminating in four aces and a joker! Meaning either 5 of a kind or somebody screwed up the shuffle.
- Subverted twice in a single chapter of D.Gray-Man. Arystar Krory decides to play poker for the first time with some fellows he meets on the train - when Allen goes to check on him, he's managed to lose his shirt to the gamblers. Allen proceeds to sit down and wins back all of Krory's possessions - by showing off his incredible skills at cheating at poker.
- Played with in 20th Century Boys, where Kanna takes up the ridiculously swingy game of Rabbit Nabokov and in her first session playing the game, goes from a single chip to enough money to bankrupt the whole casino, constantly knowing when to bet up and increase her lead. In the end, with enough money to completely bankrupt the casino on the line, as she goes to bet into the dealer, said dealer draws a gun and tries to kill her, rather than let her ruin the casino. It's then revealed afterwards that Kanna, in addition to being psychic, and therefore, happily cheating the pants off everyone in the room, was going to get neither an incredibly bad hand, nor the hand the dealer feared - she had just built up sufficient reputation through the earlier play that everyone was convinced this trope was about to turn up and hoover all the money out of their collective pockets.
- The English dub of Digimon Adventure 02 does this in episode 12 as a gag near the end of the episode. It's in the two pair form, and with aces.
- Subverted in part three of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. Jotaro, having never played a game of poker in his life, wins a game of poker against D'arby, an expert gambler, with not only his soul, but also the souls of his friend Polnareff and his grandfather Joseph as the stakes. Despite D'arby cheating to rig the hands, Jotaro manages to bluff him out of the game by not looking at his hand, making it look like he might have used his powers to change his cards, adopting his usual poker face, and then continually raising until the stakes were just too high for D'arby to risk calling on. After the game was over, Jotaro's hand was flipped over, and it was revealed that he had absolute crap. ... And humorously admitted that if he had looked at his cards, he would've had a heart attack. Cue everyone yelling at him.
- Quite explicitly justified in Liar Game, with "Seventeen Card Poker". It's mathematically impossible not to have at least a pair of suits, and there are so few cards in the deck that Akiyama's opponent can easily track the Joker during the shuffle to set up fantastic hands; Akiyama then uses deductive logic to track the entire deck and consistently get four Queens by asking the dealer to shuffle a few more times.
- The Legend of Koizumi takes this trope Serial Escalation, with players consistently earning their trademark ultra-rare hands - for example, Koizumi's Kokushi Musou/Rising Sun which shows up in every match. That's because it's the technique THAT BUILT JAPAN!!
- Hakkai in Saiyuki gets good hands in poker and majong with alarming frequency. He does, however, insist it's just because he's lucky in this (and nothing else) not any skill.
- Haruhi Suzumiya: In a throw-away gag at the end of "Endless Eight"; Kyon, with less skill but greater character importance than Koizumi, realizes too late he should have bet money, and drops a royal flush on the table.
- Devil May Cry: The Animated Series:
- Dante in the episode "Death Poker" lets a magically imbued watch influence his chances of winning at a high-stakes poker game to flush out "King", a gambler who's been killing people whenever they lose to "King" (in truth, it's a demon messing around with the gamblers).
- This trope is taken Up to Eleven in the final hand when beats his opponent's royal flush with his own royal flush.
- Subverted in the first episode of Rio -Rainbow Gate!- when Rio won with a pair of Deuces. Her opponent was one card away from a flush or a straight but threw that hand away to try for four Queens. Needless to say it didn't quite work out that way and he only ended up with Queen-High
- The above equation is turned on its head in Akagi, where Akagi's final opponent is actually a worse player than the two fought before him in terms of skill. He is dangerous mainly because he is Born Lucky and draws better hands, in addition to his unconventional house rules and the high stakes of his game. Akagi mainly beats him through psychological warfare and risk management, although the trope is played entirely straight in the last round.
