Poker Games in Literature

If someone asked you to name a novel that features poker, your first thought would likely be Casino Royale. After all, in the famous 2006 James Bond movie, a high-stakes poker game is central to the plot. However, in Ian Fleming’s novels, Baccarat chemin-de-fer was 007’s preferred game. So, which literature has actually featured the game of poker? Here are some of the best poker-based stories.

Last Call

Last Call, Tim Powers’ first book in the Fault Lines series, won the World Fantasy Award in 1993. Set in the neon world of Las Vegas, the plot of this acclaimed novel follows former professional gambler Scott Crane. He is down on his luck, to say the least. As well as being blind in one eye and a recent widower, he is also the target of a man who wants to kill him. The only way out of his sticky situation is to resume his gambling career and win the high-stakes game of a lifetime, by wagering everything he has.

This novel is sure to make you want to visit Las Vegas casinos yourself. But if you are not in a position to board a plane straight away, you could always play poker and slot games at an online casino instead.

Oscar and Lucinda

Set in the 19th century, Peter Carey’s Booker Prize-winning novel Oscar and Lucinda sees the eponymous protagonists meeting on a voyage while travelling from England to Australia. Oscar is a young clergyman who has broken away from his past life and developed a talent for gambling. Lucinda, meanwhile, is a country girl who dreams of building an industrial utopia in Sydney.

The startling and unusual romantic story sees the couple coming together because of their shared love of gambling. Although the poker games featured in this stunning novel are not the high-stakes casino games of other narratives, the one-on-one penny-bet poker games that Oscar and Lucinda share are wonderfully portrayed. Peter Carey’s visionary expertise and his ability to surprise and delight are at their most abundant in this novel.

Poker Night

Esquire first published John Updike’s story Poker Night in 1984. It was then included in the author’s 1987 short story collection Trust Me. The tale follows an unnamed, middle-aged man who is living a far from remarkable existence. He has worked for years at his local plant and is married with two children. Central to his routine is his participation in an every-other-Wednesday poker game, which he has been attending for three decades. When the protagonist becomes diagnosed with cancer, he continues his routine of poker-playing so he can avoid thinking about his fate. He also tries to distract himself so that he does not have to tell his wife about his terminal illness.

It is clear that the card game is providing the character with some escape, and Updike deftly uses his literary skills to create symbolism between the man’s situation and the poker games he plays.

Dead Man’s Hand: Crime Fiction at the Poker Table

Perhaps it is the element of risk and the art of bluffing that has made poker go so easily hand in hand with the crime genre in the world of fiction. You will find many crime novels that feature the world’s most popular gambling card game. In the 2017 book Dead Man’s Hand: Crime Fiction at the Poker Table, you have the opportunity to discover a variety of poker-based crime stories by some of literature’s most renowned authors.

Joyce Carol Oates, John Lescroart, Walter Mosley, and many other famous names, have contributed fantastic mystery stories to this unique anthology, edited by Otto Penzler. In Michael Connelly’s One Dollar Jackpot, you will find his curmudgeonly character Harry Bosch going toe-to-toe with a professional poker player. Laura Lippman’s Hardly Knew Her follows a young woman who learns about bluffing the odd way. Other stand-out pieces in this gripping anthology include Alexander McCall Smith’s In the Eyes of Children, which features a poker scam at sea, and Jeffrey Deaver’s Bump, which tells the tale of a washed-up actor trying to make big money by hustling cards. Any fan of crime or poker is sure to enjoy the suspenseful stories of Dead Man’s Hand.

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