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Gambling Brawl

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A friendly wager or betting game turns violent.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
Xtifr on Feb 19th 2018 at 11:39:29 AM
Last Edited By:
Xtifr on Mar 7th 2018 at 11:34:15 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

A staple of The Western. Several characters are playing Poker (or some reasonable equivalent). One is accused of cheating, and a fight breaks out. Guns may be drawn, and one or more people are likely to end up dead. In its mildest form, the result will be a Mexican Standoff, until cooler heads can prevail. If no guns are involved, may simply result in a Bar Brawl.

If someone was cheating, it's likely that they're the one who will die, unless they're an important character. False accusations are more likely to result in the death of the accuser. But there's no guarantees either way.

Usually used to show the relative lawlessness of the location where the game is being held, or to show what a low value human life has there.

Will often involve the Professional Gambler and/or the Card Sharp. Will sometimes be foreshadowed by revealing the Dead Man's Hand, which is, according to legend, the hand held by Wild Bill Hickok when he was killed in just such a scenario. Despite that possibly-real example, though, this is far rarer in real life than Hollywood suggests.


Examples:

Film
  • In Within Our Gates, a dealer is caught using a mirror to see the other players' hands, which precipitates a shootout.
  • In ''Rounders, the character called "Worm" attempts to cheat a bunch of cops in a game, and ends up getting violently beaten for his troubles.
  • Subverted in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Sundance is in a poker game with several other men. When Butch arrives, one of the other players accuses Sundance of cheating and wants to have a shootout with him to settle things. When Butch calls him "Sundance", the challenger is familiar with his reputation and realizes that if they fight, he'll be killed. This allows Butch to use his charisma and diplomacy skills to get Sundance to leave without a fight.
  • Maverick
    • Subverted twice during the first poker game, between Maverick, Angel, Annabelle and several others:
      • First, John Wesley Hardin (a famous Real Life gunfighter) tells Maverick that a hand of poker Maverick won shouldn't count. Instead of starting a gunfight, Maverick backs down and lets Hardin take the pot. He then demonstrates his lightning fast quick draw skill, thus making it clear that if there had been a gunfight, he could have shot Hardin before his gun cleared his holster.
      • Angel accuses Maverick of cheating and wants to fight him, but a group of men suddenly appear and want to fight him too. They go outside and Maverick handily beats the men up, causing Angel to retract his accusation out of fear. Later it's revealed that Maverick arranged to have the men intervene and lose to him if anyone threatened to physically attack him.
    • Played straight during the final poker game between the Commodore, Angel and Maverick. When Maverick pulls off a miracle play and wins the tournament, Angel accuses him of cheating again. Angel and his two henchmen draw their guns, but all three are shot and killed by Maverick and Marshall Zane Cooper.
  • In Trinity Is Still My Name, Trinity wins big in a poker game and is accused of cheating by a fellow cardsharp. Rather than accept his challenge, Trinity simply demonstrates his quick-draw skills by (repeatedly) slapping the man across the face and then pointing the gun at it with the same hand, forcing him to retreat.
  • Parodied (of course) in Airplane!: During Striker's first flashback, there's a close-up of two people playing poker, with only their hands visible. Suddenly one of them pulls out a knife and they start fighting. The camera pulls back to reveal that the players are Girl Scouts.
  • In BloodRayne II: Deliverance, Flintlock accuses Rayne of cheating, accompanied by Flipping the Table. He calls her out for a Showdown at High Noon. At midnight. In this case, it seems that Flintlock was just a sore loser, rather than there being any cheating on Rayne's part.
  • In The Legend of Frenchie King, the Sarrazin brothers realize that the Leroi sisters are cheating at poker and denounce them, which leads directly to a Bar Brawl.

