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The Magic Poker Equation

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"Guess I should have warned ya — whenever I'm about to lose, I draw exactly what I need!"
Seto Kaiba, Yu-Gi-Oh!

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 actual poker savants are masters of risk management and psychological warfare, fictional 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.

Barring various methods of cheating, poker players have exactly zero control over what cards they get. They can only master reading their opponents, sending false signals, and throwing away crappy hands.

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), or "topdecking". 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 "unimportant" characters never pick up any good hands.
  • 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) Very often you see the players showing their hands in ascending strength, like player A two pair, player B three of a kind, player C full house, player D takes the pot with with four of a kind. Exception: the person puts their cards down and the other player concedes defeat without showing their own cards - because they're throwing the game.note 
  • 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.
  • "Checks", where a player can pass the action to the next player without a bet if no betting action is required, almost never appear in poker as depicted in fiction. Checks are a commonplace action in poker (since there's no monetary risk), either as a tactic to feel out what other players could have, or as a way to conceal hand strength, but it rarely shows up in poker plots; expect every important player to bet — and bet handsomely — during each betting phase.
  • The concept of pot odds is almost non-existent in fiction, leading to players staying in the pot with very weak hands and catching their miracle card and win it all. This is often celebrated as a great play or the showcase of the true skill of the player, but in reality this is just pure dumb luck and a very safe way to go broke sooner than later. Also in draw poker, exchanging cards will often improve hands to a ridiculous degree, like having a small pair, exchanging three cards and picking up a strong full house or having nothing, taking four cards and improving to a straight flush.
  • When the hero ever runs a bluff, it will almost never be a semi-bluff and often happens in a spot where bluffing makes no sense. Also, the opponents will often fold ridiculously strong hands to it, like full houses or even quads, while in reality this happens very rarely and calling with hands of such strength is almost never a mistake note 
  • Four aces is a hand that shows up far too commonly, especially in draw poker, and is often treated as the highest hand or at least of the highest symbolic value. note  This is likely due to Small Reference Pools; even someone who doesn't know the rules of poker very well can probably guess that the ace is the best card (helped by its distinctive appearance), and having four of the best card is good, while more common good hands like straights, flushes, or full houses aren't as immediately obvious. Whenever four kings show up it's almost guaranteed that four aces will take the pot. Cracking four aces with a straight flush is fairly common too, even if the probability for this is close to zero.

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. Compare Moral Luck, in which a character is praised (or blamed) for doing something where the outcome depended almost entirely on blind luck.

Also see Hustling the Mark, a con or Card Sharp featuring a professional card player disguised as an amateur, and Anthropic Principle, where something needs to happen despite how unlikely it is for there to be a plot.