- Haiyore! Nyarko-san:
- Spoofed where Nyarko has to defeat the alien Clark Ashton Smith in a game of Daifugō to free the classmates he has enthralled. This is the sort of situation where the Magic Poker Equation would come into play, especially since "Agent Smith" claims to be the reigning galactic champion...except that an Overly Long Gag from before established that Nyarko can create an infinite number of Jokers, meaning the poor bastard never had a chance to begin with. Made even better by the knowing glances Nyarko and Mahiro give each other when Smith names his game.
- The gag also comes into play when Smith challenges them to a follow-up game of Darts, not knowing that Mahiro has insane aim with thrown forks; the whole thing would qualify as a Plot Tailored to the Party, except that it's total coincidence that Smith picked games where the heroes completely outclass him.
- The proximity corollary of this Law is averted in the Hellboy story "The Vampire of Prague". The story itself is mostly a brawl between the titular vampire and Hellboy, but HB can't win the fight unless he can beat the vampire at poker. During the battle, Hellboy inadvertently comes across a handful of cards, while the vampire drops a hand of cards during the scuffle. Upon The Reveal, the vampire has a middle-of-the-road straight (which nearly was a straight flush), while Hellboy has a moderate full house. The two hands are pretty distinct, and either could have been beaten by rarer, more valuable hands.
- Subverted in Jack of Fables. Jack has been consistently losing but manages to win the final hand of a high stakes poker game because of his power to summon all four jacks in a deck of cards at will.
- A friendly low-stakes Super Hero charity poker game once got derailed by the Kingpin in Spider-Man. The game came down to Spidey vs. Kingpin. He beat Kingpin's hand with four of a kind—he even pulled "two threes and another two threes" which, humorously enough, tricked Kingpin into a villain monologue.
- In issue #13 of Marvel's adaptation of Hanna-Barbera's Laff-A-Lympics, Dick Dastardly arrives at the Rottens' camp to confront his brother, Dread Baron. The Baron tells how as children he and Dick were both accomplished cheaters, showing them playing poker and trying to outdo each other with many aces (Dick produces a box reading "Acme Aces — for the discriminating cheat").
- In Terry Pratchett's Witches Abroad, Granny Weatherwax bests a card shark in Cripple Mr. Onion (a poker-like game played with the Discworld equivalent of a Tarot deck) through a combination of skill, psychological warfare, disabling the other players' cheating aids and explicitly manipulating the above poker tropes (since the Discworld runs on Narrativum, holding the best possible hand of a game against a protagonist when there's a single exception to the rule is an automatic loss). However, in Maskerade, Granny Weatherwax's poker game against Death to save a child's life is a subversion. Granny has four queens, while Death has four aces. Death chooses to dismiss his hand as "just four ones". The cards came out like that because Granny cheated. She'd have had the four aces in her hand if Death hadn't had them switch. The trick here, is both of them wanted Granny to win (Death's got a soft spot for humanity); they just went through the pantomime because those were the rules. She also mentions learning the game from another old witch with a 'detached retina in her Second Sight'. She learned fast.
- In in Robert Asprin's Little Myth Marker, where hero Skeeve finds himself in a flashy high stakes poker challenge; he puts the entire stakes on the first hand without even looking at his cards. The twist being, as he explains to his opponent, he does so because he knows he doesn't have any outstanding skill at the game — but essentially reducing the game to a coin flip makes the skill gap irrelevant. But he wins with a big flashy hand anyhow. It's Dragon Poker, which Asprin probably got the idea for from watching the Star Trek episode "A Piece of the Action" (anyone familiar with both series will think "Fizzbin" while reading the book, and "Dragon Poker" while watching the Trek episode). Depending on the day, the hands that have already happened, where you're sitting compared to the other players, where you're sitting based on the compass, and any number of other factors, an otherwise unremarkable hand can wipe out a royal flush no problem. What got Skeeve into trouble was the fact that he had a fairly reasonable success rate playing as best he could and letting everyone else work out whether he'd won or lost the hand. What he didn't realize until later was the dealer was cheating on Skeeve's behalf for that initial success, as part of a larger scheme to infiltrate a literal Character Assassin into Skeeve's home. Though this didn't affect the game described above.