Live-Action TV

  • Frontier Circus: In "Quick Shuffle", Ben catches a crooked dealer cheating him at poker. The dealer pulls a derringer and Ben is forced to shoot him in self-defence.
  • In Auction Kings, the fact that this trope can be Truth in Television is implied when Paul sells an antique gambler's chain that has a hidden pistol on the end. While the viewer never sees it, the expert is able to determine that it had been fired.
  • In the Legends of Tomorrow episode "The Magnificent Eight", when the team is visiting the Old West, an outlaw accuses Snart of cheating at cards, and tries to shoot him, only for Snart to shoot him first. The result is a big Bar Brawl.
  • Subverted in The Almighty Johnsons: Mike, whose divine powers make it impossible for him to lose a game of chance, has already been thrown out of the local casino, so he seeks out an underground poker game, at a dive filled with bikers and thugs and other undesirables. His brother is sure they're both about to be killed, but when violence starts to erupt, the club's bouncers intervene and throw the pair out on their asses.

Music

  • In "Me & My Uncle" by The Grateful Dead, the uncle is accused of cheating in a poker game with some cowboys, one of whom starts to draw his gun, but the protagonist is quicker, manages to shoot all the cowboys, and he and his uncle escape with all the gold.
  • In "Little Willie the Gambler" by Townes Van Zandt, Willie ends up being shot during a poker game by someone who was angry at losing all his money.
  • In "Lay It Down'' by Samantha Fish, the protagonist shoots a man who tries to cheat her in a card game. The official music video features her dragging a body off to the woods and digging a shallow grave.
    Got an ace up his sleeve and a pistol by my side
    And if he calls first, I'm going to give it to him right.
  • In many versions of the African-American folk/blues/whatever song Stagger Lee, the dispute between Stagger Lee and Billy Lyon begins with an argument over a dice game. The versions vary over whether Billy was actually cheating or whether Stag was just a sore loser.

Video Games

  • In the second chapter of Killer7, a group of diplomats are playing mah-jongg. One is accused of cheating, and all of them end up shooting each other dead.
  • Red Dead Redemption has a scene where John is accused of cheating by a German player, and everyone ends up in a Mexican Standoff.

Webcomics

  • In Widdershins, Jack O'Malley and Heinrich Wolfe get arrested when Jack is accused of cheating in a card game, gets punched, and has Wolfe come to his defense. After the fact, Jack argues that having innate Aura Vision that reveals people's emotions shouldn't count as cheating, but the police aren't convinced.
  • The Lovable Rogue Sam Starfall of Freefall plays poker with two men in the Friday 4 August 2000 strip, and claims the pot because "I've got four kings. You've only got two." The angry faces indicate the other players are well aware there should be only four kings in the entire deck. Sam is face down in a garbage dumpster by the next strip.

Western Animation

  • The Road to El Dorado: When Tulio and Miguel were caught cheating for loaded dice, the two knew that they were in it for a brawl so they "dueled" themselves with accusations to each other and with the guard's swords. They used this duel to get away from the guards and the angry gamblers.
  • Futurama: In "How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back", Bender plays poker with Fry, Leela and her former co-workers. He cheats using x-ray specs and, when he's exposed, is chased into Hermes' newly-cleaned office and beaten up.
  • On The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh episode "Paw and Order", a bar fight breaks out over a game of Go Fish.

Feedback: 30 replies

Feb 19th 2018 at 11:44:28 AM

Seen it a million times, but I'm not a huge western fan, so I need a bit of help tracking down examples. Certainly open to suggestions for a better name.

Feb 19th 2018 at 12:02:33 PM

The Road To El Dorado: When Tulio and Miguel were caught cheating for loaded dice, the two knew that they were in it for a brawl so they "dueled" themselves with accusations to each other and with the guard's swords. They used this duel to get away from the guards and the angry gamblers.

Feb 19th 2018 at 5:55:35 PM

Could overlap with and/or be a Sister Trope to the Bar Brawl.

  • In Widdershins, Jack O'Malley and Heinrich Wolfe get arrested when Jack is accused of cheating in a card game, gets punched, and has Wolfe come to his defense. After the fact, Jack argues that having innate Aura Vision that reveals people's emotions shouldn't count as cheating, but the police aren't convinced.

Feb 19th 2018 at 8:37:10 PM

  • Futurama: In "How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back", Bender plays poker with Fry, Leela and her former co-workers. He cheats using x-ray specs and, when he's exposed, is chased into Hermes' newly-cleaned office and beaten up.

