Everyone loves a poker scene. They’re the perfect setting for either high drama or hilarity, depending on the programme, and the small screen has treated fans to some big moments over the years. Below is a look at some of the most memorable poker scenes to have played out on the screens, from friendly games in casual settings and even in outer space, through to tense affairs in the criminal underworld.
The girls schooling the guys in poker (Friends)
Everyone’s favourite New Yorkers — Rachel, Ross, Joey, Phoebe, Chandler and Monica — play a fabulously funny game of poker in the first season of “Friends”. The gang sit down to play some card games and the lads are happy to go easy on the girls, thinking they don’t know how to play poker. What they don’t know is that the girls can play perfectly well. That becomes apparent right from the start when Rachel says she’ll give the game a try and shuffles the pack in a way that wouldn’t look out of place at a casino poker table.
Silvio loses his temper at the table (The Sopranos)
It just wouldn’t be a gangster series if there wasn’t a poker scene in there somewhere. ‘The Sopranos’ spoils viewers with a uniquely tense but humorous scene in which Silvio, Tony Soprano’s second-in-command, lets the game get to him. He’s losing very badly, takes it out on a young lad who is sweeping up around the table and, generally, abuses the other players in the room, including the winner of the game, which isn’t him of course! You can’t help but smile at Tony’s amusement at the whole scene.
Marlon loses at poker (The Wire)
This scene may be more memorable for what happens after the game than what happens during it. Classic poker scene in a bar. The music’s playing in the background and the guys are around the table chatting. Marlon loses, much to his annoyance, and heads out. He heads to a convenience store, where the security guard accuses him of shoplifting when he leaves and confronts him about it. In the following scene, the viewer is treated to a glimpse of the guard’s badge on the floor: Marlon has murdered him.
Trivia at the poker table (The West Wing)
Rarely would anyone get to see a president playing poker, but “The West Wing” treats viewers to a light-hearted poker scene. It’s more about the conversation around the table than about the game itself. The president wins the game while engaging the other players in a bit of trivia. He discusses the English language, especially punctuation, and has them guessing which fruit has its seeds on the outside rather than the inside, too. It’s a strawberry, in case you were wondering.
Captain Jean Luc Picard joins for a game (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
This is a slightly different type of poker scene to the type we usually see. For a start, it’s taking place in outer space, of course, but more than that, this unites the players. Normally, poker games on the TV or in movies divide players in some way (because someone is losing money). Not Star Trek: The Next Generation, however. The game is more about friendship and camaraderie as Captain Jean Luc Picard sits down to play a game with the others. They invite him to shuffle and he tells them he “should have done this a long time ago”, to which one of the players responds by telling him how welcome he would have been. The music and the camerawork lend to this feeling of friendship between the crew.
Larry uses the C-word at the game (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
The players are having a tremendous game and are all in jovial spirits. They’re all calculating what’s in the pot and having a good laugh. Strangely, everyone is folding and Julia steals the game with an outrageous bluff. Larry David’s response when another player confesses to the table that he had aces high — a major hand — but decided to fold is to call the player the most offensive word in the English language. Suddenly, the atmosphere changes. Everyone feels offended and starts lecturing Larry on what is appropriate and what isn’t at the poker table before leaving the table. Laugh at the episode, but learn from it, too.
Patrick Jane humiliates a Mafia man at poker (The Mentalist)
Consultant for the California Bureau of Investigations (CBI) Patrick Jane sits down to a game with some mafia men in prison. After convincing the men he has the collateral to cover his bets — namely, a collection of vintage cars — he outwits the last man standing in the showdown with a sneaky bluff. It’s humiliating for his opponent, who tells him a few moments earlier he can spot when Jane is bluffing very easily. Of course, Jane’s bluff leaves the player with egg on his face, much to the amusement of his colleagues.
If ever a TV screenplay writer isn’t quite sure what to write or how to develop the plot, a good poker scene will do the trick. The scenes above show they work in several different genres and are an opportunity to add some extra humour to an episode or to lend it some drama. It’s all good for the audience, who will lap it up.