As with any internationally popular game, poker is so well-known that even those who have never played a single hand will be aware of the game. Most people will have at least some idea of the rules, and many will recognise it as a game that can be tense, exciting and really fun.

The origins of the game of poker are thought to date back to a domino game that was played by a Chinese emperor, but the modern version of the game dates back to the early 19th century.

Poker is traditionally played offline with opponents going head-to-head at around a poker table. More recently, players are heading to an online poker site to play a game of poker virtually. The convenience and easy accessibility online poker brings has contributed to more people playing a game of poker.

Because it is so popular, poker has infiltrated popular culture in a number of ways over the last couple of centuries, and there are plenty of references to the game.

Poker in TV and films

There are so many films featuring poker that it would be impossible to name them all, but there are also lots of films specifically about poker where the game is the star.

Maverick – Mel Gibson plays a con artist who is trying to buy his way into a high-stakes poker game. Starring Jodie Foster and James Garner, the film features some high-octane action and the poker playing is an essential part of the plot.

Molly’s Game – Based on a true story that ended in scandal, this film focuses on the ‘Poker Queen’ Molly Bloom who was involved in high-stakes poker games between some of the most prominent celebrities from Hollywood, politics, and the world of big business. The high stakes of the poker games are set against the backdrop of the criminal investigation into the running of the games and the media attention that her work attracted.

Casino Royale – If you hang around a glamorous casino for long enough, you’re bound to spot a top spy taking on the bad guys in a poker game that may lead to someone’s untimely demise. Although the 007 that Ian Fleming wrote about favoured baccarat, Daniel Craig’s Bond just happens to be a cool-as-a-cucumber poker player taking down a crime syndicate by playing poker with overwhelming elan.

Casino – Robert De Niro plays an ambitious gangster who goes into partnership with an old friend, played by Joe Pesci, in an attempt to run a casino according to his own rules. Hailed as an excellent depiction of poker playing in Vegas, this film brought poker to the masses when it attracted huge audiences and became an international success.

Poker is a popular choice on screen because it epitomises everything that casinos represent, from the psychology of gaming to the potential for a life-changing win. The players are all well-versed in the rules and some of the scenes give a blow-by-blow account of the hands as they are played which can be hugely useful for poker players.

Phrases and sayings with their origins in poker

While some are obvious, there are plenty of phrases and sayings that stem from poker with origins that aren’t so clear, including:

When the chips are down – the chips referred to are gaming chips, which are non-returnable once placed.

An ace in the hole – a player with an ace that the other players can’t see has a distinct advantage over them.

An ace up the sleeve – similar to an ace in the hole, this suggests that there has been some kind of sneaking around to achieve the advantage.

Playing one’s cards close to one’s chest – a player only has an advantage so long as their opponents don’t know which cards they hold in their hand, so keeping them close to your chest is key to bluffing.

Call someone’s bluff – when playing, to uncover whether someone has a hand as good as their betting suggests, you can call their bluff, play the hand, and find out whether the cards they have are as good as they wanted you to believe.

Show your hand – this can be done deliberately or accidentally, indicating that either the game has reached the point where they reveal a potentially winning hand, or someone accidentally giving away their advantage.

The language of poker is so pervasive that we all use It every day in a variety of contexts, often without even realising it.

Poker-themes in music

From old-school country crooners to 21st-century style-icons, plenty of top artists refer to poker in their repertoire, including:

  • Kenny Rogers – The Gambler
  • Lady Gaga – Poker Face
  • The Eagles – Desperado
  • Motorhead – The Ace of Spades
  • Elvis Presley – Viva Las Vegas
  • Frank Sinatra – Luck Be a Lady

With so many references to poker popping up in daily life, it’s no surprise that most people are familiar with much of the game’s terminology. The game has evolved significantly over the years, further cementing its place as an important part of world culture.