- The poker game in The Canary Murder Case has two rounds come down to high hands. Vance wanted to analyze the suspect's psychology, so he paid a card cheat to arrange for those big hands.
- Older Than Radio: Used and subverted in Alexander Pushkin's 1830s story "The Queen of Spades". The story concerns a young gambler who wishes to gain the secret of getting three good cards in a row from an elderly countess. After she refuses to tell him, he ends up threatening and frightening her to death, and is then visited by her in a dream with the secret. Wishing to marry his much wealthier sweetheart, he places all of his money on a bet and then loses everything when the final card turns out to be the wrong one.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation Expanded Universe novel "Dragon's Honor", Riker makes the mistake of introducing the game of poker to the natives (a race based upon traditional Asian values), including the heir to the planetary empire. Despite trying to throw the game as best he can, he ends up winning all of the valuables on the planet, including the planet itself.
- In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel "The Big Game", a poker tournament which lasts most of the book is decided on the final hand, in which Odo gets a royal flush. The chances of this happening, needless to say, are astronomically small.
- Actually lampshaded in the book. While the odds of drawing a royal flush are incredibly low, technically they're the same as the odds of drawing any other specific combination of 5 cards. And given the size and length of the tournament, millions of hands had been played. Play enough hands and eventually somebody will get a royal flush.
- It's been done  at the World Series of Poker (ok, that's Hold 'Em, which has better odd of getting a royal flush, but still a long shot)
- The Alex Rider novel Crocodile Tears hangs a lampshade on this by stating the very long odds on the four of a kind that Big Bad Desmond McCain has just produced. And then Alex produces a straight flush to beat it.
- In Joe Queenan's America, Queenan describes an occasion when he went to Atlantic City and sat in on a table with experienced poker players. Not really knowing anything about the game, he just bet when he felt lucky, and started winning — and got a lot of derision from the experienced players for screwing up the 'system'. After one of them took him aside and explained it to him, he started betting by the system — and promptly lost all his winnings and more besides. Not entirely surprisingly, he concluded that the system blows.
- The short story Bump by Jeffrey Deaver has a high stakes, cash on the table poker game between celebrities (all of whom need a "bump" in their career). The final showdown has the protagonist with an improbably high hand losing to his opponent with an equally improbably high hand. The protagonist later privately calls out the tournament producer on the dramatic showdown. The game and show were rigged for with the help of the double-dealing dealer. The short story ends with the protagonist implicitly blackmailing him for the bump he was after in the first place.
- In Rebel Dawn, the last book of The Han Solo Trilogy, Han wins the Millennium Falcon during the climactic hand of a sabacc tournament. His winning hand is "pure sabacc" - a hand of exactly 23, the second most valuable hand in the game. As a bonus, the cards used shift value at random, and Han's cards shifted from 0 (the worst possible hand) to 23 just before the final round of betting.
- Whos The Boss, "When Worlds Collide" shows Angela winning loads at poker early on, and Johnathan (Angela's kid) getting four aces in the epilogue.
- I Love Lucy, when Lucy forces herself into a poker game of Ricky's, since she has just learned to play that very morning. She has no trouble convincing the regulars that she has a very good hand, and she wins when she doesn't even have a single pair.
- Lottery - The representatives of the Intersweep Lottery deliver the prize money of a winner, but not before he put the ticket into the pot of a poker game. Now, with the true value of the ticket revealed, the other players refuse to allow it to be removed from contention. On the advice of the reps, the players agree to let the next winning poker hand settle the issue. As pure luck would have it, the purchaser of the lottery ticket pulls a miraculous royal flush to win the game.
- A rare subversion comes in the 1980s Degrassi High. The cool kids invite nerdy, insecure Arthur to their poker party so they can take him for all he's worth. He's out of his depth — at one point, he asks, "does three of a kind beat a full house?" But he suddenly starts winning — including beating three of a kind with a full house. By the last hand, it's down to Arthur and the host — and Arthur wins almost all the money by bluffing when his hand is complete junk. The cool kids are amazed. Then comes the subversion: Arthur grins and says, "'Does three of a kind beat a full house?' You guys are so gullible."