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  • 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 & Manga 
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Descendants of Darkness 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.
  • 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).
    • In the final hand he beats his opponent's royal flush with his own royal flush.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Double Subverted in Et Cetera. Expert poker players tend to get very good hands, but only because they're all cheating. Except Bodny managed to beat most of these people without using cheap tricks, and when she and Baskerville tried to bet for the Eto gun, in which Baskerville wagered his own life, both characters managed to get almost royal straight flushes.
  • 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.
  • 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 shit. ... And humorously admitted that if he had looked at his cards, he would've freaked. Cue Avdol yelling at him.
    D'Arby also seemingly takes pains to avoid this in the prior hand (assuming he was rigging it that well), where Jotaro is dealt two pair, which D'Arby beats with a simple higher two pair. Presumably, he wanted Jotaro to think the hands weren't rigged.
  • 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!!
  • 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.
  • Nyaruko: Crawling with Love!:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Saki, a manga about Mahjong, is fairly explicit that "skilled" players don't just know strategies and probability, but have the power to draw the tiles to get better hands.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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").
  • 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • Played with throughout the Arc-Ved Protagonists series of one shots. Being Yugioh, there is no doubt that this trope will be present, but one of the duels had it downplayed one turn, played straight the next, the subverted on the final turn.
  • Subverted in the Bait and Switch (STO) vignette "All In". Eleya bluffs her way to victory by going all in on a lousy hand, tricking Doctor Wirrpanda into folding when he had a full house.
  • One Harry Potter fanfic has Harry win a high-stakes poker game by beating Draco Malfoy's four-of-a-kind with a five-of-a-kind.
  • In Manehattan's Lone Guardian, the aptly-named Five-of-a-Kind is playing poker with three gamblers 4-5 times her age in one scene. One has to settle for a high card, the second plays a pair of jacks, while the third plays a royal flush. Since the game is being played strictly for fun with nothing at stake beyond potato chips, they decide to see if Fiver has anything of note before moving on. She proceeds to make one laugh and stun the other two when she lays her namesake on the table. This is downplayed by two things: the implication that she didn't know what her own name meant, as the gamblers' reactions puzzle her, and the fact that the dealer had forgotten to remove the joker from the deck beforehand.
  • In the short comedy Naruto fanfic 'The Night the House of Cards Was Built', 6-year old Naruto end up playing in the weekly Konoha high stakes poker game by convincing the Hokage to let him join in with the pocket money he saved up. Despite having no idea how to play at all (due to being, well, 6 years old) Naruto manages to consistently win against everyone thanks to a combination of extreme confidence in hands he doesn't know the value of until everyone else folds, and sheer jaw-dropping luck. He starts off by winning Anko and Kurenai as his personal servants in a perfect illustration of the "first to show loses" rule (Anko shows a Diamond Flush, Queen high, only for Danzo to show Spade Flush, King high and already be in mid-gloat when Naruto innocently reveals he has a pair of threes... and another pair of threes) and at the end of the night he breaks the bank and ends up with (among other things) millions of ryou, half a dozen expensive properties around town (including the Hyuuga clan mansion), several of the other players' daughters (including Hinata, Hanabi, Ino, Tenten and also Sasuke's mother Mikoto thanks to a drunken bet by Uchiha Fugaku) and the rights to The Uchiha Secret of ultimate power. Suffice it to say that, among other aspects of this trope, the fic exaggerated Open Stakes poker in the name of comedy. However, the one part it does rather oddly subvert is that Naruto wins the ultimate hand by beating Uchiha Fugaku's Full House with a simple Four-of-a-Kind rather than something more dramatic like a Royal Flush (although it WAS four identical copies of the Four of Hearts, with no explanation given for how he could have ended up with that hand, as the Hokage himself explicitly rules out cheating on his part).
  • Suzumiya Haruhi No Index: Since Haruhi is an unknowing Reality Warper, she always guesses the card drawn from a deck right, even if it's a card that isn't in the deck.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • A Big Hand For The Little Lady: In a high-stakes poker game, everyone gets monster cards on the same hand and raise the stakes to a huge pot, threatening to push sad-sack gambling addict Henry Fonda out of the game in spite of the fact that he thinks he's got an unbeatable hand. It turns out that he's a con-man, but his con requires all of his marks to get huge hands at the same time. He, for his part, was running a stone-cold bluff and only wins because everybody else folds seemingly very strong hands.
  • Blindsided: the Game has Walter win the poker game with a lucky flush after having won prior hands by reading Sal's audible (to a blind man) tells.
  • In Canyon Passage, The Gambling Addict George loses on a king high straight to Professional Gambler Lestrade, who has an ace high straight. The movie is unclear if Lestrade is cheating (which Hi implies) or if George is just that unlucky.
  • Casino Royale (2006):
    • At one point, Bond loses all his 10 million because he wagered it for his kings full of aces. Le Chiffre, however, had a four-of-a-kind, which is higher than Bond's (already high) full house. The movie blames this on Bond being "impatient" and getting duped by a false tell, as if not laying down kings full of aces is some amateur blunder.
    • Think about that climatic hand: One player has an ace-king-queen flush, the next has eights full of aces, Le Chiffre has aces full of sixes, and Bond has a straight flush 4-to-8. The odds of all four players having very strong hands on the same hand like that is astronomical.
    • As an added bonus, the winning hand also follows the "whoever shows his cards first, loses" portion of the trope to exacting degree - the first hand revealed is the flush, which is immediately trumped by the full house, which in turn is trumped by Le Chiffre's higher full house, which is then ultimately trumped by Bond's straight flush. Bond is the last player to reveal his cards.
    • There is at least a rare appearance of pot odds in Le Chiffre's Establishing Character Moment, where he deduces his opponent has a straight draw and shoves all-in with two pair to make the bet no longer worth the 17% chance of hitting the straight.
  • In The Cincinnati Kid, the climactic hand features a game of 5-card stud where The Kid (Steve McQueen) gets dealt a full house only to lose to The Man (Edward G. Robinson) and his straight flush. According to Anthony Holden in his book Big Deal: A Year As A Professional Poker Player, the chances of the final hand are 45,102,781 to 1, and that the situation in particular would only arise once every 443 years.
  • In Draw!, Harry Holland sits in on one hand of poker with the annoying Reggie Bell. After a vigorous round of betting, Reggie is forced to put an IOU for $200 into the pot to match Holland's bet. Reggie lays down a full house and starts to rake in the pot, only for Holland to lay down a king high straight flush.
  • The Hong Kong movie series God of Gamblers is filled with several instances of this trope. Made more amazing is the fact that they attribute the "pick the best card" to an actual skill.
  • 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 trope, the hero got a straight with the last card. Don't try to play poker like that, unless you want to lose.
  • Invitation to a Gunfighter: During a high-stakes poker game, Kenarsie lays down four aces, only for Jules—who is dealing—to lay down five kings. He is obviously cheating but is actually making a point: Brewster has the town so cowed that it never even occurs to them to question the dealer.
  • Kaleidoscope:
    • Played straight in the big game between Barney and Harry. Barney appeared to be winning with two pair over Harry's three of a kind, until Harry dramatically flips over his fifth card and reveals a full house. Per the trope the last person to reveal the card wins, when Harry flips over his fifth card to reveal another full house (another strong hand, per the trope), with his three kings beating Harry's three tens. The trope is also played straight with Barney and Harry being the last players with cards after the other players have folded.
