Tabletop Game: Poker
"2,598,960 possible five-card hands. 1,277 flushes in any given suit. 1,980,240 ways to make two pairs. And yet, the game can't beat a man. Man only beats himself (and on and so forth)."Poker is played with a standard 52-card deck. Well, mostly — there are variations which don't use all 52 cards, or add one or more jokers. Mostly played for money, sometimes just for fun, and sometimes for the clothes you wear. The Professional Gambler does this as a kind of day job.The basic play of poker is: people are dealt a hand of five cards, which have a certain 'ranking' and will beat poker hands of a lesser ranking (ranking is determined by the rarity of the hand - a straight of ten, jack, queen, king, ace will generally beat a hand with just a pair of queens, for example). They keep their hand secret, and then bet money on it. The other players have to put in at least the same amount of money if they want to continue, or - critically - forfeit the money already agreed to, to the eventual winner. If it comes down to a showdown, the players show their cards, and the best hand wins all the money bet by all the players! This is why bluffing is possible; you can put in more money than your hand is really worth, in the hope that players will think you've got something great, and back down.The history of poker is a bit unclear; some claim it developed from the old German board game Poch, which already had hand rankings, bluffs and bets on cards. It gained a lot of popularity in the Wild West and on Mississippi River steamboats, and much later again with Chris Moneymaker after he won the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in 2003.Currently the most popular and well-known variant is No Limit Texas Hold'em, largely because it's what they play in most of the public events such as the aforementioned WSOP Main Event,note and looks very exciting on TV (to the extent that from 2006 to 2009, the HORSE game, a staggering of various fixed-limit games, became NLHE at the final table for ratings' sake, until a variant was introduced with an NLHE game every orbit, which even then made it exclusive at the final table for two years). This can lead to Anachronism Stew moments in fiction when you see people e.g., in the Wild West, playing it; the game was actually invented in the early 20th century. Before the ascent of Texas Hold'em, the most popular variant of the game was Five Card Draw, in which each player has their own hand of five cards and there are two rounds of post-ante betting, between which each player can discard cards from their hand and be dealt new ones from the deck, followed closely by the five- and seven-card variants of Stud.Poker often has cases of Beginner's Luck. Reverse Psychology often helps here. Also expect I Know You Know I Know on higher levels, as many top poker players have developed Awesomeness by Analysis. In media, depictions often use The Magic Poker Equation. Several pros use Trash Talk for more success.Most often the game in cases of Lost Him in a Card Game.Inspired the trope name Misery Poker. May have inspired in some way Bluffing the Murderer, Bluff the Impostor and other tropes with "bluff" in the name.Remember: Aces and Eights are the Dead Man's Hand, thanks to Wild Bill Hickok losing his life while holding it (as dramatized in Deadwood, among others).Also, always keep in mind: Know When to Fold 'Em, which this named. A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted.Also see Playing Card Motifs.
—Mr. Burt, The X-Files ("Improbable")
Tropes found in poker:
- Awesomeness by Analysis: The surest way to succeed.
- Beginner's Luck: Justified. Someone whose grasp of basic odds and strategy are tenuous will be much harder to predict than someone with moderate experience.
- Big Book of War: Doyle Brunson's Super/System and its sequel are the traditional Big Books of Poker. Their advice is typically considered out-of-date these days, leaving the title up for grabs. Phil Gordon's Little Green Book and Daniel Negreanu's Power Hold'Em Strategy are two contenders. Caro's Book of Poker Tells (Mike Caro) is another classic, if more specialized.
- Dead Man's Hand: The Trope Namer.
- I Know You Know I Know: Often present in high-level play.
- Kansas City Shuffle: A common ploy against opponents of moderate skill. Holding a strong hand, the player makes an overly large bet, trying to appear as though they're bluffing so that the opponent will call or raise. Conversely, holding a weak hand, the player makes a suspiciously small bet, trying to appear as if they're trying to suck the opponent in so that they'll fold or just call as opposed to raising.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: Recognizing when one's hand is beaten and the opponent cannot be bluffed into a fold is a crucial skill. See Sunk Cost Fallacy below.
- Professional Gambler: This is known as the only casino game at which one can reliably make money. Since the players are facing off against each other rather than the house, one only has to do well enough to "beat the rake" to make a profit. note
- Reverse Psychology: The foundation of strategy: convince your opponent that you want them to call, raise, or fold, so that they'll do the opposite.
- Strip Poker: A staple of cool college parties you weren't invited to.
- Sunk Cost Fallacy: Technically, being statistically "pot-committed" is an aversion of this trope; however, it's not uncommon to fall victim to it in other ways, such as continuing to play while "on tilt" (frustrated) in an attempt to get "unstuck" (win back previous losses) instead of recognizing that one is playing against superior opponents or just having an off day and cutting one's losses.
Examples of poker in media:
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- In one 2006 commercial for Diet Pepsi, the "blue can" is told by his agent (Jay Mohr) that championship poker is big. The can makes the final table of a tournament that includes poker greats Scotty Nguyen, Phil "Poker Brat" Hellmuth, and Daniel "Kid Poker" Negreanu. Daniel asks, "Whacha got, Blue Boy?" and the can shows a king of spades and queen of spades. "Blue Boy" proceeds to beat and clean out Daniel in short order.
