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Tabletop Game / Poker

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"2,598,960 possible five-card hands. 1,277 flushes in any given suit. 1,980,240 ways to make two pairs. And yet, the game can't beat a man. Man only beats himself (and on and so forth)."
Mr. Burt, The X-Files ("Improbable")

Poker is played with a standard 52-card deck. Well, mostly — there are variations which don't use all 52 cards, or add one or more jokers. Mostly played for money, sometimes just for fun, and sometimes for the clothes you wear. The Professional Gambler does this as a kind of day job.


The basic play of poker is: people are dealt a hand of five cards, which have a certain 'ranking' and will beat poker hands of a lesser ranking (ranking is generally determined by the rarity of the hand — a straight of ten, jack, queen, king, ace will beat a hand with just a pair of queens, for example). They keep their hand secret, and then bet money on it. The other players have to put in at least the same amount of money if they want to continue, or — critically — forfeit the money already agreed to, to the eventual winner. If it comes down to a showdown, the players show their cards, and the best hand wins all the money bet by all the players! This is why bluffing is possible; you can put in more money than your hand is really worth, in the hope that players will think you've got something great, and back down.


The history of poker is a bit unclear; some claim it developed from the old German board game Poch, which already had hand rankings, bluffs and bets on cards. It gained a lot of popularity in the Wild West and on Mississippi River steamboats, and much later again with Chris Moneymaker after he won the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in 2003.

Currently the most popular and well-known variant is No Limit Texas Hold'em, largely because it's what they play in most of the public events such as the aforementioned WSOP Main Event,note  and looks very exciting on TV (to the extent that from 2006 to 2009, the HORSE game, a staggering of various fixed-limit games, became NLHE at the final table for ratings' sake, until a variant was introduced with an NLHE game every orbit, which even then made it exclusive at the final table for two years). This can lead to Anachronism Stew moments in fiction when you see people e.g., in the Wild West, playing it; the game was actually invented in the early 20th century. Before the ascent of Texas Hold'em, the most popular variant of the game was Five Card Draw, in which each player has their own hand of five cards and there are two rounds of post-ante betting, between which each player can discard cards from their hand and be dealt new ones from the deck, followed closely by the five- and seven-card variants of Stud.


Poker often has cases of Beginner's Luck. Reverse Psychology often helps here. Also expect I Know You Know I Know on higher levels, as many top poker players have developed Awesomeness by Analysis. In media, depictions often use The Magic Poker Equation. Several pros use Trash Talk for more success.

Most often the game in cases of Gambling Brawl and Lost Him in a Card Game.

Inspired the trope name Misery Poker. May have inspired in some way Bluffing the Murderer, Bluff the Impostor and other tropes with "bluff" in the name.

Remember: Aces and Eights are the Dead Man's Hand, thanks to Wild Bill Hickok losing his life while holding it (as dramatized in Deadwood, among others).

Also, always keep in mind: Know When to Fold 'Em, which this named. A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted.

Also see Playing Card Motifs.

Tropes found in poker:

  • Appeal to Force: Card shark Canada Bill Jones' famous saying, "A Smith & Wesson beats four aces".
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The surest way to succeed.
  • Beginner's Luck: Justified. Someone whose grasp of basic odds and strategy are tenuous will be much harder to predict than someone with moderate experience.
  • Big Book of War: Doyle Brunson's Super/System and its sequel are the traditional Big Books of Poker. Their advice is typically considered out-of-date these days, leaving the title up for grabs. Phil Gordon's Little Green Book and Daniel Negreanu's Power Hold'Em Strategy are two contenders. Caro's Book of Poker Tells (Mike Caro) is another classic, if more specialized.
  • Dead Man's Hand: The Trope Namer. Getting two aces and two eights will draw attention to the other players, as this was Wild Bill Hickok's hand before he was shot. It signals a death omen in fiction.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Often present in high-level play.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: A common ploy against opponents of moderate skill. Holding a strong hand, the player makes an overly large bet, trying to appear as though they're bluffing so that the opponent will call or raise. Conversely, holding a weak hand, the player makes a suspiciously small bet, trying to appear as if they're trying to suck the opponent in so that they'll fold or just call as opposed to raising.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Recognizing when one's hand is beaten and the opponent cannot be bluffed into a fold is a crucial skill. See Sunk Cost Fallacy below.
  • Professional Gambler: This is known as the only casino game at which one can reliably make money. Since the players are facing off against each other rather than the house, one only has to do well enough to "beat the rake" to make a profit. note 
  • Reverse Psychology: The foundation of strategy: convince your opponent that you want them to call, raise, or fold, so that they'll do the opposite.
  • Strip Poker: A staple of cool college parties you weren't invited to.
  • Sunk Cost Fallacy: Technically, being statistically "pot-committed" is an aversion of this trope; however, it's not uncommon to fall victim to it in other ways, such as continuing to play while "on tilt" (frustrated) in an attempt to get "unstuck" (win back previous losses) instead of recognizing that one is playing against superior opponents or just having an off day and cutting one's losses.

