How Has Poker Appeared in Popular Culture in the Last 50 Years?

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Poker Friends

photo by Flickr, Peter Pham

From music to film to TV to literature, poker is not just defined by the table, it resonates throughout popular culture. As fans of poker, we are always pleased to see our favorite strategic game referenced so often. Here we explore the many defining moments in pop culture where poker has been showcased.

Did you know that there are some schools of thought that believe music can make you a better poker player? Many poker players insist on listening to specific tracks or genres pre-game. We often wonder what kind of music these players are listening to as there are so many songs that seem to be referenced in popular culture such as O.A.R.’s “That was a Crazy Game of Poker” and Elvis Presley’s classic, “Viva Las Vegas.” And who doesn’t love Motorhead’s classic rock anthem, “Ace of Spades?”

You also include Ray Charles’ “Losing Hand,” AC/DC’s “She’s Got the Jack,” and Lady Gaga’s hit “Poker Face” — the lyrics coupled with its quick harmony and tempo make it an ideal tune for poker players to listen to. Pro players such as Robert Williamson and Phil Gordon play different genres of music when playing poker. By choosing different songs and different genres of music, the players are selecting music to suit their mood at the time. Having the mental discipline to stay focused is a much-required skill in poker, and the pros can achieve this with the help of music.

Poker even has made an impact on a variety of TV shows. Speaking of some of the funniest TV scenes ever, who could forget that episode of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM where the main characters play poker (including actress Cheryl Hines, who is a huge fan of poker in real life)? Or that episode of FRIENDS where the gang plays poker and Ross delivers that classic line, “Phoebe just threw away two jacks because they didn't look happy?” Could it be any funnier?

One other TV show that focuses on poker is TILT, an American drama TV series that is set against the backdrop of the World Series of Poker tournaments in Las Vegas. The tagline for the show is “You’re playing poker. They’re playing you.”

On the silver screen, there have also been numerous films that reference poker. One example is ROUNDERS, a 1998 American film about the underground world of high-stakes poker, featuring Edward Norton and Matt Damon. The term “rounder” references a poker player who travels from city to city seeking out high-stakes cash games.

Whether watching these films and TV shows will make you laugh, cry or even give you food for thought, it’s clear that these scenes that feature poker may give you a helping hand.

From music to TV to films to books, the world of poker consistently appears in popular culture. It brings the game to new generations and fans and demonstrates that poker is not just defined by the table. It shows how it resonates with a wider audience than just poker players and that is has earned its place in popular culture.