Feb 19th 2018 at 10:46:24 PM

Film - Live Action

  • Subverted in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Sundance is in a poker game with several other men. When Butch arrives, one of the other players accuses Sundance of cheating and wants to have a shootout with him to settle things. When Butch calls him "Sundance", the challenger is familiar with his reputation and realizes that if they fight, he'll be killed. This allows Butch to use his charisma and diplomacy skills to get Sundance to leave without a fight.
  • Maverick
    • Subverted twice during the first poker game, between Maverick, Angel, Annabelle and several others.
      • First, John Wesley Hardin (a famous Real Life gunfighter) tells Maverick that a hand of poker Maverick won shouldn't count. Instead of starting a gunfight, Maverick backs down and lets Hardin take the pot. He then demonstrates his lightning fast quick draw skill, thus making it clear that if there had been a gunfight, he could have shot Hardin before his gun cleared his holster.
      • Angel accuses Maverick of cheating and wants to fight him, but a group of men suddenly appear and want to fight him too. They go outside and Maverick handily beats the men up, causing Angel to retract his accusation out of fear. Later it's revealed that Maverick arranged to have the men intervene and lose to him if anyone threatened to physically attack him.
    • Played straight during the final poker game between the Commodore, Angel and Maverick. When Maverick pulls off a miracle play and wins the tournament, Angel accuses him of cheating again. Angel and his two henchmen draw their guns, but all three are shot and killed by Maverick and Marshall Zane Cooper.

Feb 20th 2018 at 12:28:49 AM

Whoa, kudos to Arivne! I think that may be the first time ever I've seen third-level bullets used for a single work while still following proper Example Indentation rules. I'm impressed. And a little frightened. :)

Anyway, caught up to here. Still hoping some fan of old westerns will come along to provide us with some classic examples, but this is great so far.

eta: @intastiel, I did add a mention of Bar Brawl to the description. Thanks.

Feb 20th 2018 at 12:46:08 AM

And again, I'm not really thrilled with the name, so if anyone has better suggestions...

Feb 20th 2018 at 5:20:53 AM

  • Subverted in Trinity Is Still My Name, when Trinity wins big in a poker game and is accused of cheating by a fellow cardsharp. Rather than accept his challenge, Trinity simply demonstrates his quick-draw skills by (repeatedly) slapping the man across the face and then pointing the gun at it with the same hand, forcing him to retreat.

Feb 20th 2018 at 7:05:52 AM

  • Airplane: During Striker's first flashback, there's a close-up of two people playing poker, with only their hands visible. Suddenly one of them pulls out a knife and they start fighting. The camera pulls back to reveal that the players are Girl Scouts.
  • On The New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh episode "Paw and Order", a bar fight breaks out over a game of Go Fish.

Feb 20th 2018 at 11:13:17 AM

@Koveras: that looks like a straight example, not a subversion—hitting and a gun was pulled.

Feb 20th 2018 at 1:20:19 PM

Often leads to Tarred And Feathered.

  • Lucky Luke regularly uses this, with the occasional variation:
    • In "Black Hills", the villain invites the scientists to a poker game and loudly accuses them of cheating when they all have five-ace hands before Luke intervenes to discover they were playing with a 48-ace deck.
    • "The Stagecoach" has a Professional Gambler join the passengers who never leaves a town without being Tarred And Feathered once he's found out.
    • An early story has Luke recognize a mook is cheating at poker by using a mirror to look at the other player's cards. He accepts the mook's invitation by saying he's feeling lucky and proving it by shooting the mirror.
  • Witches Abroad: When Nanny Ogg loses Granny Weatherwax's broomstick in a rigged Cripple Mr. Onion game, Granny gets back at the cheaters by playing very slowly and carefully (and destroying a hidden card device with magic), and running before they can figure it out.

Feb 20th 2018 at 8:21:19 PM

Webcomics

  • The Lovable Rogue Sam Starfall of Freefall plays poker with two men in the Friday 4 August 2000 strip, and claims the pot because "I've got four kings. You've only got two." The angry faces indicate the other players are well aware there should be only four kings in the entire deck. Sam is face down in a garbage dumpster by the next strip.

Feb 21st 2018 at 10:34:28 AM

^^ Those don't really sound like examples. This is when violence (or threats of violence) actually break out during a game.