Examples of poker in media:

    open/close all folders 

  • In one 2006 commercial for Diet Pepsi, the "blue can" is told by his agent (Jay Mohr) that championship poker is big. The can makes the final table of a tournament that includes poker greats Scotty Nguyen, Phil "Poker Brat" Hellmuth, and Daniel "Kid Poker" Negreanu. Daniel asks, "Whacha got, Blue Boy?" and the can shows a king of spades and queen of spades. "Blue Boy" proceeds to beat and clean out Daniel in short order.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the episodes 13-14 of the anime Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai, it is briefly shown that Dai interrupts the "fake heroes" playing a poker game. One of them even invites him to appease him in his anger because they haven't been acting as true heroes.
  • There's a poker game in the anime episode 49 in Gintama.
  • In the final scene of the Endless Eight arc in the anime Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyon plays a poker game against Koizumi without betting money. Kyon gets a Royal Flush. Since they just had gone through thousands of iterations of the "Groundhog Day" Loop, Kyon decides that if they live that same day again, he is going to make a bet this time.
  • Up till now played twice in Liar Game. Due to nature of the title, both times it had some variation of the rules to make it suit Liar Game Tournament — once it was 17-card poker and the current (as of the time of writing) arc concentrates around Bidding Poker (players don't draw cards but bid on them like in auction, similiarly they bid for cards other players discard when they want to change something with their hand).
  • Rio -Rainbow Gate!- has its plot centered in a Casino, so poker is part of it, even though the series was based on a video game involving pachinko.
  • Part 3 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure briefly features poker that is played with chips representing the protagonists' souls. The game is won by Jotaro making an immense bluff — he doesn't even bother to look at his cards when dealt his hand, uses his Stand to psyche his opponent out by lighting a cigarette and grabbing a glass of juice unnoticed, and proceeds to raise by betting the souls of literally every one of his True Companions (or rather, he wagers the half that haven't been lost already against the half that have) as well as that of his dying mother against the secret of the Big Bad's Stand. The end result? His opponent tries to call his bluff, but physically can't because The Mob Boss Is Scarier... so he passes out instead, forfeiting the game by default and releasing all the souls he's trapped over years of gambling.

    Card Games 
  • The Deadlands Collectible Card Game Doomtown uses poker hands to determine who wins shootouts, adding an extra dimension to deck construction. This being a CCG, you can stack your deck, but you can also get in trouble for it (and you tend to make less money, as the money-making phase includes a round of lowball poker). Each dude in your posse is either a "stud" or a "draw", letting you draw extra cards (as in stud poker) or discard cards and replace them (as in draw poker). The Dead Man's Hand (with a jack of diamonds) is the best hand possible, even beating five of a kind. (Unless someone else plays That's Two Pair!, in which case it doesn't even beat three of a kind...)
  • Hoyle's Rules of Dragon Poker purports to be the most complicated version of poker (and any other game, for that matter) in creation. It's probably true.