    • Manny and his assistant Aimes are just goofing around playing cards while they wait for the big operation to go down. Manny, who is trying to read the cards in one of Barney's marked decks, fails. He is astonished when Aimes flips over his cards and reveals...a royal flush.
  • In Laughter in Paradise, Simon Russell's first appearance has him playing poker with a group of his cronies. One of his friends lays down four kings, only for Simon to lay down four aces. Simon does comment that he had the decency not to raise.
  • Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels starts off with the protagonist being conned by a the gangster Hatchet-Harry, who is using a spotter and a telegraph tapping morse code on his back. Having bet all his money on his ability to read people, and already gone all-in, the gangster offers him a loan to stay in the game. Eddi had two choices at that point; take the loan and call, or fold, and walk away having lost everything. Eddie rather unwisely chose to believe he was bluffing. It should also be mentioned that neither character had particularly good cards (one of the other players incredulously exclaims "That's it!?" when he sees a half-million pound pot won with a pair of tens) and the game is not poker, but three-card brag, which is one of poker's parent games, but has very different betting rules.
  • Maverick plays with the trope throughout the film, as Bret Maverick is convinced that he can draw any card out of the deck at will. However, most of his attempts are completely unsuccessful until the end of the film, when he manages to draw the Ace of Spades he needs to complete his Royal Flush and win the poker tournament. The final poker battle on the gambling ship at the end of the film is made of this trope. First, Maverick beats Annabelle by showing his cards, after she thought she won and already started collecting the winnings. Next, the final showdown between Maverick, Angel, and the Commodore. The Commodore shows his hand first: "Two small pair. Eights... and eights." Then Angel shows his hand, "See if you can beat my straight flush!" Maverick finally reveals his royal flush and wins it all, without saying a word. note  Also, a large part of the movie is of Annabelle trying to get Maverick to tell her what her tells are (so she can avoid them), and she ends up losing on the poker ship from the one tell he didn't let her know about (she holds her breath when she gets excited).
  • Averted in the ending of Oh, God! You Devil. God (played by George Burns) beats the Devil (also played by George Burns) in a hand of poker when the Devil decides to fold. And what was God's downright amazing hand? Complete garbage.
  • In the 1998 version of The Parent Trap, there is exactly one poker game. It is resolved with a royal flush over a "lesser" straight flush. The winner even says "You're just not good enough."
  • Poker Night has the main character produce four twos to defeat a full house in the ultimate game. However, Jeter is shown still in chains and he notes that two of the players are already dead, so it's ambiguous as to whether he ever actually played that hand in the real game, or if it was symbolic of that he could still win.
  • In Rounders, Teddy KGB, the villain, is supposedly a great poker player. He very conspicuously eats Oreo cookies while playing, and he has a very obvious tell when he had a good hand by eating them in a peculiar way. Matt Damon's character is apparently the first person to ever notice it. Damon also defeats him in the end by laying an extremely simple trap in which he remarks, suspiciously casually given the fact that the stakes of this particular game are implied to be his life, that he is "gambling" by calling KGB's bet, implying that he is hoping to draw a flush (when in fact he has already made his hand, a straight). While this sort of table chatter might be effective in a casual home game, any poker book will tell you that representing weakness when you are strong and representing strength when you are weak is the oldest trick in the book. No poker player of KGB's supposed caliber would be taken in by such a simple ploy, nor would any player of Damon's caliber attempt it on one of KGB's. note 
  • Briefly seen in Run Fat Boy Run. Dylan Moran's character is playing a backroom game of Texas Hold'Em and bets all of his remaining money; his King-high flush is beaten by an Ace-high flush.
  • In Run Lola Run, the third ending has the heroine play Roulette and win a single-number bet twice in a row by wanting it really badly. This is apparently her karmic reward for trying to come by the money honestly rather than stealing it, as she did in the previous scenarios. Or else her glass-shattering scream also allowed her to control which number the ball landed on.
  • Subverted twice in Shade (2003):
    • Mechanic Larry deals himself four nines and jams the pot up to $100,000 only to lose to four tens. The entire card game is an elaborate con to steal Larry's money.
    • The Dean and Vernon each manipulate the cards in their final hand with both sides knowing the Dean is using a marked deck. Vernon deals the Dean two pair with one half of one pair in the hole. He deals himself a pair of jacks with a 7 in the hole. At showdown he flips up a third Jack for three-of-a-kind. The Dean flips over a Queen for a higher set and $2,000,000 pot. The game was a con between the Dean and Vernon to rip off vernon's partners Tiffany and Charlie, who had each betrayed Vernon.
  • Solo: In Han and Lando's first sabacc game Han gets a straight of staves, but Lando pulls a card out of his sleeve and wins with a full sabacc. Before their rematch Han pickpockets Lando's sleeve and wins the Millennium Falcon fair and square.
  • The Sting: The poker game on the train used to hook Lonnegan for the long con. Justified because both players were cheating.
    What was I supposed to do - call him for cheating better than me?
  • The Sundowners: OK, fine, it isn't poker. But the story would have us believe that Paddy guessed right at "two-up", a coin-flip game, nineteen times in a row.
  • They Made Me a Criminal: The juvenile delinquents from Rafferty Farm rope a spoiled rich kid into a game of poker. The rich kid, who knows nothing about poker, draws a straight. When they trick him into thinking a straight is a bad hand, he draws four more cards, and draws a straight flush.
  • In Titanic, Jack and Fabrizio win their tickets for the ship in a game of poker. At the final round, Fabrizio and Olaf have nothing, Sven has two pair, and Jack wins with a full house.
  • An interesting subversion of this happens in The World Is Not Enough; the Big Bad Elektra King bets a million dollars on a high-card draw at the casino of one of Bond's old nemeses/informants... and loses (though the loss was only by a slim margin; a king versus an ace). Turns out, the bid was a buyout for a favor, so the loss would've happened, anyway. Interestingly, Bond, before the cards were drawn, demanded the top three cards be buried, to prevent tampering with the deck and an Oh, Crap! expression hits the dealers face immediately.
  • In Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold, Pecos gets dealt a 5, 6, 7 and a pair of 8s. He goes to discard one the 8s in the hopes of completing a straight but, on a subtle signal from Yellow Hair, instead keeps the 8s and discards the other cards. He gets dealt a 9 and the other two 8s. However, the game is disrupted before he can reveal his cards.
  • In Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Born Lucky Johnny and Senator Roarke pull one absurd hand after another, culminating in the inevitable quad kings versus quad aces showdown. Johnny is so absurdly lucky that he always pulls the best hand possible; if he's throwing away a hand, it only means he's trying to lull you into a false sense of security.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
    • In 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). Granny also mentions learning the game from another old witch with a 'detached retina in her Second Sight'. She learned fast.
    • 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.note 
  • Empire from the Ashes: During a poker game in Mutineers' Moon, Horus has four jacks and loses to Colin's straight flush. It's pointed out earlier in the chapter that one of Colin's pre-novel hobbies was amateur stage magic, specifically card tricks, and his bio-enhancements included boosts to his dexterity. Those poker hands might have been legit, or it might have been Colin pranking Horus.
  • 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.
  • In How To Beat Your Friends at Poker, the narrator is a card mechanic skilled at nearly undetectable card marking and sleight of hand. He's a real scumbag, so he spends his career getting invited to home games of wealthy individuals and taking them for what he can before skipping town. He eventually decided to publish his memoir, and called in a favor to Penn Jillette to get the book published. The narrator specifically advises against letting his plays ever come close to looking like this trope. He specifically sets up the hands that take his "friends" to be very believable, counting on their reasonable betting patterns during a normal-seeming bad-beat where everyone's actions made sense after the fact. In short, the hands that moved a lot of money his way were based on a Batman Gambit.
