Six things you shouldn’t learn from poker movie scenes

Poker movies are fantastic popcorn fodder, but they may not be prime studying material. Don’t get sucked in by the fast-paced frenzy of scripted gambling: there are a lot of things that the stars and starlets can get away with that will get you banned from any experienced table (and a few casinos).

1. Having a Bad Tell
Seen In: Rounders (1998)

No matter how many times, movies tell you that you need to eliminate your tells, movie stars always seem to have them. Why? Because a stoic-faced leading man is boring. They want to be able to queue the audience in to the actor’s emotions – and this means that the actor needs to broadcast their distress or elation at every given turn. But not you. You should never do that. Unless, of course, you have a tell that they only think is a tell …

2. Being Needlessly Ambiguous
Seen In: The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

If you’re fond of poker movies, you’ve probably heard “call, and raise…” a myriad of times. It’s used to build dramatic tension: he calls and he raises! But this is more likely to be confusing than dramatic in real life: calling and raising are two entirely different things, as any poker rules guidelines will point out. Think about it: if you’re raising, you’re obviously already calling.

3. Trying to Cheat … Obviously
Seen In: Rounders (1998)

The above scene is perhaps the most predictable result you might get if you actually try cheating on a game of cards. While cheating may seem like an alluring idea, it’s important to remember that you’re playing with people who have likely seen it all. They know the ebb and flow of the game and they can tell when something — besides their luck — isn’t going right. Best to learn the game as it’s supposed to be played.

4. Betting More Than The Person Has
Seen In: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

Though it may seem to have a bit of a dramatic flair, you can’t just bet someone an airplane and expect them to materialize it out of the ether. Even in no stakes games, the bets need to be reasonable – otherwise the person with the highest net worth could easily win by just betting everything they have. Besides, it’s pretty impossible to collect on money the other person just doesn’t have. Then again, it’s a fantastic premise for a film.

5. Betting Away Your Life
Seen In: In Time (2011)

Perhaps Will Salas took this a little literally, but you see this all the time in poker movies. Plucky underdog comes to the table and bets are placed. When the camera pans to the underdog, the cheeky thing takes out a dirty napkin and writes on it:

  • My inheritance
  • My fortune
  • My wife
  • My dog

Essentially, anything that they could not stand to lose. Especially the dog! What are they thinking? Everyone else at the table chuckles and then – the bet is actually accepted! Not only is this a terrible idea (try explaining it to your wife if you lose), but abstract bets like “my fortune” have absolutely no actual monetary value at the table. Unless you’re going to break out the accountants or have an actual appraisal at hand, these bets are less than worthless.

6. Building Up Dramatic Tension
Seen In: Maverick (1994)

You’ve won. You know you’ve won. You definitely have the best hand there. So what do you do? Build up unnecessary dramatic tension, of course! Lick your lips, tap your hands and slowly flip that next card over. Poker’s all about showmanship, isn’t it? Well, not so much. This works great in poker movies because audience members at the edge of their seat are entertained. Other players at the edge of their seat are annoyed.

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