- Rio -Rainbow Gate!- has its plot centered in a Casino, so poker is part of it, even though the series was based on a video game involving pachinko.
- Up till now played twice in Liar Game. Due to nature of the title, both times it had some variation of the rules to make it suit Liar Game Tournament - once it was 17-card poker and the current (as of the time of writing) arc concentrates around Bidding Poker (players don't draw cards but bid on them like in auction, similiarly they bid for cards other players discard when they want to change something with their hand).
Collectible Card Games
- The Deadlands CCG Doomtown uses poker hands to determine who wins shootouts, adding an extra dimension to deck construction. This being a CCG, you can stack your deck, but you can also get in trouble for it (and you tend to make less money, as the money-making phase includes a round of lowball poker). Each dude in your posse is either a "stud" or a "draw", letting you draw extra cards (as in stud poker) or discard cards and replace them (as in draw poker).
- The Dead Man's Hand (with a jack of diamonds) is the best hand possible, even beating five of a kind. (Unless someone else plays That's Two Pair!, in which case it doesn't even beat three of a kind...)
- Some baddies in Empowered play poker in the story "Heroine Hold'em" - and she, Bound and Gagged, is the prize!
- An issue of Spider-Man featured Spidey and several other heroes in a poker game. Story is they got together on a regular basis for low-stakes poker, with all the winning donated to charity. Kingpin shows up, saying he's heard about the game and puts up a huge amount of cash to each player, saying he's here to clean them out. At the end, it's only Spidey and Kingpin left. Kingpin lays it on thick, telling Spidey he can't win and he should bail. Spidey goes all in, Kingpin calls and shows off his Full House, proudly declaring himself the winner and starting to rake in the pot. Spidey says time out. "Hey, I only got two pair. I got that pair on nines on the table, and I got this pair of nines in my hand." Cue the most pissed off look in the history of comics on Kingpins' face.
- Rounders, the best poker movie out there.
- James Bond plays poker with Le Chiffre and wins in Casino Royale (2006). In the original book, it was baccarat instead. Arguably an improvement, as baccarat is based mostly on luck. Poker wasn't the high-stakes casino game it is today back when the novel was written. The only game played in casinos for stakes relevant to Le Chiffre, and in which the house didn't massively stack the odds against you, was baccarat.
- It also allowed them to skip over what would have been a long explanation of baccarat rules for an audience that would be mostly unfamiliar with the game.
- Gone with the Wind. Gerald O'Hara is a good poker player (esp. when there's heavy drinking involved), and Rhett Butler worked as a professional poker player earlier in his life.
- Used as a plot point in Penelope, as Lemon finds "Max", a habitual poker player, at his usual Texas Hold'em table. His ability to later walk away from the game shows his character development.
- Poker night at Oscar's house is a setting for many of the best gags in The Odd Couple.
- The Cincinnati Kid', a poker film starring Steve McQueen, set during The Great Depression.
- Maverick, where every major character plays poker, and they all end up in a poker tournament for a half million dollars.
- TombstoneWyatt Earp: Come on, Doc! You've always said gambling's an honest trade!Doc Holliday: No, I've said poker is an honest trade. Only fools buck the tiger (a common pseudonym for playing Faro).
- In In Time, the protagonist wins an Absurdly High-Stakes Game. He has 8-4 versus the queens of his opponent, the Big Bad. The board is: Queen - seven - jack (flop); six (turn); five (river). In other words, the villain was way ahead with his set of queens, but thanks to the Magic Poker Equation, the hero got a straight with the last card. Don't try to play poker like that, unless you want to lose.
- Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels has a game called three-card brag, a British game (mentioned as one of the ancestors of poker by The Other Wiki) with some fairly major rules differences, especially regarding betting. It's perhaps even more suitable than poker for setting up the "hero loses silly amount of money to villain and spends rest of film trying to repay it" plot, as Brag has a way of getting out of hand very quickly indeed and is typically not played for table stakes.
- Popular as a motif in the works of Tim Powers, often with supernatural implications attached.
- Last Call focuses on a supernatural variant of poker, played with tarot cards, that could literally be used to win or lose bodies and souls; tied together with Jungian archetypes and the Fisher King myth, the Big Bad of the work uses it to win bodies that he could hop to.
- Declare focuses on an entirely different type of magic, but an interrupted poker game between Andrew Hale and Kim Philby is central to one of its subplots, single-hand seven-card stud, sudden death rules. The real tension isn't in their respective hands—which is determined by pure luck—by rather in the fact that there are different prizes for declaring high and declaring low; high hand wins the right to go after a woman both are pursuing, low hand wins djinni-assisted immortal life. However they declare will determine what they win.
- ''Little Myth Marker from the Myth Adventures series centers around a ridiculously complex version of the game. Fans, of course, have codified the rules and filled in the blanks (see Tabletop Games).