  • In "I am a Nucleus" by Stephen Barr, a poker game between friends turns ugly because, every time the owner of the flat where the game takes place is the dealer, he always deals himself a king-high straight flush and somebody else four aces. This turns out to be because the protagonist, a neighbour of the poker player, is the focus of a storm of luck, both good and bad.
  • I'm In Love With the Villainess features a subversion: in a draw poker game, Yuu beats Claire's full house with four aces, leaving everyone in awe of the prince's tactical genius. However, Rei realizes that her own initial hand had an ace in it (she discarded it to try to make a straight) and Yuu didn't draw any additional cards, and the dealer was one of Yuu's attendants, meaning that Yuu cheated. Further subversion: Rei's attempt to make a straight actually makes her hand worse, dropping it to an abysmal ten-high.
  • James Bond;
    • In Casino Royale, Bond is assigned to clean out Le Chiffre at baccarat (a game similar to blackjack where the banker and player try to get as close to 9 as possible with the tens digits dropped; a total of 18 is actually an 8 in the game rules). The banker cannot see their opponent's hand and only gets to see the third card they're dealt, making it a psychological game where the banker must try to predict what their opponent's hand must have been to make them take a third card. Bond initially ends up completely cleaned out by a series of bad hands (with Le Chiffre winning with a 9) and has to get funded by the CIA to keep going. When he returns to the game, he gets dealt a king and a queen (a total of 0) and is handed a 9 as his third card. His second hand has Le Chiffre with a 0 and Bond dealt a natural 9!
    • Averted in Moonraker. At the beginning, Bond is asked by M to help prove that Hugo Drax is cheating at cards at his club. Bond quickly figures out that Drax is just using his mirror-sheen cigarette case to see the cards he deals to the other players at bridge, and so he uses a loaded deck swap to defeat him for intimidation. He arranges for Drax to get the same hand that was infamously dealt from a loaded deck to scam the Duke of Cumberland in the 19th century: it looks like a very strong hand of high-value cards, but is not strong in any suit, while Bond has every single clubs card. Bond simply sets clubs as the trump suit for the bet and uses that to gradually drain Drax's hand until he's out of cards.
  • 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.
  • 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: 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)
  • 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 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. It is implied that this is because Bane is tapping into the Dark Side to change the probabilities.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • In Everybody Hates Chris Drew beats his neighbor in a game of blackjack by getting four aces in sequence.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • As you might expect, this turns up several times in the "Kenny Rogers as The Gambler" series of movies/miniseries.
    • In the first movie, neither Brady Hawks (Kenny Rogers) nor tinhorn gambler (and cheater) Billy Montana (Bruce Boxleitner) draws very good hands in their first game. The best hand we see is Hawks holding three of a kind. It's intended to show that Hawks is so good, and Montana so bad when he's forced to play fair, that Hawks can win even with weak hands.
    • In the final hand of the high-stakes game later in the movie, 'Doc' Palmer is holding at least three of a kind: three aces. Hawks beats him with a jack-high straight flush, one of the strongest hands you can get in five-card poker. Doc's hole card is never shown, so his hand could have been a full house or even four aces, but he still would have lost.
    • Double Subverted in the fourth movie, "The Luck of the Draw": Hawks is up against four other men, playing for the right to go to San Francisco to play in the last legal poker game in the United States. In the decisive hand, Lute Cantrell has four cards of a royal flush showing, while Hawks has nothing. Hawks wins with a pair of threes against Cantrell's busted flush. Hawks honestly believes he won the hand by "the luck of the draw" and playing the odds, until he discovers that the game was rigged; the dealer Butterfingers O'Malley made sure he wouldn't lose.
    • At the end of "The Luck of the Draw", in the final hand of the big game, Hawks is up against his nemesis Sir Colin, an Englishman who had beaten him badly last time they played. Sir Colin has a full house, sevens over kings. Hawks beats him with four deuces.
  • Hustle:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in Jessica Jones (2015): Kilgrave cheats at poker by commanding all of the other players to go all-in and then fold.
    Kilgrave: Oh! I guess that makes me the winner! [shows his cards] And me with a deuce and a seven!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • M*A*S*H:
    • 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, and the worse his hand is, the louder his whistling gets.
    • 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.
    • "Deal Me Out" has Hawkeye, Trapper, Henry, Klinger, Dr. Freedman and Captain Pak at their weekly poker game. Henry throws down his hand in disgust as Klinger shows a full house (aces over tens), making it seem like he just missed it—when all he had were two deuces.
  • 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.
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: In "Death at the Grand", Phryne sets out to retrieve an IOU her father gave to a Card Sharp. After neutralizing the means he was using to cheat, she proceeds to clean him out at seven card stud. In the final hand where they play for the IOU, the Card Sharp turns over his cards to reveal a straight. Phryne then turns over hers to reveal a full house.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Kevin actually has an acumen for cards, as a bracelet winner in a World Series of Poker deuce-to-seven-draw tournament; he goes heads-up with Phyllis, who really doesn't know what she's doing and calls his all-in for "fun". Kevin shows three queens, and Phyllis thinks she's lost until everyone sees her hand laid out, where she actually had a flush without realizing it.
      Kevin: I suck.
  • 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."
  • 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. (For the record, a full house does beat a straight.)
    • The game also features a joke on the Open Stakes rule above. In a montage Drebin and a crooked fight promoter are tossing into the pot every type of currency from subway tokens to Monopoly money and property cards.
      Crooked Fight Promoter: I'm out of dough-re-me. How about... (He reaches for something next to him.)
      Drebin: No dice! (Cut back to the CFP holding a pair of fuzzy dice.)
  • 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.
  • Parodied in Saved by the Bell, "House Party", when Zack plots to hustle a Rain Man-type at Five Card Stud. Zack lays down four queens, which is surely unbeatable. Then the smugly-grinning Nerdstrom shows... four kings. The odds of these two hands being played concurrently: 1 in 2.9 billion.
    Stuart Millard: Is it likely the producers wanted to prove that such an unbelievable hand could be authentically achieved, by re-doing the scene as many times as it took to draw the right cards for real? Perhaps there's a basement in NBC containing the reels for all 2.9 billion takes, which would explain why the cast were suddenly in their fifties at the end of the scene, with a now-bald Mario Lopez weakly proclaiming “I've got DVT, Preppy” from his backwards chair.
  • 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.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. In "Collective", the crew of the Delta Flyer are playing poker and Tom Paris suggests that whoever has the winning hand can sleep in the next morning. Kim has a two pair, Neelix has a flush, Chakotay has nothing helpful... and Paris has an Oh, Crap! look when he sees a Borg cube bearing down on them.
    Chakotay: Battle stations!
    Paris: (rushing to this seat) And I had a full house...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • Played with in an episode about poker, where both players are dealt implausibly good hands...except it's lowball, making them implausibly bad.
    • "A Nice Place to Visit" features the old "beat a straight flush with a royal flush" play. In this case, it's well-justified, as the main character is in an afterlife where everything always goes perfectly for him.
  • 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.
  • Who's the Boss?, "When Worlds Collide" shows Angela winning loads at poker early on, and Johnathan (Angela's kid) getting four aces in the epilogue.
  • 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.

