The No Limit Texas Hold’Em tournament in Casino Royale is an intricately crafted game that sees Daniel Craig’s 007 come head to head with terrorist banker Le Chiffre, in an attempt to bankrupt him. But despite being advised by Thomas Sandbrook, questions arise about how realistic the tightly wound showdown was. Would it be possible to ever see such a game in a tournament, or was it pure Hollywood entertainment?
Setting The Scene
Before the final game is played, James Bond’s earlier interactions with his opponents was a great set-up for how the showdown would transpire. After playing a few games with Le Chiffre, it appears that Bond is to come out of the tournament as a careless and unskilled loser. This not only paints Bond as over-confident in Le Chiffre’s mind, it builds suspense to the breaking point for the audience. All the while, Bond notices that Le Chiffre has a habit of bluffing his way through rounds where he holds weak cards. On top of this, he notices that Le Chiffre twitches his hand toward a scar on his eyebrow when he is about to bluff. However, in time Le Chiffre recognizes that he has been read, and uses this to toy with Bond in a future game.
So with tensions at their highest and both Bond and Le Chiffre portrayed to be both skillfully deceptive and vulnerable to the other player’s ingenuity at the game, the stakes of the tournament have been laid out. This is very much like a real poker tournament, where we see that it’s not just about the cards that you hold, but it’s also in the way you read the other players at the table and know when and how to interpret with the signals they choose (or don’t) to put out. The filmmakers behind Casino Royale clearly took a lot of care in preparing the audience for the final game, and it paid off in being one of the best games of poker put to celluloid.
The Final Showdown
It’s the last round. Four players have gone all in for a cash prize of over $120 million – enough to bankroll a whole lot of terrorist activity. Every player at the table seems certain that they are holding the winning hand. The river is revealed – on the table is the 4, 6, 8 and Ace of Spades and the Ace of Hearts. The players show their hands. The first player shows that he is holding the King and Queen of Spades. This gives him a flush, the fifth strongest hand in poker. The second player is satisfied because he holds a pair of 8’s, which leaves him with a full house.
Le Chiffre reveals his hand – he holds the Ace of Clubs and the 6 of Hearts. This also gives him a full house and a higher one than the previous player at that. For Bond to win, he would have to pull off a near miracle – he would need to hold either a Four of a Kind or a Straight Flush, and with one of the Aces in Le Chiffre’s hand, a Four of a Kind is off the table. This leaves the Straight Flush as the only winning hand remaining. With Bond needing to hold the unlikely hand of a 5 and 7 of Spades, Le Chiffre is surely already thinking of all the ways he will spend his money.
But this game is just about to be shaken, not stirred, because, despite the minuscule odds of Bond having that hand, this is a man who has spent the last fifty years proving to audiences that no man, animal, or machine is truly a match for Agent 007.
That’s right. Bond is holding the Straight Flush.
How Realistic is This Game?
Now, although the film up to this point has taken a lot of care in building tensions whilst respecting the rules of Texas Hold’Em, there’s no doubt that the filmmakers have chosen to craft something more audience-pleasing than realistic. Impossible? No. Improbable? You bet.
Firstly, the distribution of cards in the final hand is astronomically unlikely. Credit has to be given to both the technical advisors and writers for not boring audiences with cliched winning hands like a Royal Flush of Four of a Kind, but the main improbability is the fact that all players had great hands. Not one of them at the table could be blamed for going all in – even the first player and ultimately, the loser, was holding the highest possible flush. For those of you who like statistics, the chances of holding a Flush in Texas Hold’Em are roughly 3%. For a Full House, it’s 2.6%, and for Bond’s winning Straight Flush, it’s 0.027%.
Now, add the convenient revealing of each hand from showing the worst to the best, you’ve got yourself a reveal for the record books. The odds of all of those hands occurring in the same round is enough to make a mathematician scratch his head. For anyone who has watched a real-life poker tournament, you’d know that a night-long game tends to be won by something like a pair of 5s rather than a Straight Flush. If all of this sounds like gobbledygook to you, then check out our guide to the rules of different poker variants.
In some respects, it makes sense why all of the players went all in. You’d be crazy not to think that your Flush would not take home the $120 million pot if you were going on logic, probability, and experience alone. However, although going all in is in no way unheard of in poker, it tends to be used as a bluff or as a desperate effort to secure a footing in the game. It was somewhat unrealistic for all of the players to go all in once the river was revealed. In reality, gambling is much more intricate than that, and the opening bets of a player would usually be regarded with a bit more care from the other players than how the following characters responded.
Secondly, players’ betting patterns are usually a lot more of an indication of their playing style and their hands as opposed to things like the telling tick that Le Chiffre expressed. Yes, many people have physical tells, but they tend to be a whole lot harder to notice than a cool scratch of the scar. In many instances, pro poker players will wear sunglasses to hide the changes in their eyes, so you would expect that Le Chiffre would take more care in hiding his tells.
Perhaps, then, the most unrealistic aspect of the Casino Royale poker tournament was the final round of checks that lead up to the revealing of the last card. In a real game, players would surely take more care in reading their opponents and even raise the pot much before they revealed the river. When it comes down to actors’ performances, the least we could expect would be that Bond’s opponents would have reacted far more visibly once the flop was revealed.
Finally, the stakes of a poker game would never get so unbelievably high. The highest recorded win of a single hand was by billionaire Andy Beal, who in 2004 took home $11.7 million from Las Vegas’ Bellagio hotel. In the world of online poker, the highest pot has only ever hit around $600,000, which is still much lower than the blind in the final round of Casino Royale. Well, you might be thinking, this is a secretive game for billionaires and criminals, surely it must get higher than that? Perhaps in fiction, but even rumors from the high-stakes games at some Macau casinos still only purport to have hosted winning hands of around $20 million, a sixth of the $120 million claimed by Bond at Casino Royale.
Despite all of that, there is no denying that Casino Royale is not only one of the best Bond films but a modern classic in the gambling genre. Although it is quite exaggerated, there is still no denying that Casino Royale’s poker scene set a new standard for how to portray high-stakes gambling on film. And while we wait for Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond, I guess it’s time to make bets on who the next Bond will be. Our money is on Idris Elba, what do you think?