Poker has featured on the silver screen on many occasions but very few movies manage to reproduce realistic hands. One famous hand took place in the 2006 remake of Casino Royale, a James Bond film first launched in 1967; Ian Fleming’s book hit the shelves 14-years earlier in 1953.
The original Casino Royale saw James Bond take on the villain of the movie, Le Chiffre, in a game of high stakes baccarat. The 2006 reboot, directed by Martin Campbell, saw baccarat swapped for a $10 million buy-in winner-takes-all No-Limit Hold’em tournament with $5 million rebuys.
As poker hands go, the final hand in the 2006 Casino Royale is as unrealistic as they come, despite Campbell hiring a professional poker player to assist them the poker scenes. It is beautifully shot thanks to the editor Stuart Baird telling Campbell to “shoot everything he could possibly think of, especially eyes, looks, close-ups”. The hand itself is a very stereotypical Hollywood poker hand.
Polygon interviewed Campbell and other key personel recently and it’s apparent he was please with how the poker scenes of his movie panned out.
“I think the sequence was pretty convincing. What you realise is it’s not just the card games – it’s the stakes. It’s also two guys eye-f****ing one another, basically. That was the secret.”
Campbell revealed he spent countless hours watching gambling classics, including The Cincinnati Kid, in an attempt to learn the nuances of poker on TV. He enlisted the help of veteran producer Michael G. Wilson as an informal poker consultant as Campbell strived for the ultimate in poker authenticity.
Tom Sambrook was drafted in a the film’s poker consultant. Sambrook was a regular at The Grosvenor Victoria Casino in London, better-known as The Vic, where he’d won the £2,525 buy-in European Poker Championships in 2002 for £120,000. Sambrook answered the call in 2005 by which time he’d only amassed an additional £16,380 from nine more tournament cashes.
The actors underwent tuition from Sambrook who showed the actors, including Daniel Craig (James Bond) and Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) how to compose themselves at the table, and how to handle chips and cards.
Sambrook told Polygon he had an input in how the final, infamous hand, played out.
“I put in [the script] that Bond does the teaser re-raise, inducing the big all-in. It took maybe six weeks to get that up to martin Campbell […] I said, ‘You’ve got to read this because most people won’t know or care, but there will be hardcore poker players that will just say, ‘They’ve done it again. Why can’t they get this stuff right?’”
The didn’t get “this stuff” right despite Sambrook’s apparent expert advice.
The final hand sees four players remaining in the tournament, including Bond and Le Chiffre, and all four have made it to the river of the board. Player 1 moves all-in for $6 million, Player 2 calls all-in with his last $5 million putting $35 million in the pot.
Le Chiffre raises to $12 million before Bond shoved for $40.5 million. Le Chiffre eventually calls off his remaining $27.5 million in chips and the cards are revealed.
Player 1: for a flush
Player 2: for a full house
Le Chiffre: for a better full house
Bond: for a straight flush – what else would the film’s hero have?
The hand is flawed on many levels. You can argue a case for Player 1 and player 2 because they’re just super-rich people playing poker. Not for Le Chiffre who is billed as a mathematical genius and an elite poker player.
Le Chiffre, holding only the second-best full house could have folded, leaving himself $27.5 million to Bond’s $87.5 million and still be in with a chance of winning the $115 million pot he so desperately needed. Surely Le Chiffre would duck out of the way and fight Bond with a 3:1 chip deficit heads-up, instead he calls a three-way all-in in a hand he is basically never going to win.
Don’t think people fold full houses? Search on YouTube for Roberto Romanello correctly folding jacks full to Mike Matusow at the 2008 World Series of Poker.
Sambrook conceded the final hand was unlikely to happen in a real game, however.
“It’s not representative of an average hand. But the thing about hold’em is it does create these factories of madness. That’s why I love the game. It creates this very close, explosive situation. Once you’ve got a board with cards that close together, everyone’s thinking about the house, everyone’s thinking about the flush, everyone’s thinking about the straight. And in there is the sick feeling, Christ, does one of these guys have a straight flush?”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sambrook hasn’t cashed in a live event since November 2009 although he has some pretty cool memories of playing cards with legitimate movie stars.
“I played my last game literally as the wheel of the plane hit the tarmac in Heathrow. I won with king-high, it was just fantastic.”