Fictional poker: five examples to read

In the world of cinema, poker is a recurring theme. Casino Royale, Rounders, The Cincinnati Kid, Molly’s Game, you can probably think of another four or five without having to try too hard. Usually, major plot drivers that work in movies also work in books and vice versa. However, there aren’t many famous titles that immediately spring to mind.

Of those listed above, only one was adapted from a novel – that was Ian Fleming’s 1953 publication casino royale, and this one actually centered around a game of baccarat. It was changed to poker for the purposes of the 2006 film adaptation only.

Not to discourage us, however, we’ve created the following works of poker fiction that are definitely worth adding to your reading list if you haven’t already. Even if you don’t know how to play poker, you’ll become a master of poker strategy before you’re halfway there! What others come to mind?

Poker night

Let’s start with a short story by John Updike that was first published in Esquire magazine in 1984 and has since appeared in a handful of collections. It tells the story of Updike’s typical everyman, a nameless, unremarkable middle-aged family man. His fortnightly poker nights take on new meaning and significance when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Updike uses his trademark literary skills to draw parallels between the protagonist’s desperate situation and his poker hands.

Oscar and Lucinda

This period piece by Peter Carey is set in the 19th century and won the Booker Prize in 1988. It tells the story of the eponymous couple who reunite on a journey from England to Australia and are united by a shared fascination with the poker table. No Bond-style multi-million pound pot here, just a young couple playing penny stakes for the love of the game.

Shut up and do business: a novel

Jesse May’s debut novel is a fictionalized autobiography that draws on the author’s personal experiences as a young slacker with dreams of making it big in 1980s Vegas. It’s so realistic that you’ll want to wash your jacket after reading to get rid of the smell of cigarette smoke and stale whiskey.

Last call

The first installment of Tim Powers’ critically acclaimed Fault Lines series is set amid the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas and follows the misadventures of Scott Crane, a down-on-his-luck professional gambler who juggles the combined pressures of a recent bereavement, semi-blindness and a tracker who wants him dead. One last high-stakes game of poker will change everything or hasten his downfall.

Dead Man’s Hand: Crime Fiction at the poker table

Finally, a compendium of stories that all feature the most popular card game in the world. Edited by Otto Penzler, it includes contributions from Walter Mosley, Laura Lippman, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver and many others. If you like poker and detective fiction, you’ll be delighted with each of these tales and how they weave the two together.

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