Secret to a Perfect Poker scene

There’s something we can learn from movies that have really good poker scenes in them – either they encapsulate something about the game or something about the play that stands out to the audience and makes them feel more involved in the action. Particularly interesting is how the movies so accurately adapt the feelings of tension. You can see it for yourself by playing in games at sites like, there’s a lot of energy in the room and a concentrated effort to avoid being caught out.

If you look at some of the best poker scenes in movies, you’ll notice that they have similar elements that make them work as well as they do – In fact, two movies in particular stand out as representing perfectly two core elements of poker that you’d need to capture to make a compelling scene.

The Tell – Rounders

With Matt Damon starring as Mike McDermott, a former poker star who doesn’t play any more who’s an excellent judge of tells and bluffs able to read his opponents and recognise what they have from it. Mike vouches for his former best friend, Worm, and ends up on the hook for Worm’s massive debt that he’s accrued while in jail and has to attempt to win enough money to pay off the entire debt. After losing an all-in once before, Mike finally notices his opponent’s tell – how he handles oreos. Every hand, KGB (Mike’s nemesis) splits apart an oreo but minute details surrounding what he does next gives Mike the edge he needs to see through his nemesis and unsettle him enough to get in his head and eventually win the game.

While tells are rarely so dramatic, the scene where Mike finally realises what the tell is and keeps the game going in order to win is an excellent example of how people see poker.

The Bluff – Ocean’s Eleven

Almost the polar opposite to Rounders, Ocean’s Eleven features a scene where George Clooney, playing Danny Ocean and Brad Pitt, playing Rusty Ryan, are giving a lesson on how to play poker to some rich celebrities with a flawless example of a bluff. The core of this scene is that while Ocean is betting high, Ryan is insisting to everyone that he’s bluffing and doesn’t have anything worth talking about. The other characters, all actors playing fictional versions of themselves, buy Ryan’s explanation completely and all follow his lead to bet on the hands as they come out, blissfully unaware of the con being run on them. The end result is Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan walking away richer and the actor’s all thinking Ryan just had a bad read.

Apart from setting the tone for the rest of the movie, this scene perfectly exemplifies how to bluff with both Ryan and Ocean clearly concealing their motives and methods from the group. While Clooney doesn’t give anything away with his face, Pitt’s eloquent deconstruction of Clooney’s ‘bluff’ is enough to goad his students into betting high on a hand that he knows is high.

If a scene manages to encapsulate both the bluffs and the tells well (such as in Casino Royale with Le Chiffre’s bleeding tear and Bond’s early mistake in seeing it as a tell) then you tend to get a powerful Poker scene out of it.

But what do you think? Let us know in the comment’s below!

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