    Music Videos 
  • Played for Laughs and subverted in the video for "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver" by Primus. The band plays poker in one scene. Les and Ler are both holding four aces and a Joker (in poker, Jokers are almost always wild, so they're technically holding five aces). Herb has a low off-suit inside straight.

  • Enforced in Asteroid Annie and the Aliens, as the only hands the player can assemble are Royal Flushes.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • GURPS: The Pyramid article "Straight to the Flush" gives rules for enforcing this, with a table that can convert margin of success or failure on Gambling skill into an actual hand. It's explicitly noted to be unrealistic.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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). Due to the anime, it is also often called 'destiny draw' or 'heart of the cards'. A number of cards, including The Seventh One, Palladium Oracle Mahad, Symbol of Friendship, and Infernity Archfiend, are even designed with this in mind, only being usable when drawn and having the power to turn a duel around if you pull them off.

  • In Igor Stravinsky's ballet, A Card Game, the characters are playing cards and the antagonist is a joker who considers himself superior because of his ability to become any card. He gets his comeuppance in the last of the ballet's three hands when he leads a straight flush in spades, only to be beaten by a royal flush in hearts.
  • The musical Chicago has a jailhouse poker game in which the hands, shown in succession, are a straight, a flush, four aces and a royal flush, because all the players are cheating:
    Velma: Now where in hell did you get a royal flush?
    Matron: The same place you got four aces.
  • In The Girl of the Golden West, the Girl wagers herself and Johnson against Rance in the best of three hands of poker. It comes down to the third hand, in which he declares victory with three kings. She pretends to faint, withdraws five cards from her stocking while his back is turned, then stuns him by showing her winning hand: three aces and a pair.
  • In Guys and Dolls, this is Inverted, as Jerkass Big Jule repeatedly rolls snake-eyes, and has to resort to threats of violence and cheating to make his money back.
    • Specifically, Big Jule demands that they play with his personal dice. No, they aren't loaded... they're blank. Big Jule had the spots taken off "for luck", but he "remember[s] where the spots formerly were".