- Subverted in an episode of Angel, where Angel bets his soul to a demon on a single high card draw. His opponent gets a nine, and Angel... draws a three. He then switches to Plan B and chops the demon's head off before the bet can be claimed.
- In Only Fools and Horses episode "A Losing Streak", a poker game between most of the recurring characters eventually comes down to Del and Boycie. Del insists Boycie is bluffing, and when Boycie raises the stakes beyond the agreed limit persuades all the others to throw in everything they've got. It transpires Boycie isn't bluffing, and Del only has two pair. He then waits for Boycie to start raking in the winnings before inevitably adding "A pair of aces, and... another pair of aces". The subversion comes when Boycie demands to how Del got four aces, and Del replies "Same place you got them kings. I knew you was cheating, Boycie, because that wasn't the hand I dealt you."
- Done twice in an episode of Family Matters where Urkel and Lt. Murtaugh are playing poker with each other, both using the "All I have is two pair..." line (Murtaugh first with kings, and Urkel later in the episode with tens).
- Subverted in Police Squad! During a poker game with the management of a boxer on the line, an undercover Drebin reveals his full house and starts to pick up the winnings. "Not so fast", one of the other players tells him. "I have a straight." Cue an argument about the rules of poker.
- Played with in the old Twilight Zone poker episode, where both players are dealt implausibly good hands...except it's lowball, making them implausibly bad.
- At once subverted and played straight in "An Echolls Family Christmas", a first-season episode of Veronica Mars. In The Teaser, a Texas Hold'Em game is down to a climactic final hand. Logan's hand could go well any number of ways with the cards on the table, though he still technically has nothing, with only the river remaining. When it comes time to reveal hands, Weevil's hand...isn't so impressive. As Logan notes, given the number of cards left in the deck, he can win with over thirty of them. And as the river is played, Weevil beats him with a pair of twos.
- Played with on In The House; when inexperienced player Tonia joins Marion's game and promptly squeals "lookie here; a whole family"! The other players fold, only to learn that she's bluffing.
- Sports Night: In "Shoe Money Tonight" Jeremy is supposed to be portrayed as an excellent poker player. The only skill he exhibits is his ability to get a straight on every single hand. Rule of Funny is very much in play.
- Whenever a poker game is shown in Star Trek: The Next Generation, you can bet that Riker will always turn out with a possible straight that he's bluffing about. Whether or not the bluff is called, though, depends on which would be more dramatically convenient. There was that one time he (and everyone else at the table) was dealt a three-of-a-kind. That only happened because the dealer stacked the deck. The dealer just wasn't aware he was stacking the deck.
- The Office (US):
- Dwight thinks he has figured Jim out on "Casino Night."
Dwight: Jim has a huge tell. Every time he has good cards, he coughs.
(Jim coughs, Dwight folds)
Jim: It's weird. Every time I cough, Dwight folds.
- In the same episode, Michael brags about his Texas Hold 'Em prowess. On his first hand, he goes all in before the flop. Toby calls him, to which Michael gets angry:
Michael: Why did you call there? I just went all-in without even seeing the cards!
Toby: I have a good hand.
(The dealer plays the community cards, Michael loses and stomps off.)
Toby: (To camera) I'm not much a gambler, but cleaning Michael out felt pretty good. I'm gonna chase that feeling.
- Bottom: Richie, naturally, tries to cheat by hiding most of the deck up his sleeves and in his underpants ("Look, I'm not angry, it's just we're playing with a deck of twelve cards here") and by having three pairs ("But you're only allowed five cards!" "What? Oh, I mean two and a half pairs!"). Eddie then beats him with five kings.
- Married... with Children features an episode in which Jefferson arranges a poker game between Al and some shady associates. Al is on an incredible lucky streak, which has him terrified of how much bad luck will come his way to make up for it. Drawing a royal flush on the biggest pot of the game, Al quickly discards everything but the ace... only to draw three more aces! Oh yeah, that bad luck comes to collect pretty soon afterwards.