  • Lucky Luke:
    • "Black Hills": accusations of cheating, but no mention of violence or threats.
    • "The Stagecoach": being Tarred And Feathered is something that generally happens later, not during the game. (Which is why it's not mentioned in the description.)
    • early story: not even a hint of violence (except towards the poor innocent mirror, which is not what we're talking about).
  • "Witches Abroad" sneaky revenge, not violence breaking out.

Any of those might be examples (except for Witches Abroad, which I've read, and know it isn't), but you haven't described the trope.

Feb 25th 2018 at 2:07:12 PM

In Bloodrayne II Deliverance, Flintlock accuses Rayne of cheating, accompanied by Flipping The Table. He calls her out for a Showdown At High Noon. At midnight. In this case, it seems that Flintlock was just a sore loser, rather than there being any cheating on Rayne's part.

Feb 25th 2018 at 11:31:49 PM

Frontier Circus: In "Quick Shuffle", Ben catches a crooked dealer cheating him at poker. The dealer pulls a derringer and Ben is forced to shoot him in self-defence.

Feb 26th 2018 at 10:28:44 AM

Corrected the historical figure's name: Hitchcock -> Hickok. Hitchcock is the filmmaker, Hickok is the frontier gunslinger.

And if aversions count (because a woman is involved):

Film

  • Averted by Countess von Reugen aboard The Hindenburg, who plays cards with two other fellows: Emilio Pajetta and Major Napier. The two men routinely make transatlantic crossings, and fleece suckers at cards mainly with discrete signals. The countess is wise to their methods, however, and routinely sabotages their efforts, draining the funds of both men. In private counsel with security chief Colonel Ritter, Countess von Reugen reports, "They cheat, you know. I think they make their living at it."

Feb 26th 2018 at 10:57:54 AM

^ Thanks for the correction—obvious thinko on my part.

As for aversions—they're only ever allowed on universal tropes, which this clearly isn't.

Feb 26th 2018 at 11:58:25 AM

  • In Auction Kings, Paul sells an antique gambler's chain that has a hidden pistol on the end. While the viewer never sees it, the expert is able to determine that had been fired.

Feb 27th 2018 at 10:56:39 AM

^ Oh wow, that's an interesting one. I want to add it, but it's clearly not an example of the trope being played straight. It's like...suggested or implied or something. Anyone have an idea how to re-write that to be a little more clear?

Feb 28th 2018 at 3:38:12 AM

Music

  • Lloyd Price wrote the song Stagger Lee about two men, Stagger Lee and Billy playing dice during the dark of night. There arose a dispute about one throw being a seven or an eight, which culminates in Stagger Lee shooting Billy some time later in a barroom.

Mar 1st 2018 at 10:33:22 AM

Still looking for feedback on the name. I'm not entirely happy with it, but I haven't thought of anything better.

Also hoping some huge westerns fan will come along and give us some of those examples I know I've seen on old westerns but can't precisely identify. :)

Mar 2nd 2018 at 2:44:18 AM

Name's not bad, but yeah, it could be better. Not sure what to rename it though — Poker Brawl? (at least has a rougher connotation than 'fight')?

Other than that, looking good. Have a hat.

Mar 2nd 2018 at 1:41:00 PM

I'm more worried about the "poker" part, since it's definitely not limited to poker—but poker is sort of the archetypal example, so I'm not sure it's wrong. People searching for this are most likely going to be looking at a poker-related example.

Mar 3rd 2018 at 12:31:40 AM

I'll try that and see how people react.

Mar 4th 2018 at 10:51:34 AM

Since there have been no objections to the name change, I'll launch this within the next day or two. (Giving people a little time to provide last-minute suggestions and examples.)

Mar 6th 2018 at 1:23:32 PM

One last bump for any last-minute pre-launch examples...

Mar 6th 2018 at 2:31:47 PM

In Auction Kings, the fact that this trope can be Truth in Television is implied when Paul sells an antique gambler's chain that has a hidden pistol on the end. While the viewer never sees it, the expert is able to determine that had been fired.

...that it had been fired... - missing the word 'it' in the current write-up.

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