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • It appears as a game mechanic in both Baten Kaitos games where you take the role of the main character's spirit companion and frequently get prompted to comment on his statements or answer his questions. The more often you agree with him, the more lucky you'll get when it comes to drawing effective cards in combat. You'll even occasionally see an unusable card blatantly change into a useful one if you're setting up a good attack chain, such as a LV.1 Weak Attack become a LV.8 Special if you've set up a good 1-7 attack chain.
  • 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 Dead Rising 2 there are a couple of gambling magazines you can find around the mall - while carrying them your odds of a hitting the jackpot on the slot machines are raised (somehow), and they will also magically give you better cards while playing Texas Hold 'Em against other survivors in the safe house. With all the gambling books, your hole cards are guaranteed to be a pair on every draw.
  • 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.
  • Hearthstone: This is inverted in the prologue of Knights of the Frozen Throne. Jaina, the player, has nothing but 4+ cost minions in her deck, while The Lich King plays some ridiculous Unusable Enemy Equipment and will kill you in a few turns. Just as all hope seems lost, the player draws a playable card right on turn 3... which happens to be a Magma Rager. Then the Lich King kills you and raises you as a Death Knight, and the actual adventure begins.
  • 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.
  • An optional side quest in The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky takes this to an absurd conclusion; the final hand of a poker tournament can potentially come down to your party member Scherazard and her opponent both drawing royal flushes, and Schera winning only due to her Spades trumping his Hearts. She actually cheated by slipping a Queen of Spades into her hand, though the odds of the necessary set-up are still astronomically low. This is a little more justified on Agate's route. The hands are the same, but Olivier rigged it that way by flirting with the dealer and stacking the deck while he was distracted. (Presumably he wanted Estelle's win to be suitably dramatic.)
  • 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.

