Know When to Hold’em: The Best Gambling Scenes to Appear on TV
There’s something about a good gambling scene that really grips the attention. In the truly great scenes giant egos, luck and skill come together to create a truly epic encounter, shaping the fate of participants outside the grotty gambling dens where such transactions are concluded.
In this article we’ll take a look at the finest gambling scenes ever scripted for TV – they may not be the most realistic, but why let that get in the way of a good story?
If there’s one TV show that does Poker right; its Deadwood. The drama takes the historical character of Wild Bill Hickock – lawman, wild spirit and force of nature; exploring his weaknesses through his predilection for Poker.
This isn’t a Casino Royale set up where the good guys inevitably win at cards; Wild Bill is a gambler who doesn’t know when to quit. Hickock’s persistence at Poker can be taken as a metaphor for his desperation and endless struggle against a world he neither likes nor understands.
It all comes to a head when Bill finally bests his nemesis – the cowardly, arrogant and abrasive Jack McCall. In the video below (which does contain some rather fruity language) McCall baits Hickock into betting his talismanic pistol set – before turning over a losing hand. History buffs will recall that Wild Bill met an untimely death at McCall’s hands – and Deadwood’s dramatisation is vibrant and believable, an exposition on how pride and greed warp our judgement.
Check out the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTyGayvUrsg
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Our next epic scene isn’t on the list because of its realism – just the opposite. Poker makes regular appearances in Star Trek – the sci-fi epic, even though its hard to fathom what stakes would be played for in a world seemingly without currency or, indeed, money.
In season 6 android Commander Data summons holograms of the “greatest minds in physics” to test his Poker skills. One of the players is Stephen Hawking – who in the process became the show’s only guest to play himself.
True to life however the “greatest minds” don’t naturally become experts – witness Albert Einstein argue with Isaac Einstein over the current bet.
This isn’t an epic battle of ego and logic- but the scene encapsulates Star Trek’s best elements – wit, optimism, adventure and gentle humour.
The West Wing
We often associate the qualities needed for top level political machinations and those of a Poker player – nerves of steel, an unreadable face and healthy amounts of chutzpah. There is indeed an element of truth to this – many US Presidents have played including Richard Nixon (depending on who you believe he was either an ace, or seriously overestimated his own ability). Aaron Sorkin political drama The West Wing also incorporated several Poker scenes, more notable for the dialogue than action.
Nonetheless Sorkin’s scenes helped reveal the beloved characters in greater clarity. President Bartlet uses the games to engage with his staff but communications director Toby plays to impress, normally reserved CJ knows when to bet the goods while Josh begins and ends hopelessly out of his depth.
The West Wing’s Poker scenes are gentle and fun – but master scriptwrite Sorkin uses them to explore the relationships and rivalries of the White House. First class as always.
As these scenes illustrate gambling is as much about testing yourself against others in fraught competition as much as a personal hobby. Perhaps that’s why many gaming companies are attempting to create engaging game worlds and interactive stories to hold their customers attention.
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