In the past, when the poker scene was shown on TV, my friend Chimney Sweep and I called each other and angrily discussed what was wrong with it. This is one of the most vivid memories of the days of my loneliness.
“Ridiculous!” – we grumbled. “Dirty Den pulled out the keys to the Queen Vic right in the middle of his hand. Have these people never heard of table stakes?”
“Have you seen the new Casino Royale?” we snorted in 2006. “They all had four of a kind and straight flushes, which never happens — and they showed them one after the other in order of hand strength! What a bunch of slow videos!” (Bond is supposed to be the best player in the service, of course, but we see him put $10 million into a pot where he can only lose. Made me think, “I'd love to be in the MI6 game.” .)< /p>
Nothing was right. Not Roseanne, not Desperate Housewives, not Maverick. There would be too many bluffs, too many strong hands, too many tells, capricious bets, string bets, missed blinds and people saying things like “Too rich for my blood” or “Read them and cry” as if they d learned about poker from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon in the 1950s.
The Cincinnati Kid is an honorable exception to Hollywood; the arms are too strong, but the mise-en-scène is perfect. I also have a soft spot for The Big Deal in Dodge City, or (as that rare movie about a female poker player was called) Big Hand for a Little Lady.
It wasn't like that on the small screen until Late Night Poker, Channel 4's groundbreaking late-millennium show that was born in Cardiff and changed the world. They were real poker players, betting real money in real games – with fake “respectable” job descriptions, but otherwise completely genuine people we knew, car dealers and import-exporters, and hilarious part-time villains making margin bets. with two pairs, while the perspiration dripped uneasily from the pawnbroker's nose. The chimney sweep and I burned the phone lines at our enthusiastic approval.
Playing poker on The Sopranos. Photo: HBO The Sopranos also received good marks from our small London jury. They didn't play poker much, but when they did, bitterness and resentment, shattered nerves and bad temper… for us it was the greatest comedy with observations.
I don't want my single life to sound pathetic. I didn't just talk on the phone about poker. Sometimes I played poker. The Cleaner and I could be in Vegas, thinking on Fremont Street at 3 a.m. and eating candy bars for breakfast. Often we were on Edgware Road, playing with half the faces of Late Night Poker, arguing and moaning about everything from hands to serving drinks. Sometimes we went to Paris, played at the old flying club on the Champs Elysées, ate sumptuous dinners, and were invariably deceived by the French. Sometimes we were in Amsterdam, where I went to indoor games with wads of money on the table and people with machine guns in the lobby. Some time ago it was quite fun there. I've witnessed a few crimes, had a few romances, got a big sponsorship deal, broke my heart, won a couple of million dollars, broke a couple of records, wrote a book, got married, turned down a sponsorship deal in an online fruit machine stand, had a baby, and Now I watch a lot of Peppa Pig and I remember the old days.
I was thinking about this the other day when I was watching Poker Face, the new American crime series on Sky. Its dramatic core is a woman named Charlie Cale, mesmerizingly played by Natasha Lyonne (who you'll recognize if you've seen Orange Is the New Black, but to me she roared out of nowhere), a poker player so psychic that she can't get the game and instead uses his insight to solve crimes.
The show is set now, but in a 1970s style: whimsical, witty and exciting, with guest stars such as Adrien Brody and John Ratzenberger. It's a huge treat and I highly recommend it to everyone. Having said that, it pained me to watch the first episode in which Charlie's gaming powers were set. Like The Cincinnati Kid, it has a weird hole in reality (you can't bluff in games against the house and she can get the game, you can always get the game), but the world it depicts is perfectly correct. It's so authentic that I can smell Vegas; I heard it and felt it in this horrible magical place where I spent weeks and months of my life, every year for years, and then bam, 2015, quit smoking, stopped being childless and haven't been back since. Watching this show, I missed him as a member. Everything is gone for me now. I don't want things to be different, but I wanted – sometimes I really do – to have a month's vacation in 2003 and then come back again. I will definitely come back again. With any luck, all of life is made up of choices.
Charlie Cale tells the casino boss, “I realized I could do it, so I did it for a while. I had money for stupid shit, I stayed in some good hotels, but it was a bit boring. I thought it wouldn't last and it doesn't. And now, you know what? I'm fine. I like my life.”
I raised my hat to myself. But I was never bored.