The Five Best Poker Scenes in Cinema

Who doesn’t love a great movie about gambling? There’s a ton of bad movies out there about the world of casinos, poker, horse tracks, and everything else – but I’m not gonna talk about them. I’m talking about the five best scenes in film history, according to me. If you want to write your own list, get your own blog – but you’ll be wrong. These are THE top five.

Some notes before we begin:

  1. Spoiler Alert: Obviously I can’t discuss some scenes without giving away key plot points. Deal with it. If this blog happens to ruin a movie for you, I have no sympathy – why are you reading this blog when you should be brushing up on your gambling movies??
  2. Poker Rules: Let’s face it – there hasn’t been a movie made yet that doesn’t break at least one conventional standard rule of poker or etiquette in every scene (i.e. string bets, all-in situations, one player per hand, etc.). So, we have to just throw the rulebook out the window in this list and just judge the scenes on film merit – unless the rules and etiquette violations are just egregious (I’m looking at you, “Casino Royale”).
  3. There will be variations of poker games represented in these lists. You don’t have to be familiar with them to enjoy the scene.
  4. I’ve tried to link to the videos when I can. Enjoy.

Without further ado, here’s my top five poker scenes in cinema:

5. All three poker nights seen in “The Odd Couple” – If you haven’t seen this classic comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, you’re missing out. It’s a great comedy, and the poker scenes are the funniest home game moments you’ll ever see. These five friends have been playing together so long they almost finish each other’s jokes, as well as their sandwiches.

4. Poker lessons from “Oceans Eleven” – This scene features a lot of star power – Brad Pitt is teaching five card draw to a group of young rich Hollywood stars, including Topher Grace and Joshua Jackson, when George Clooney crashes the lesson. The two veteran conmen quickly work together to fleece the suckers, who think “all red” cards (meaning three hearts and two diamonds) is a hand of any kind.

3. “The Cincinnati Kid” wins with one lousy pair – In this movie filled with great poker, this opening scene sets the tone with a cast of characters (the dealer needs a movie of his own) and action, showing Steve McQueen’s Eric “The Kid” Stoner to be capable of handling himself on the felt and off. This scene showed the grittier side of a poker player’s life, and sets up the dirty and edgy feel of the movie. And that perfectly sets up the ending.

2. Mike McDermott vs. Teddy KGB heads up in “Rounders” – While the first matchup was the one that hooked me in this movie the first time I saw it (I found it easy to relate to the bad beat), the final confrontation was what the entire movie was building up to. Mike used his skills and his experience to finally get himself back where he belonged – on the felt. In a world with so many bad luck stories, Mike McDermott represents the less-seldom seen good luck stories where the hard work paid off and the odds broke in your favor.

1. The backroom poker game on a train in “The Sting” – This iconic movie featured a cast of legends at their peak (Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw), each a con man and/or criminal trying to get one up on the other. Newman’s Henry Gondorff sits down in a high stakes cash game held on a train, and proceeds to out-swindle Doyle Lonnegan (Shaw), a Chicago mob-boss. This scene shows just how good a card mechanic Gondorff is, as they set up for the long con to crush Doyle and get revenge for a friend’s murder.



“The greatest risk is not taking one.”

― Tim Fargo

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