As one of the most popular games in the world, it makes sense that the game has been featured through the years in numerous television shows, movies, and much more.
The game is primarily part of American culture and history, but that has expanded around the world in recent years. Poker resonates because so many players are so accustomed to playing the game.
Here’s a look at a few interesting references to poker in popular culture, where playing cards is a central theme.
Poker in Movies
This 2018 movie chronicling the life of the Star Wars character Han Solo, offered some insight into how Solo came about owning his iconic starship, the Millennium Falcon. That involved a unique poker-like game against his friend and sometime adversary Lando Calrissian.
Many players may have been in a similar game at some point in their lives – a dark, dingy room with some unique characters at the table. However, this one even features some characters with tentacles and two heads. That makes “one player to a hand” a bit out of the question.
One thing players might like in this film? The drone serving drinks – no waiting for a cocktail waitress.
If only we could all be as cool as Daniel Craig at the table. In a critical moment in this 2006 film, James Bond finds himself squaring off against top-notch poker player, and of course an uber-villain, Le Chiffre.
In Casino Royale, Texas Hold’em replaces the traditional Bond gambling game of Baccarat. The movie was released during the height of the poker boom, and the two men battled it out for all the chips in Monte Carlo. Notice the tuxedos – no hoodies allowed at this table.
There is plenty of cinematic dramatics, however.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
At age 77, apparently, Harrison Ford has no plans yet to retire. He recently announced filming would soon get underway for the fifth instalment of the Indiana Jones film franchise. No stranger to a bullwhip, he’s also no stranger to card mechanics.
In this Temple of Doom clip, he’s caught cheating by the young Short Round as the two play cards in the middle of the jungle. A bit of a gambler and angler, Short has an Ace up his sleeve as well.
Paul Newman was no stranger to poker films when he starred in this 1973 con and caper film set in the 1930s and co-starring Robert Redford. He’d already been the lead character in poker film The Cincinnati Kid, released in 1965, and poker would again play a role in The Sting.
There are some bad feelings in this game and Newman’s character isn’t afraid to needle his opponents. If only we could all get four of a kind as much as these guys in the movies.
Poker in Television
Who could forget Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine hanging out in New York City apartment 5A? From George’s lies to Kremer’s hair-brained schemes to Jerry’s numerous relationship issues, the show kept viewers laughing for nine seasons. Poker played a role in the show now and again.
Here’s a quick clip of Jerry getting a read on Elaine and discussing poker tells – of course involving a failed relationship.
In fact, Seinfeld has numerous references throughout poker and gambling. In one episode, Elaine is playing poker with some friends, and Jerry has a chance to put his foot in his mouth.
Below is an outtake from an episode featuring Kramer’s all-night poker game binge. With no actual job, however, it’s a bit of a mystery how Kramer had the funds to play. Maybe poker was his occupation all along?
The Odd Couple
A character in this popular sitcom may have split with his wife, but his love of poker remained. In the 1970s, poker received some pretty big publicity via The Odd Couple. The show was based on the play by famed playwright Neil Simon and featured Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison and Tony Randall as Felix Unger. The two men are divorced, and the roommates’ differing views on life also frequently led to laughs.
Oscar hosted a regular home game with a few friends. The game was featured in the 1968 film as well. In the 13th episode of the TV show’s first season, a game of poker takes centre stage after Oscar is accused of stealing $50 during an electrical blackout.
The film also makes considerable use of the poker table as a backdrop and here’s a critical section of the film.
The character Data has quite a poker face in the poker episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. As a synthetic life form with artificial intelligence, not showing emotion was not only a goal in a poker game but also a way of life - no way his poker face is giving away any information.
Many poker players probably wish they could avoid tells and tilt like Data and playing against him must have been a frustrating endeavour. According to the show, poker remains popular many years from now as it’s set in 2338. This scene also shows Data’s keen sense of observation.
Poker with friends is certainly a fun night, and that included Monica, Phoebe, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, and Ross. The show ran for ten seasons, and an occasional poker game broke out in Monica and Rachel’s apartment. Not a fan of idle chit-chat at the table? Then this game wasn’t for you.
It seems Ross and Rachel brought some of their personal drama to this table as well – quite a poker foul. Serious poker fans will have to look past the awkward table mechanics and gameplay.
Those looking at a faster game will be disappointed. This key hand seems to take forever.
Poker in Music
Lady Gaga put on her best poker face with this 2008 hit. The song was part of her debut solo album and topped the charts in the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and several European countries.
She told the Daily Star newspaper: “It's about a lot of different things. I gamble, but I've also dated a lot of guys who are really into sex and booze and gambling, so I wanted to write a record my boyfriends would like too.”
No word if Gaga is much of a poker player herself, but she’s difficult to get a read on and the video features a bit of a chaotic game.
One of the biggest music hits, before Lady Gaga, came in the country genre. Kenny Rogers’ classic version of the song was released in 1978 and made it to the top of the country charts and was a crossover pop hit as well. The song tells a story about a gambler whose best advice may be: “know when to walk away, know when to run.”
The song was released on Rogers’ album of the same name, which won him a Grammy award. The Gambler even inspired several TV movies starring Rogers – this gambler knew how to keep a good thing going.
The Gambler remains popular more than four decades later, and Rogers even reprised his role for a series of GEICO insurance ads. Kenny Rogers passed away in March 2020, but his song will remain a true poker classic. And in this video, he showed that he had a real sense of humour about it.
Crazy Game of Poker
This 1997 song appeared on the album debut of the rock band O.A.R. Like The Gambler, the song is a story wrapped around poker, and this player might have missed that “know when to walk away” advice. The song notes: “Who's up for game two? What to do? My wallet's gettin’ thin and I just lost my watch last night.”
It’s an up-tempo song that’s very poker heavy, and the storyteller notes that he “lost it all.” Like most players, however, he perseveres and promises “someday I’ll be back again.” That’s a little motivation for when the cards don’t go your way.
Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House
Country seems to be a regular genre for songs using poker motifs. This song was part of Garth Brooks’ monster 1990 album, No Fences. The song reached No. 1 on the U.S. and Canadian country charts and uses poker terminology, obviously, as a metaphor for a relationship.
Poker fans will find plenty of cheesiness in the lyrics such as these: “Yes, she's my lady luck, hey, I'm her wild-card man. Together we're buildin’ up a real hot hand.” More silly poker/relationship references follow.
This list is just a sampling of what’s out there when it comes to poker in pop culture. For more, check out some of 888poker’s articles on topics related to this theme: