Poker in the movies is often romanticized and portrayed as a glorified strategy-based game where the victor comes from behind to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Truth be told: Poker is a grind. The premier poker players are mathematical and statistical geniuses; their poker playing prowess is evident in the consistency of success they enjoy with their craft. For example, top poker professionals like Doyle Brunson, Chris Moneymaker, and Phil Ivey have been able to amass a following of devoted fans over the years.

The pros of poker routinely teach one lesson to poker greenhorns: Fold most of the starting hands you receive, except for premium starting hands. In the movies, we get to watch accelerated versions of poker tournaments where you won’t see any players folding starting hands. Films simply don’t allow for unnecessary wasting of time. In a high stakes poker tournament, it’s always a war of attrition. Whether you’re playing Texas Hold’em Poker, Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, or Caribbean Stud Poker, your goal is always to manage your stack, your cards, and the players at your table as best you can.

Poker Movies: Hollywood and Its Pocket Rockets

When we turn our attention to poker movies, many of the titles that get bandied about are casino-style movies. But if you look closely, there may be an element of poker lurking in the background. The pure poker movies are limited to a handful of films. The top 3 Texas Hold’em poker movies star actors like Matt Damon, Edward Norton, Sylvester Stallone, and Burt Reynolds. Some of these movies have gone mainstream, while others have maintained a low profile, but are certainly worth watching.

Poker movies are designed to add additional mystique to the game. The characters who play poker in films are often wise beyond their years. Guys like Matt Damon, Sly Stallone and Burt Reynolds perfectly captured the quintessential poker face in each of their films. They played the player, and they played their cards with precision. Let’s briefly explore the top 3 Texas Hold’em poker films and see how they differ from real-life poker games

  1. Deal with Burt Reynolds

Deal stars the legendary Burt Reynolds, Maria Mason, and Bret Harrison. This PG-13 drama tells the story of Tommy Vinson – a retired poker professional. Vinson decides to coach the aspiring law school graduate – Alex Stillman (Bret Harrison) the game of poker. Stillman is distracted by online poker games while he’s at law school, so he decides to put his skills to the test by going into live poker games.

Of course, the movie puffs up the scandalous nature of poker, including bluffing and psychological manipulation to great effect. There are some legendary poker players in the mix, including Mike Sexton, Phil Laak, Antonio Esfandiari and others. The movie came with a budget of $5 million, and tanked at the box office. However, it is a fascinating window into the world of high-stakes poker where Burt Reynolds is drawn back into the WSOP (World Series of Poker) and he comes up against his protégé, Bret Harrison.

  1. Rounders with Matt Damon and Edward Norton

Rounders is now 20 years old. The movie starred Matt Damon, Edward Norton and Gretchen Mol. It tells the story of a card player who is heavily indebted to loan sharks. His best friend comes to his assistance by offering to pay off his debts by getting involved in high-stakes poker tournaments. This poker film has generated the best reviews from the poker online community, as arguably the #1 top film about poker ever.

With a budget of $12 million, the film grossed $22.9 million in the US, and has an enduring legacy among poker fans. Once again, the film focuses on the seedy elements of poker where brawn is pitted against brains in a gruelling contest of poker play. The film succeeds as a great ambassador for the game of poker. Poker online fans routinely site the popularity of Rounders in chat rooms, and high-stakes poker tournaments as the inspiration for getting them interested in the game.

  1. Shade with Sylvester Stallone

Believe it or not, Hollywood A-list star Sylvester Stallone has also dabbled in the game of poker, and to great effect. His film Shade from 2003 is an excellent tribute to the game of poker. It takes place in LA, in the high-stakes poker world where hustlers try and outwit the Dean of poker. Stallone has a low-key role in the film, as it focuses more on the other characters including Joe Niccolo, Carl Mazzocone Sr, Frank Medrano, Melanie Griffith, Thandie Newton and Jason Cerbone who are trying to take down the most legendary poker player of them all. One of the best lines from the movie was when Stallone a.k.a. Stevens ‘The Dean’ said ‘I was mucking cards before you were born!’ to the young upstart who is trying to take him down. This extraordinary tribute to the game of poker has also inspired a new generation of online poker players to take to the game. Shade was released in 2004 and received a favourable 6.4/10 rating from 11,212 reviewers. It is a crime thriller of note, and a surprising addition to the poker genre. With a budget of $6.8 million, the film was a box office flop, but a definite keeper with Texas Hold’em poker fans.

How Do Poker Films Differ from Poker Reality?

There are many ways that films are larger-than-life, and filmmakers design their projects to be engaging, engrossing, and immersive. Poker is a numbers game that is best understood by players in the middle, and fans on the rail. To gain mainstream acceptance, poker films need to engage a wider audience with universal human concepts like betrayal, anguish, greed, violence, duplicity and the like. The game of poker online, or at live tables is increasingly perceived as a mental game where the lack of words is more than compensated for by poker psychology, bluffs, action and inaction.

Films rely on activating our sensory responses to generate interest. In many high-stakes poker games such as 888poker online tournaments, WSOP, WPT, EPT, ANZPT, and the LA Poker Classic, the focus is on your poker acumen, not on hustling hitmen, card sharks, loan sharks, Russian Mafia dons and the like. The poker films are great at popularizing the game for entertainment’s sake, but the game is immune to outside noise. It is a strategy-based war of attrition between players at the table.