    Comic Books 
  • Some baddies in Empowered play poker in the story "Heroine Hold'em" — and she, Bound and Gagged, is the prize!
  • An issue of Spider-Man featured Spidey and several other heroes in a poker game. Story is they got together on a regular basis for low-stakes poker, with all the winning donated to charity. Kingpin shows up, saying he's heard about the game and puts up a huge amount of cash to each player, saying he's here to clean them out. At the end, it's only Spidey and Kingpin left. Kingpin lays it on thick, telling Spidey he can't win and he should bail. Spidey goes all in, Kingpin calls and shows off his Full House, proudly declaring himself the winner and starting to rake in the pot. Spidey says time out. "Hey, I only got two pair. I got that pair on nines on the table, and I got this pair of nines in my hand." Cue the most pissed off look in the history of comics on Kingpins' face.
  • Wolverine is an avid poker player, and he's very good at it. Part of it is the fact that he's always completely unfazed no matter what the odds or how big the pot is. Considering some of the battles he's fought, it's not surprising that risking it all on a single hand isn't going to make him break a sweat. Once when he was in card game, someone told him that he was going to need a lot of luck. Logan simply replied "This is poker. Luck's got nothing to do with it." Another scene had him playing a high stakes game and it looked like he was going to lose. Wolverine went all in.
    Wolverine: All in.
    Other card player: Call.
    Wolverine: You don't get it, bub. When I said all in, I meant all in. If you win, you get to kill me. If I win, I get to kill you.
    Other card player: I fold.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Rounders, the modern poker movie. It follows small-time poker pro Mike McDermott as he loses his entire bankroll in one ill-considered game, vows to quit poker forever, and reneges on his vow. Edward Norton co-stars as his self-destructive, compulsive-cheater childhood friend. Along with Chris Moneymaker's historic WSOP win and the popularization of televised poker with "hole cams" so that the audience can see the players' hidden cards, it's credited with the early-2000s poker boom.
  • James Bond plays poker with Le Chiffre and wins in Casino Royale. In the original book, it was baccarat instead. Arguably an improvement, as baccarat is based mostly on luck. Poker wasn't the high-stakes casino game it is today back when the novel was written. The only game played in casinos for stakes relevant to Le Chiffre, and in which the house didn't massively stack the odds against you, was baccarat. It also allowed them to skip over what would have been a long explanation of baccarat rules for an audience that would be mostly unfamiliar with the game.
  • Gone with the Wind:
    • Gerald O'Hara is a good poker player (esp. when there's heavy drinking involved), and Rhett Butler worked as a professional poker player earlier in his life.
    • Rhett is also shown deliberately losing to the officers running the Union prisoner-of-war camp he's being held in, and being a very good sport about it. The officers speak frankly of finding it hard to dislike him because he "loses his money so easily.'' This plays to Rhett's advantage, as he is well-liked by the guards and treated well.
  • Used as a plot point in Penelope, as Lemon finds "Max", a habitual poker player, at his usual Texas Hold'em table. His ability to later walk away from the game shows his character development.
  • Poker night at Oscar's house is a setting for many of the best gags in The Odd Couple.
  • The Cincinnati Kid', a poker film starring Steve McQueen (Actor), set during The Great Depression.
  • Maverick, where every major character plays poker, and they all end up in a poker tournament for a half million dollars.
  • Tombstone
    Wyatt Earp: Come on, Doc! You've always said gambling's an honest trade!
    Doc Holliday: No, I've said poker is an honest trade. Only fools buck the tiger (a common pseudonym for playing Faro).
  • In In Time, the protagonist wins an Absurdly High-Stakes Game. He has 8-4 versus the queens of his opponent, the Big Bad. The board is: Queen — seven — jack (flop); six (turn); five (river). In other words, the villain was way ahead with his set of queens, but thanks to the Magic Poker Equation, the hero got a straight with the last card. Don't try to play poker like that, unless you want to lose.
  • Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels has a game called three-card brag, a British game (mentioned as one of the ancestors of poker by The Other Wiki) with some fairly major rules differences, especially regarding betting. It's perhaps even more suitable than poker for setting up the "hero loses silly amount of money to villain and spends rest of film trying to repay it" plot, as Brag has a way of getting out of hand very quickly indeed and is typically not played for table stakes.
  • I Love You, Man include a scene in which Paul Rudd's character attempts to make more male friends by joining his brother-in-law's regular poker game. He infuriates the other players by playing incredibly badly but winning by dumb luck.
    I have nothing. I have five spades.
    That's a FLUSH!
  • Molly's Game is entirely driven by the glamour and risk of extremely high-stake poker sessions, although relatively little of it is about actual gameplay.