- FlashForward (2009) had a important plot decision come down to a poker tournament. One character was so confident of his hand - 4 Kings - that despite having a massive chip lead, he said that this hand would be winner take all. His opponent had a straight flush. Lloyd cheated using a previously shown skill with card tricks.
- In one episode of Supernatural, several characters play high-stakes poker (very high-stakes, since the chips represent years of life), and the only hand we see that's as mundane as one pair ends a game the other player throws.
- An episode has poker novice Frank Burns sitting in on a game, getting plastered and winning hand after hand through sheer dumb luck.
- A later episode has Frank's replacement, Charles Winchester, enjoying a similar lucky streak... until the others discover his tell: he whistles when he's bluffing.
- In "Hawkeye Get Your Gun", Klinger (dressed in gypsy attire) uses playing cards to determine the status of Hawkeye and Potter, who are at a Korean aid station. He deals five cards, one at a time, and then realizes he drew a straight.
- On The X-Files episode "The Goldberg Variation", the title character wins a mob game in this fashion. Which is actually justfified in-story, as he has ridiculous luck with the downside that something bad happens to someone nearby shortly afterward. He hoped to mitigate that problem by playing against mobsters, who probably deserved whatever they got.
- Subverted in Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger: Joe and Luka get caught by a Monster of the Week, who stakes their freedom on a single hand of poker. Joe manages to pull out a Royal Straight Flush to everyone's amazementnote . At the end of the episode, it's revealed that during a moment of confusion where Joe called the MotW out on blatantly cheating, Luka took the opportunity to switch out the decks.
- Played with in The Mentalist; Jane, who can count cards better than Rain Man, arranges a poker game with the suspect in a Vegas case, provoking him into producing key evidence as a wager on the final hand. The suspect is holding four Kings; Jane beats it with a straight flush—because he cheated while the guy's back is turned to ensure they both had those exact hands.
- Played completely straight, oddly enough, in the poker episode when in the final hand, the last two players (Mickey, and Jake, his arch-rival of sorts) go all in, and Mickey's straight-to-the-king loses to Jake's straight-to-the-ace... you really expect some sort of subversion to happen, given that both are experts at cheating. But no - both hands were apparently entirely legitimate. (The swap happened to the prize money, off-screen.)
- Hustle has used the Roulette version of this trope on several occasions.
- Subverted in an episode of Psych, where Shawn is actually a pretty good poker player, but the action isn't about the cards themselves (no one cares what hands each player has, in other words), but about Shawn playing a good game against a cheater while trying to figure out how he cheats. He eventually wins by exposing the cheater rather than having a good hand.
- In Everybody Hates Chris Drew beats his neighbor in a game of blackjack by getting four aces in sequence.
- In the Suits episode "All In", two businessmen are both all-in in a game for millions of dollars and one man's company being used as collateral for his stake money. One man's full house seemingly had the other guy's made straight beat with the river to go, only to have the latter get his last out and make a straight flush. The improbability of the hands is even lampshaded by Mike. This is subverted later in the episode when Harvey tries to win the loser's company back in another game. He starts by betting big and the other guy folds. Harvey reveals that he was bluffing which together with other mind games causes his opponent to lose his confidence. Harvey then proceeds to grind away the other guy's money by winning small bets on fairly mundane hands. The other guy is so off his game that he never tries to bet big and in the long run Harvey is the better player.
- Hilariously teased and subverted in the NewsRadio episode "Presence". After Jimmy loses Bill in a poker game to fellow station owner, Lisa takes over in order to try to win him back. It seems like the MPE was in full effect after Lisa throws Dave's contract into the pot and then calms him down by telling him she has four jacks. However, she was actually using Reverse Psychology on Dave, knowing he couldn't hold a poker face. Her opponent folds after seeing Dave's gigantic grin. She actually had a pair of sixes much to Dave's later disgust.
- In Pogo, the three bats (Bewitched, Bothered, and Bemildred) are often seen playing poker.
Bewitched: I got four kings.
Bothered: I got five — all hearts.
Bemildred: One a' you is mus' be cheatin', 'cause I never had no kings of hearts in no deck of mine.