    Web Animation 
  • In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, the Emperor challenges Kitten to a Paradox-Billiards-Vostroyan-Roulette-Fourth Dimensional-Hypercube-Chess-Strip Poker a.k.a. Yu-Gi-Oh!. In his first turn, Kitten lays down a monster card face-down. The Emperor proceeds to pull out a sixteen-card combo that leaves him with an indestructible monster and an indestructible spell that forces Kitten to attack directly with any monster he brings out and destroys it, while both are down to 100 Life Points. Kitten wins by using two cards - a spell that returns all spell cards to hand and a monster that returns an enemy's monster card to hand upon being placed, which then erases the Emperor's last Life Points.
    • In a later episode Kitten has a game with Tzeentch. It's a little more complex than the game with the Emperor because Tzeentch has counters to Kitten's counters, but in the end comes down to Tzeentch being so focused on his ridiculous combos that he neglected creatures entirely. Kitten brings out some mutually-buffing creatures (which he can only do because so much of his deck was in his graveyard) and smashes him in the first turn.

    Web Comics 
  • In El Goonish Shive, Justin, down to 1 life and with no hand, wins his Magickal Gatherings duel with Tensaided by drawing Unstompable Stompede, allowing him to do enough damage to take Tensaided from 20 life down to zero in one turn. Lampshaded.
    Tensaided: Well, it just goes to show that no matter how powerful and awesome one's deck is, there is always an element of luck with card games.
  • An issue with tells: the normally unflappable Ozy in Ozy and Millie apparently has a great poker face, but needs to work on his 'poker butt': his tail wags all over the place when he gets a good hand.
  • Subverted in this Penny Arcade strip: Gabe, a complete tyro with a good hand, loses his shirt due to his complete ignorance of the rules and the twisted machination of Tycho.
  • Played with in Real Life Comics. One card game had the players with only a pair of twos, a pair of threes and a pair of fours, dubbed the worst hand of poker ever. In another, Greg complains about his luck, in which he somehow manages to draw cards that weren't even in the deck, such a Magic: The Gathering mana card.
  • Averted in the Sluggy Freelance arc "That Which Redeems" - Torg wins by bluffing when he only has one pair. Then again, that served another purpose - emphasizing the naiveté of the residents of the "Dimension of Lame."