  • Popular as a motif in the works of Tim Powers, often with supernatural implications attached.
    • Last Call focuses on a supernatural variant of poker, played with tarot cards, that could literally be used to win or lose bodies and souls; tied together with Jungian archetypes and the Fisher King myth, the Big Bad of the work uses it to win bodies that he could hop to.
    • Declare focuses on an entirely different type of magic, but an interrupted poker game between Andrew Hale and Kim Philby is central to one of its subplots, single-hand seven-card stud, sudden death rules. The real tension isn't in their respective hands—which is determined by pure luck—but rather in the fact that there are different prizes for declaring high and declaring low; high hand wins the right to go after a woman both are pursuing, low hand wins djinni-assisted immortal life. However they declare will determine what they win.
  • Little Myth Marker from the Myth Adventures series centers around Dragon Poker — a ridiculously complex version of the game. Fans, of course, have codified the rules and filled in the blanks (see Tabletop Games).
  • In the Foreigner series poker is one of the few human games that have become popular among the alien atevi. Given that the atevi are naturals at both card counting and calculating statistics, they're much better at poker than humans.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Deadwood. Dramatizes the death of Wild Bill Hickok at a poker table.
  • Battlestar Galactica, both old and new, featured a very poker-like card game called "Pyramid," which, bizarrely, shares its name with a very basketball-like sport. The reboot fixes this by naming the card game "Triad."
  • Supernatural
    • In one episode, the brothers have to face a he-witch who plays poker betting life years instead of money.
    • Dean also finances the brothers, at least in part, by cheating at poker games. In the episode where the boys allow themselves to get caught in order to infiltrate a prison, Dean comments that playing poker against the other inmates is "like picking low-hanging fruit".
  • Star Trek franchise:
    • To the point of a Running Gag in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Frakes even points out what a badass gambler his character must be. He's playing with an android who can count the cards, a guy who might be able to see through the cards, and his empathic ex-girlfriend... and usually cleans their clock.
      • An episode in which a duplicate Riker is discovered (a transporter accident is involved) who was stranded on a deserted planet some years ago features a particularly tense moment in which the two Rikers face off over a poker game. Stranded!Riker loses and complains, "You always had the better hand... in everything."
      • One teaser has Data playing poker on the holodeck with Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Stephen Hawking (appearing As Himself).
      • In "Cause and Effect," the Enterprise finds itself in a stable time loop which includes the same poker game played over and over. Each iteration of the loop plays out slightly differently; the cards are the same, but subliminal memories of previous loops cause the players to make different moves. After a few loops, they are able to predict each card as it is revealed. In the final iteration, Data programs himself to subconsciously stack the deck as a way of hinting to himself how to escape the loop.
      • In the "Time's Arrow" two-parter, Data is unexpectedly sent back to 19th-century America with nothing but a Starfleet uniform that folks he meets tend to mistake for pajamas, and his communicator. He uses the communicator to buy into a poker game (luckily, the five-card stud favored on the Enterprise is more period-appropriate than the Hold'Em that tends to be played by those of us in the 20th century) and walks away with enough dosh to check himself into a swanky hotel room and buy raw materials to MacGyver up an alien-detector, with enough left over to buy period clothes. Those seedy-looking card sharps must've been loaded....
      • The final scene of the Series Finale is of Captain Picard finally joining the rest of the senior officers for a game of poker.
    • In Star Trek: The Original Series, the game isn't really featured, but by way of analogy represents Kirk's hallmark of using guts and bluffing in contrast to Spock's preference for the logical strategy of chess. Which is a great analogy except then they try breaking it.
    Kirk: Not chess, Spock. Poker!
    • Well, there's "A Piece of the Action", in which the bad guys are playing poker. Kirk one-ups them with ... fizzbin (the rules of which he invents on the spot).
    Kirk: It's a man's game, but of course it's probably a little beyond you. It requires intelligence.
  • Similar to the Star Trek example, from the Doctor Who arc "Battlefield":
    Morgaine: I could always beat you at chess, Merlin.
    The Doctor: Who said anything about playing chess? I'm playing Poker [Ace knocks over Morgaine and throws Excalibur to the Doctor] And I've got an Ace up my sleeve!
  • The Friends episode "The One with the Poker". After hearing stories about the guys' poker night the girls ask to join in. They're pretty terrible at it until they get some coaching from a relative of Monica's. Eventually Ross and Rachel are left competing over the final hand and borrow money from the others to keep their bets going when they run out of their own cash. Rachel eventually wins due to Ross folding. The episode ends with Joey and Chandler trying to turn over Ross' cards to find out if he actually lost or threw the game to cheer Rachel up after she lost out on a job she really wanted.
  • The poker game is a major scene in the film and play: The Odd Couple, but it also takes place in the TV show.
  • My Boys features poker at PJ's house in most episodes.
  • All the monsters of Kamen Rider Blade are categorized according to a 52-card deck plus Jokers. The four Riders themselves represent the Aces, and each gradually collects the monsters and powers of the other 12 in their suit. Poker hands specifically come into play when Blade's in his Super Mode, as his strongest attacks are straight flushes that use five continuous Spade cards. A four-of-a-kind attack, with each Rider providing one card, has also been seen.
  • Castle has Castle at the table with Beckett at times, and with a circle of authors that include James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and the late Stephen J. Cannell (who now has an Empty Chair Memorial).
  • The Food Network show Kitchen Casino has as its last round "Chef Poker," which is a hybrid of Texas Hold 'Em and 5-Card Draw Poker. Host Bill Rancic deals out a "flop" of 3 cards with ingredients two chefs MUST BOTH use in their dishes. Each chef is also dealt two "hole cards" which are two unique ingredients to their dish only. After looking at their hole cards as well as the flop, they can either keep both ingredients, or discard one or both of them for new ones which MUST BE USED (no more discards) for that dish.
  • One of Family Matters episodes deals with Carl Winslow, his cop partners and Hanriette's boss playing Five Card Draw, and Steve Urkel joining in. Steve loses all the money he had saved for an accordion, but then earns that and the money Carl had lent him before, winning the last game with two pairs... of tens.
  • The short-lived ESPN scripted series Tilt was built around poker, but focused more on the politics behind the scenes. In particular, Michael Madsen's character is portrayed much like The Godfather.
  • The obscure Game Show Super Pay Cards (and its predecessor, simply called Pay Cards) is based around poker, albeit with a memory game-style element added into the mix.
  • The Price Is Right had in its pricing game rotation from 1975 to 2007 the "Poker Game". The contestant was presented with four prizes with three-digit prices. They selected two of them to create a five-digit poker hand (the lowest digit was discarded), then would either keep the hand or pass it to the "house"; the other hand was then made up with the remaining two prizes. The contestant won if they got a better hand than the "house" (since there were no suits and straights didn't count, the best hand was the one with the most matching digits). The game was retired because of its confusing rules and its impossibility to offer prices worth more than $999.
  • Qi: In "Knights And Knaves" Victoria Coren-Mitchell makes this pithy comment on the difference between poker and chess:
    Victoria: "As Martin Amis once said, 'In chess, the properties of a bishop are fixed. In poker, it's all wobbled through the prism of personality.' ... But do you know when he said that, Stephen? It was after a poker game that you and I and he all played many years ago...
    Stephen Fry: Yes, I remember, with a then-unknown Ricky Gervais...
    Victoria: Ricky Gervais, who was knocked out, got up and said, 'What am I supposed to do now?' and you said, "There's a shotgun in the drawer'."
  • The West Wing: The senior staff are seen playing together during slow evenings in the office a couple of times. The first time, Bartlet keeps interrupting to ask the staff trivia questions that they have to answer before he'll make his bets. The second time they play, in season four, the game is interrupted by a woman firing a gun at the White House which forces the Secret Service to crash the building.

