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Pop-Culture Poker – Casino Royale

📁 Poker 🕔16.March 2018
Pop-Culture Poker – Casino Royale

Come on, you knew we had to do this one, right? There’s an extremely high chance that the first thing you think of when somebody mentions ‘poker’ and ‘movie’ in the same sentence is Casino Royale – and for good reason. Much like poker, James Bond too has proved to have a timeless style and the combination of the two in the 2006 film proved to be quite explosive. Let’s take a closer look.


The changes

We do have to start with a caveat, however – the fact that James Bond never actually played poker in the original novel. Casino Royale was both Ian Fleming’s first book as well as the literary debut of James Bond, and it featured the debonair spy entering into a high-stakes game of…baccarat. Specifically, a high-stakes game of chemin-de-fer, which itself is a variant of baccarat. Baccarat itself is a card game, with some vague similarities with blackjack, which was extremely popular at the time (1952) that Fleming was writing Casino Royale. The film was released in the middle of the poker boom in 2006, and so they changed it for the movie – which was, I think we can all agree, a very good decision.

The style

This is Bond. James Bond. You know, 007?. The reason that the Bond novels and films became so popular was because of their enduring style. Being a spy couldn’t possibly be as cool as the dashing Brit made it out to be; but damn if we didn’t want to believe it was true. And Casino Royale brings that style to the world of high-stakes poker. Everything is larger than life – that implausibility we mentioned earlier now becomes a strength. This is what so many of us believe poker to be, and it is what it will always be to us.

The tells

It’s not just style, though – Casino Royale does have some substance to its poker scenes. First up, it introduces and explains the concept of ‘tells’ – body language that can be used by opponents to guess the merits of a poker player’s hand. However, tells can also be used to fool opponents into thinking that you’re bluffing when you’re not. A perceived tell forms a significant part of Bond’s first game against Le Chiffre, and works as a dramatic story hook. In real life professional poker tournaments, tells are rare and most poker players wear sunglasses and use other methods to prevent any sort of tell from occurring – but it works very well as a narrative device in Casino Royale.

The philosophy

For a movie that gave more importance to style and impact than realism and the mundane, Casino Royale did highlight one enduring truth of poker through the years.

“…in poker you never play your hand – you play the man across from you.”

Bond says these words when he’s confident of besting Le Chiffre, having worked out his method and how to read him – but this is a poker maxim that has been around long before Ian Fleming’s blue-eyed boy. We’ve spoken before of how the human element of poker is what makes it so compelling, and Casino Royale sums it up very well with this one line.

Casino Royale was always going to feature in this series – the only question was how long we’d wait before talking about it! Anyway, there are few movies that get you in the mood to play a game as much as this one; I’m signing in now, see you online!

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