    Web Original 
  • In a similar vein, LoadingReadyRun showcases Poker Before Dusk, with Franklin Elway heading up against the newcomer, Desmond Lamont. Lamont was predicted to win the tournament, despite having the poorer hand of an Ace of Clubs and a Joker. Elway had the stronger hand of a King of Diamonds and Mrs. Bun the Baker's Wife. However, after a surprising Twist Flip Gargle play against Lamont, Elway beats Lamont when an Uno card comes up as the Pants Card.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Taken to extremes in Unnatural Selection's rigged poker game in thread 12, due to the crooked dealer lacking subtlety. After having been suspiciously lucky the first two turns, the viewpoint character is dealt a straight flush, but decides to fold rather than make the cheat that obvious. Several other players go all-in... And in the end reveal three other straight flushes and a four-of-a-kind. Cue Jaw Drop from the remaining player, who only had a full house.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 tens in his hand (they're both the 10 of Spades; he pulled the second out of his sleeve), 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.
  • In the Dofus: Kerub's Bazaar episode Ecaflip City part 2, both poker games shown follow this trope, as well as Absurdly High-Stakes Game. The first game resulted in 3s over 10s, Jacks over Kings, 4 Queens, and 4 Aces, the later drawn purely by luck on the last round. In the second game, a J-7 straight is beaten by an A-10 straight. Justified in that they were being manipulated by the god of luck.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • The Goof Troop episode "Pete's Day At The Races" opens with Pete winning a poker game with a Four-Of-A-Kind. While the hand he beat wasn't actually that high (Three-of-a-kind) Pete still invoked the trope just to screw with his opponent ("Aw, all I got is two pairs... Two pairs of FOURS!")
  • 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 Looney Tunes 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!!")
  • 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).
  • In a Peanuts cartoon episode, Snoopy held five aces including the "ace of anchors"
  • 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.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Spoofed where Fat Tony and an underling are playing cards.
      Louie: Six queens. Read 'em and weep.
      Fat Tony: Uh-uh-uh, seven queens.
    • A similar joke shows up in "Bart the Murderer", where we see the hands of various mobsters. One has four aces and a king... panning over to another, who has five aces. Then we see the discard pile, which is nothing but aces, many of which aren't even aces of standard card suits (ace of stars, ace of smiley faces, ace of planets). Later on in the episode, Homer is overjoyed that he got "another pair of sixes!"
    • Played straight when Krusty's four aces is beaten by Fat Tony's straight flush. Though Krusty and Fat Tony broke the betting rule mentioned above by raising with violins, Rolexes, and whatnot. But it is a mob game, after all.
    • Comically inverted when Mr. Burns wins a basketball team and millions of dollars in a single hand... which he wins with a nine-high. His opponent had an eight-high, which is one of the only two hands in poker (the other being seven-high) that it's possible for a nine-high to beat.
  • Parodied in Star Trek: Lower Decks when Mariner, having been Kicked Upstairs to a staff lieutenant position, has to take part in a senior staff poker match. She ends up going all in and winning just because she got frustrated with everybody else constantly folding.
  • In Star Wars Rebels, Zeb is playing Lando Calrissian in sabacc and wagers Chopper; both have hands which are implied in context to be very good: Zeb has a sabacc and Lando has an Idiot's Array (see Star Wars entries under Literature). Justified since Zeb wouldn't take a risk like that (and Kanan wouldn't back him up on it) unless he had something nearly unbeatable - but Lando still needed to win, or else there'd be no plot (it was strongly implied that Lando was cheating).

    Real Life 
  • 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.
    • In 2005, Brunson would win his tenth WSOP bracelet with 10-3 offsuit, joking "I thought it was the ten-deuce" after revealing his cards. Though this is a subversion, as he won with a mere pair of threes.
  • Also in 2005, Joe Hachem won the Main Event with 7-3 offsuit, considered the second-worst starting hand in No-Limit Hold 'Em after 7-2. The flop came four, five, six, giving him a straight. The turn paired his opponent's Ace. After a bet and a raise, all of the chips went into the pot.
  • Quad aces vs. royal flush happened in the 2008 World Series of Poker Texas Hold 'Em (possible with community cards), although it was not the final hand. The probability for this is 1:1.27 billion. All players were in complete shock when they saw this and no player really made a mistake here.
  • Has happened a few times in Magic: The Gathering tournaments:
    • The Topdeck of the Century: During Pro Tour Honolulu, Craig Jones was in a very bad position against Olivier Ruel in the deciding game of the semifinals set. The commentators were theorizing he'd take the safer play of using his only direct-damage spell on Ruel's creatures, giving him more time to live and potentially draw what he needed. 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 Ruel. 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. Ruel 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.
      Commentator Randy Buehler: OH IT'S LIGHTNING HELIX! OH MY GOD!
    • Gabriel Nassif's Called Shot: 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.
    • 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 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 contrast with the character she voices often wins through double triggers after often breaking her opponent's guard. This has lead to her nickname "Izuqualia."

Alternative Title(s): Magic Poker Equation