- Parodied in a scene in Sovisa, where the other players have stopped playing in favor of watching Alexi and Travis, in one of their one-upsmanship bouts, both trying to out-cheat the other. Alexi opens with a royal flush in hearts, only to be countered by Travis' royal flush in spades. The dealer at this point, exclaims "OH COME ON! That's barely even physically possible!". Even more silly, is that cheating in cards is usually done by the one dealing, and it's quite difficult to do otherwise.
- In one strip, Calvin and Hobbes are playing poker. While deciding his next move, Calvin notices Hobbes' tail suddenly thrash about wildly. Calvin quickly folds, much to Hobbes' exasperation.
- In an early strip of Rick O'Shay, Deuces Wilde (the town's mayor and a habitually cheating gambler) and Hipshot Percussion (the local desperado/outlaw) play a game of poker, and Wilde reveals his hand: a club flush, which impresses Hipshot. When Rick O'Shay (the sheriff) asks what kind of hand that is, Hipshot explains that it's four kings... all clubs.
- In The Champion Pub, if you're playing video poker and you are dealt a near straight with an Ace on the side, dropping all the cards except the Ace will almost always give you a four-of-a-kind or a Royal Flush.
- Enforced in Asteroid Annie And The Aliens, as the only hands the player can assemble are Royal Flushes.
- Played with in Joker Poker — the player must assemble a Ten, two Jacks, three Queens, four Kings, and five Aces (four Aces plus a Joker).
- Ultimately averted in Maverick The Movie — although the only hands the player can assemble are fixed (two of a kind, three of a kind, four of a kind, a Full House, a Straight, and a Royal Flush), too many discards (hitting the wrong targets) will cause the player to lose the current round.
- A term in the card game Magic: The Gathering, mise, sometimes refers to the critical gamewinning card drawn at exactly the right moment, usually without the aid of tutoring or library manipulating effects (unless you mise the tutor spell and use that to extract your winning card). Mising is referred to a lot in tournaments by article-writing professionals. Some pros have the superstition that mising happens more often during dramatic moments. It's a contraction of (the player) "might as well have" (drawn some specific obviously gamewinning card). There's also a joke card called Mise, which lets you draw three cards if you correctly guess the name of the top card of your library. The Unhinged version shows a rabbit monster using its own foot for luck while rolling dice, and the DCI promo version shows dogs playing Magic. The flavor text of the DCI version is: "Statistically mind-staggering as it might seem, the term "mise" was in fact coined simultaneously by over one thousand Magic players." In fact tournament level decks in Magic are more likely to draw the card they want than ordinary decks. Including cards that manipulate deck statistics is a critical part of design. A skilled player can often make decks in such a way that several cards in their deck can be the critical gamewinning card. Magic players going through their decks post-game might realize that the odds of drawing the card they need to win is rather high simply because, whatever the card, they could make use of it.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! it's called 'god drawing' or 'godhanding', and occasionally 'topdecking' (though 'topdecking' often refers explicitly to drawing cards when you have nothing in your hand).
- Made part of the basic mechanics of Doomtown, the collectible card game based on Deadlands. Doomtown cards have playing card values on them, which are used for a variety of purposes, particularly combat: each round of a shootout is ultimately resolved by drawing a number of cards and trying to build the best five-card hand you can from them. Skill comes into it because your characters and actions in the shootout affect how many cards you draw and can discard and replace, along with the fact that your deck normally does not have a normal distribution of values, but one that you decided on. While a hand that has multiples of the same value/suit card is certainly possible, it makes you vulnerable to game-changing "Cheatin!" cards, so those five Kings may not be as good as you thought. The importance of the hand also factors in, as players are more likely to use up resources to improve an important fight that they wouldn't use over a minor scuffle.
- An interesting version of this, ironically not applicable to poker as such, appears in Spirit of the Century. The Gambling stunt "The Devil's Own Luck" allows a character to apply his or her full Gambling skill in games of pure chance (such as roulette) where skill would normally have no effect on the outcome at all.