Live Action TV
- Many or most works set in The Wild West feature poker, including:
- Battlestar Galactica, both old and new, featured a very poker-like card game called "Pyramid."
- Which, bizarrely, shared its name with a very basketball-like sport.
- The reboot fixed this by naming the card game "Triad."
- Which, bizarrely, shared its name with a very basketball-like sport.
- In an episode of Supernatural the brothers have to face a he-witch who plays poker betting life years instead of money.
- Dean also finances the brothers, at least in part, by cheating at poker games. In the episode where the boys allow themselves to get caught in order to infiltrate a prison, Dean comments that playing poker against the other inmates is "like picking low-hanging fruit".
- Thursday's Game, a very funny '70s Made-for-TV Movie written by James L. Brooks and starring Gene Wilder and Bob Newhart.
- Tilt, an ESPN series created at the height of the WSOP popularity starring Chris Bauer, Eddie Cibrian, and Michael Madsen.
- To the point of a Running Gag in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Frakes even pointed out what a Badass gambler his character must be. He's playing with an android who can count the cards, a guy who might be able to see through the cards, and his empathic ex-girlfriend...and usually cleans their clock.
Kirk: Not chess, Spock. Poker!
- One teaser has Data playing poker on the holodeck with Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Stephen Hawking (appearing As Himself).
- The final scene of the Series Finale is of Captain Picard finally joining the rest of the senior officers for a game of poker.
- In Star Trek: The Original Series, however, the game wasn't really featured, but by way of analogy represented Kirk's hallmark of using guts and bluffing in contrast to Spock's preference for the logical strategy of chess. Which is a great analogy except then they try breaking it.
- The Friends episode "The One with the Poker".
- The poker game is a major scene in the film and play: The Odd Couple, but it also takes place in the TV show.
- My Boys features poker at PJ's house in most episodes.
- All the monsters of Kamen Rider Blade are categorized according to a 52-card deck plus Jokers. The four Riders themselves represent the Aces, and each gradually collects the monsters and powers of the other 12 in their suit. Poker hands specifically come into play when Blade's in his Super Mode, as his strongest attacks are straight flushes that use five continuous Spade cards. A four-of-a-kind attack, with each Rider providing one card, has also been seen.
- Castle has Castle at the table with Beckett at times, and with a circle of authors that include James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and the late Stephen J. Cannell (who now has an Empty Chair Memorial).
- The Food Network show Kitchen Casino has as its last round "Chef Poker," which is a hybrid of Texas Hold 'Em and 5-Card Draw Poker. Host Bill Rancic deals out a "flop" of 3 cards with ingredients two chefs MUST BOTH use in their dishes. Each chef is also dealt two "hole cards" which are two unique ingredients to their dish only. After looking at their hole cards as well as the flop, they can either keep both ingredients, or discard one or both of them for new ones which MUST BE USED (no more discards) for that dish.
- One of Family Matters episodes deals with Carl Winslow, his cop partners and Hanriette's boss playing Five Card Draw, and Steve Urkel joining in. Steve loses all the money he had saved for an accordion, but then earns that and the money Carl had lent him before, winning the last game with two pairs... of tens.
- In Deadlands, hucksters work their magic by drawing poker hands (in-character, they actually gamble with demons and cheat). The Collectible Card Game Doomtown also has a strong poker motif, see above.
- Hoyles Rules Of Dragon Poker purports to be the most complicated version of poker (and any other game, for that matter) in creation. It's probably true.
- Seen various places in the Wing Commander series, including a couple of special hands.
- In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, after Phoenix lost his job as a lawyer in one case 7 years ago, he got a job at a Russian restaurant, in which he became a famous poker player, as he hadn't lost a single game in those 7 years. While Phoenix is a good player in his own right, he gets a little help from his adopted daughter Trucy, who has the same Perceive ability that Apollo does. She uses it to pick up on the tells that Phoenix misses.
- Red Dead Redemption uses poker as a minigame. You can actually cheat in it too using a certain outfit to slip a card up your sleeve.
- Poker Night at the Inventory and its sequel is a crossover poker game, with the players being characters from Team Fortress 2, Sam & Max: Freelance Police, Penny Arcade, Homestar Runner, Borderlands, Evil Dead, and The Venture Bros..
- You can win credits playing poker with your engineering staff in Mass Effect 2. It's played for laughs, though: the most you can win is pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and the action occurs off-screen anyway.
- In "Far Cry 3", you can find back room poker games that you can join all over the island map. Later on, you play against the main villain, Hoyt, where your life is on the line if you lose.
- The Chapel Chronicles: Chapel is an avid game player and poker is often the game of choice.
- Plus EV, which is about nothing but poker.
- This strip◊ of The Perry Bible Fellowship.
- There's also the comic Gods Playing Poker.
- In Roommates, the Erlkönig has a monthly poker game with some pretty scary types (like the Slender Man)... in his son's kitchen, for the great horror of his roommates.
- The Talkartoons short "The Ace of Spades" is themed around Bimbo the Dog causing trouble at a local poker house.