Monday, November 27, 2006

Poker scenes in "Casino Royale" (WARNING: SPOILER ALERT)

So I watched "Casino Royale" this weekend. One sentence review: Daniel Craig is great, it's the best Bond film in 20 years, but it could have been about 20 minutes shorter and slightly more coherent at the end. In any event, I thought it might be fun to provide an analysis of the poker scenes that take place 2/3rds through the way of the movie. Although I won't give away any major plot points, stop reading now to avoid being spoiled (is that a word?).

The setup is this: The bad guy, "Le Chiffe" has, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, set up a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro. When Le bad Guy says high stakes, he's not f***ing around: the buy-in is $10 million, with one $5 million optional rebuy. The format: Ten players, winner take all -- which is ludicrously unfair, but never mind -- and the game, of course, is no-limit Texas hold'em. James Bond is being staked by Her Majesty's Goverment via an extraordinarily attractive brunette accountant who we'll call here "The Attractive Dipshit." The other eight players are various ethnic movie stereotypes common to all Bond films and can be essentially ignored (e.g., the Arabian shiek, the Asian gangster etc.)

The first hand of importance takes early on. With the blinds at an absurdly low $5000/$10000, Le Bad Guy raises on the turn to $50000. The board is showing 9-9-6-4 rainbow, so Bond decides to stare long and hard at his opponent -- perhaps because he knows that Le Chiffe sometimes bleeds from his eyes when he plays poker (I'm not kidding) Le Chiffe doesn't bleed, but he does press hard against his temple with two fingers. Bond decides to call. The river comes a 2 and kills the flush draw. Le Bad guy bets out $200,000, and Bond again calls. LBG shows a pair of 22s, making him a full house, 2s over 9s. Bond mucks his hand and gets up for a drink.

While getting his drink, the Attractive Dipshit angrily confronts him about the hand -- apparently, her Majesty's Govt. is stupid enough to believe that Bond should win every single hand he plays (even though the amounts at stake were trivial compared to the $10 million buy in.) Bond patiently explains that, even though he lost the hand, he now knows Le Bad Guy's "tell" -- the aforementioned temple-pressing -- which, according to Bond, indicates that LBG is bluffing.

A couple of observations: first, strictly speaking, betting with 22 into a board of 9-9-6-4 is not necessarily a "bluff" per se. Given the lack of high cards, LBG may well have been betting for value -- his pair of 22s were likely good at that point, but he wanted to destroy Bond's odds to draw to a higher pair (or a straight or a flush).

Not only that, only an amateur would believe such an obvious tell as LBG's temple-press was genuinely indicative of his hand. Presumably, LBG is willing to play for $10 million stakes because he knows a thing or two about poker, so if anything, his temple-press should have been seen as a possible "counter-tell" -- i.e., an obvious tell designed to fool idiot poker player like, er, James Bond.

The next major poker scene takes place after Bond has killed a few guys during the break (no joke). This time, we see that Bond has accumulated a healthy stack of chips, as has Le Bad Guy. With the board showing A-K-A-J, we see Bond looking down at his cards -- AK, the stone cold nuts. LBG bets out, and Bond just smooth calls (questionable but defensible, given that we know LBG likes to play aggressively). The river comes a J. Guess what Le Bad Guy does? Why, he starts rubbing his temple! And of course Blonde Bond, convinced he has correctly read his opponent's tell, decides to call for all $10 million or so of his chips. And Le Bad Guy turns over...JJ, for quad jacks, knocking Bond out of the game (temporarily).

Now here's where I got a little angry: instead of consoling Bond for the insanely bad beat he just took, the Attractive Dipshit actually berates him for his play, and refuses to stake him another $5 million. This, even though there was only one card out of 45 that could have beaten Bond's Aces-over-Kings fullhouse, and Bond was a 98% favorite to win the hand. Seriously, should Bond have not called the all-in with second hand to the nuts? If you really think so, AD, you are welcome to join my monthly tournament anytime.

Also, it's worth noting how absolutely irrelevant LBG's tell was -- or should have been -- to this hand. With AAAKK, you don't care if the other guy is scratching his temple or scratching his nuts; all that matters is you have an incredibly strong hand, one that holds up -- lemme say it again -- 98% of the time. So you call the all in, tell or no tell.

In any event, Bond is out of cash. Luckily, one of the black guys at the table happens to work for the CIA, and he offers to stake Bond the $5 million rebuy. Why? Because, according to the CIA officer's astute analysis, "you have him where you want him." Really? Le Bad Guy just doubled through and is a monster chip leader, and Bond will be buying in at half his original stake -- that's where you want him, eh? On the other hand, at least the CIA seems to understand that Bond has played solid cards, unlike the pretty-but-vapid accountant who refuses to pony up any more money.

After the previous two hands, the final scene is almost anticlimatic. With only four players left, the board shows As-Ah-6s-8s-9s. Asian Gangster goes all-in for his last $5 million. Big Black African goes all-in for his last $6 million. Le Bad Guy raises to $12 million. Dramatic pause. Bond moves all-in. LBG calls. Showdown: Asian Gangster has Ks-Qs, so he's clueless and clearly losing the pot. BBA turns over pocket eights, which I'm sure looked a lot better before the action behind him demonstrated he was beat. Then LBG turns over A6, for a higher full house. Our blonde hero turns over 5s-7s, for the straight flush, even though A9 would have won just as easily (and would have actually been more dramatic, since A9, unlike the 57s, was not the stone cold nuts).

So the poker lesson from Casino Royale? James Bond can be fooled with fake tells, the Brits don't know how to play poker, and you probably shouldn't play for $10 million stakes when you are prone to bleeding from your eye during games.


Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

Poker, like Chess, is rarely used accurately or believably when writers are trying to use it as a dramatic device or a metaphor. This may infuriate actual fans of the game (who notice how shallowly the game has been treated) but seems to delight Joe Citizen (who probably frequently loses his Aces over full house to some knucklehead with quad Jacks down at the local Injun casino.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I actually thought Casino Royale's treatment was fair -- it's supposed to be entertainment, not a poker lesson. It's also pretty amazing that poker -- and specifically, texas no-limit hold em -- would play such a prominent role in a James Bond movie.

Still, the benchmark of poker movies remains "Rounders."

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right, Ben, about the blind structure. That's sloppy.

Believe it or not, I had the same hand and flop in an online tournament. Opponent bet out all-in and I called, expecting to see another AK. He had JJ (!). And you can guess: runner runner, J,J.... My worst bad beat ever.

-- Big Daddy

8:49 AM  

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