- Spoofed in Kingdom of Loathing: a special adventure encountered during a Bad Moon ascension run has your character winning a sizeable amount of money in a poker game, but then the other players complain about the use of the "complete newcomer wins the high-stakes card game despite not knowing the rules" cliche and the "two pair of aces" joke, then beat the crap out of you.
- In Star Wars: Darth Bane: Path of Destruction: The titular character is playing Sabacc against a Republic ensign. They both get an Idiots Array (a two, three and an idiot) which would allow them both to win if the other hadn't gotten it. They both get a nine which was supposed to end the stalemate so Bane gets nine and the Ensign gets eight allowing Bane to win the hand and the pot.
- Two plot deaths, one in Wing Commander II and one in Wing Commander IV, are signaled by the doomed NPC drawing a Dead Man's Hand (aces and eights, "Wild Bill" Hickock's hand when he was gunned down).
- In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Phoenix is accused of murdering a man over a game of draw poker, which ended when both players had Full Houses, but Phoenix had a Pair of aces with 3 sevens, while the other had three kings and the other two aces. Someone had, however, switched a card after the hand was dealt; the original hand for the defendant had three aces and two kings—a fifth ace had somehow come into play, which itself was clear proof of cheating. It turns out that the dealer, Olga Orly, was cheating, and dealt out five aces intentionally - the actual cards in that hand were: Phoenix: Pair of aces with three sevens, Shadi: Three aces with a pair of kings. It's repeatedly pointed out that the chances of both players having full houses are incredibly low, and thus the cheating is the only way it could happen.
- In Wing Commander II, Captain Mariko "Spirit" Tanaka, your wingman, wins a poker game immediately before a mission with a full house of aces over eights. She dies by suicide ramming an enemy outpost. Conversely, in IV, Lieutenant Winston "Vagabond" Chang loses with the same hand to Major Todd "Maniac" Marshall (who drew four-of-a-kind queens) and dies in a subsequent special forces mission covering the retreat of Lieutenant Velina Sosa, Colonel Blair's operations officer.
- In Batman: Arkham City, Zzasz tells Batman about his Start of Darkness, which involved being cleaned out by the Penguin at a game of Five Card Draw (or some variation). Zzasz has four 6s, the Penguin beats it with a straight flush... to the 7. This cannot happen together because it involves five 6s. One or both were cheating.
- In Fallout 2, raising your Gambling skill improves your chances of winning at roulette, somehow. In Fallout: New Vegas, the skill has been removed and your gambling prowess is based on your Luck. The blackjack table allows you to make decisions as appropriate (meaning that the player's skill at the game is brought in, rather than the character's), but a high Luck lets you draw better cards.
- Played strictly for laughs several times in Bugs Bunny cartoons:
- In "Barbary Coast Bunny". The villain gets a full house, to which a dejected Bugs (disguised as a gullible country bumpkin) moans, "Gee, all I got is two pair. A pair of ones, and another pair of ones." He is referring to a Quad of aces, the second highest value hand in the rules of poker. He also manages to win several other casino games, despite the fact they've all been rigged by the same villain.
- Later, in "Bonanza Bunny", he decides to play a round of blackjack with only one card. The villain has two tensnote in his hand, but loses anyway, as Bugs has drawn the 21 of Hearts.
- In "Mississippi Hare", riverboat gambler Colonel Shuffle holds five aces - and Bugs beats him with a hand of six aces.
- Similarly, one Donald Duck cartoon had him playing a quick game against some small creature. We clearly see Donald cheating, pulling out aces from all sorts of places to get four aces. His opponent has five aces.
- Humourously subverted in an episode of The Real Ghostbusters: The Ghostbusters are pursuing the ghosts of four Old West desperados, and Peter gets snagged into a poker game with the four spirits. When it comes time to call, each of the ghosts produces two aces, two eights and a ten (the "dead man's hand"). Peter then produces four aces, whereupon the ghosts accuse him of cheating and draw their guns. Peter escapes and mutters how wise it was of him not to show them the fifth ace.
