How real is the reel when it comes to poker scenes?


Movies love that extra drama, that extra adventure. Games and sports in movies are notoriously difficult to get right. It’s often hard for actors and directors to capture the rawness of a sport and its action. But nonetheless, we have filmmakers hitting those benchmarks trying to capture authenticity in movies like Bull Durham and Any Given Sunday.

It’s not just sports played in stadiums, but poker games too have featured in films. Some of whose efforts to capture the tension of a high-stakes poker game have hit the mark while others have failed.

One of the key reasons the representation falls short is because the game is still new and not everyone knows the rule. Therefore in order to set the premise, the actions need to be made obvious to the audience, therefore dumbing down its authenticity. However, let’s focus on the ones that have got the high-tension, octane pumping mind based skill sport right.


As the title suggests, Casino Royale was set amidst the Montenegro Casino. Bond has been sent to meet up with the arch-criminal Le Chiffre and take him on in a high-stakes poker game – one with a $10 million buy-in.

The pot swings one way and the other supported by the fact that both players are able to detect each other’s physical tells and accurately call their bluffs.

A little bond drama after, Bond is back to play a $115 million hand where both characters are seen going all-in. Bond reveals a straight flush and walks off with his loot!


Inspired from real-life incidents Molly’s Games comes a lot close than Bonds’ fiction. The film tracks the life of Molly Bloom, a promising Olympic skier who’s sporting career crippled with a serious injury. Leading her to Los Angeles, Molly works in the hospitality industry where she starts arranging and running high stakes poker games that were frequented by celebrities and high-profile poker players.

During the course of the film, there are a number of poker scenes. One such scene that comes close to the real-life felts is when skilled player Harlan Eustice loses to the worst player on the table and goes into a self-destructive spiral, the bad-beat! Every poker player has probably had one such story!


With a star-studded cast of Matt Damon, Edward Norton and John Malkovich and some great poker, the movie deserves a mention! Damon, a poker player himself, is a young law student and poker devotee called Mike McDermott whose dream it is to compete in the prestigious World Series of Poker held in Las Vegas each summer. His plans hit rock bottom when he loses $30,000 in a game to a Russian gangster called Teddy KGB played by Malkovich.

Soon afterward he meets up with an old friend Lester Murphy played by Norton who persuades him to help clear debts by getting him into poker games. Not all of these go well and Murphy ends up owing more and more people money.

Implicated in these debts, Mc Dermott has a last chance to pay them off by competing against Teddy KGB. Their game witnesses massive swings but it’s evident that McDermott is going to lose everything. However, in the final hand, Teddy KGB’s game falls apart and he’s beaten by a flush, saving the day for McDermott and paving the way for him to head off for the WSOP.

By using actual players (Molly’s Game) and having realistic outcomes in the games, films are certainly painting the real picture of a game of poker. While some parts are entertaining, poker, just like life, simply isn’t that easy and neither is winning in poker.