    Tabletop Games 

  • Poker night at Oscar's house is a setting for many of the best gags in The Odd Couple.
  • Fiorello has the song "Politics and Poker," which largely speaks for itself.

    Video Games 
  • Seen various places in the Wing Commander series, including a couple of special hands.
  • In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, after Phoenix lost his job as a lawyer in one case 7 years ago, he got a job at a Russian restaurant, in which he became a famous poker player, as he hadn't lost a single game in those 7 years. While Phoenix is a good player in his own right, he gets a little help from his adopted daughter Trucy, who has the same Perceive ability that Apollo does. She uses it to pick up on the tells that Phoenix misses.
  • Red Dead Redemption uses poker as a minigame. You can actually cheat in it too using a certain outfit to slip a card up your sleeve.
  • Poker Night at the Inventory and its sequel is a crossover poker game, with the players being characters from Team Fortress 2, Sam & Max: Freelance Police, Penny Arcade, Homestar Runner, Borderlands, Evil Dead, and The Venture Bros..
  • You can win credits playing poker with your engineering staff in Mass Effect 2. It's played for laughs, though: the most you can win is pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and the action occurs off-screen anyway.
  • In "Far Cry 3", you can find back room poker games that you can join all over the island map. Later on, you play against the main villain, Hoyt, where your life is on the line if you lose.
  • Some games in the Yakuza series feature poker as a minigame. Yakuza 0 in particular has a choice between Texas Hold 'em, Pineapple Hold 'em or Omaha Hold 'em pokers.
  • In Choice of the Deathless, the player character plays poker with a group of fellow Occult Lawyers, including a rival from school and a name partner at the player character's firm. The player can choose a general goal (impress the partner, show up the rival, win as much money as possible, etc.), but the poker game is not narrated play by play.
  • Five Card Draw and Texas Hold'Em are among the games included in Clubhouse Games. The sequel, 51 Worldwide Classics, only has Texas Hold'Em.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • The Talkartoons short "The Ace of Spades" is themed around Bimbo the Dog causing trouble at a local poker house.