- In a Peanuts cartoon episode, Snoopy held five aces including the "ace of anchors"
- The Simpsons:
- Played with in The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. When K'nuckles bets Flapjack in a poker game, he wins with a pair of threes (the opponent had a pair of twos).
- Spoofed in the fourth Futurama movie, "Into the Wild Green Yonder". Bender, who has a lucky robot's foot and always catches cards, and Fry, who can read minds, face off in the final hand of a poker tournament. Fry has two aces, but can't know Bender's hand because he didn't look at his cards. When it comes to showdown, Fry makes the absolute nuts, four aces, only for Bender to make five kings by being dealt a coaster called "The King of Beers".
- Parodied in one old Goofy short. A very high-stakes poker game, complete with sinister shady characters smoking cigars, comes down to the last hand, and when it's called...
Card sharp #1: Nuthin'.
Card sharp #2: Nuthin'.
Card sharp #3: Nuthin'.
Goofy: Pair of deuces...?
Card sharp #1: Ya takes it all!
Card sharp #2: We thought you was bluffin'!
- In the Warner Bros. cartoon "Early To Bet," the cat whose luck at gin rummy against a bulldog was awful (having to perform a "penalty" each time he loses) deals for high card against the Gambling Bug. The cat draws a three, but the Gambling Bug draws a two. The cat metes out a penalty on the bug—a rolled up newspaper! ("No! Not that! Not the Post!!")
- Sooni from Tales Of MU tries to invoke this law by telling Mack (the protagonist) to draw first. It kind of works; Mack draws a king and Sooni draws an ace, but with a shout of "Nobody did ever say aces were high" from the audience, all hell breaks loose.
- Parodied in SMBC Theater here, where the players go from implausibly good hands, to outright impossible hands, to things that aren't even poker hands.
- And, quite obviously, not truth in television, even though it may seem like it because the unimportant, more statistically sound hands are rarely televised.
- Played straight by Doyle Brunson, who won the No Limit Hold 'Em championship at the 1976 World Series of Poker by turning a humble 10-2 offsuit into a full house. That's not terribly remarkable by itself, but then he did the same thing with the exact same hand a year later, the odds against which are astronomical. The hand has been known as "The Doyle" ever since.
- OH IT'S LIGHTNING HELIX! OH MY GOD! For laypeople: Craig Jones was in a very bad position against his semifinals opponent in the deciding game of the set, in the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour. The commentators were theorizing he'd take the safer play of using his only direct-damage spell on his opponent's creatures, giving him more time to live and potentially draw what he needed. Craig Jones instead, figuring he was in such a bad position he'd lose even with an extra turn or two, opted to use the spell on his opponent. He had one and only one out - Lightning Helix, the one spell in his deck that would deal the remaining damage needed to his foe without killing himself in the process. His opponent gets to his feet: "Slam it!" he said. "Don't look, just slam it!" It was Lightning Helix. That Lightning Helix won Craig Jones $16,000.
- this topdeck. Gabriel Nassif was a turn away from losing his quarterfinal match against Matteo Orsini-Jones. On his turn, he draws his card but doesn't look at it, then arranges his lands, saying "I'm putting together my Ultimatum mana." That would be Cruel Ultimatum, a card that would turn the tables in a hurry. Then, he finally looks at his card...and sure enough, it's Cruel Ultimatum, giving him the match and, eventually, the tournament. This ended up being subverted in a World Championship match where Kai Budde is about to lose but draws a Morphling, the one card in his deck that can turn the game around for him. After he wins, people comment on his incredible luck but more Genre Savvy players and commentators quickly pointed out that Kai's deck is full of card drawing and deck manipulation cards. For the last dozen or so turns he has been using these cards to dig deeper into his deck and maximized his odds of drawing the Morphling. It was still lucky for him to get it on that turn but he only got it because his superior playing skills got him to that point.
-  Double Crit; all on the vanguard. Izumi Kitta, the voice actress of Misaki Tokura, in [[stark contract]] with the character she voices often wins through double triggers after often breaking her opponent's guard. This has lead to her nickname "Izuqualia."