Filmmakers love the game of poker for its tension, skill and psychological battles. When you see James Bond at the card table, he always seems to get incredible hands, and so do his opponents. You’ll often see him with a full house against the villain’s flush in a battle of big hands and nerve.
Unfortunately, in real life, the game of poker is rarely as exciting as it is in the movies. That’s not because we lack Bond’s nerve or suave one-liners, but because the odds of getting such great hands are very slim and the odds of being in a big showdown are even slimmer. When you take a closer look at the chances of getting a hand with anything more than a pair, you start to see how much of a fantasy world 007 lives in.
Although, the endless procession of beautiful young ladies, the countless shoutouts where he doesn't get hit, and the mind-blowing gadgets should have told you that already.
Big Chance of a Small Hand
Peel away the glitz and glamor of the movies, and you'll find that the most likely hand in five-card stud or five-card draw is a “high” — a hand in which nothing goes with anything else and is reliant entirely on the value of the highest card. The odds of this are better than even money at 0.995:1, which means it will happen more than half of the time. What’s more, there is a 42% chance that you will get a pair, which is when you have two cards of the same value. Combined, this means you have a greater than 92% chance of having a weak hand and therefore having very little worth playing with.
This is why the vast majority of hands are folded and when games tend to move slowly. If you're seen/played a poker tournament live you can attest to this. When these tournaments are shown on TV, however, they tend to cut all the weak hands and show only the hands with a lot of action. It's like a soccer match where you only see the goals and the close-calls as opposed to the full 90 minutes of action--injuries, stoppages, tedium and all.
It's the same story with games of Texas Hold'em. Players are only dealt two cards, known as "hole cards", and if they don't like the look of these they will often fold before they see the Flop, at which point they can use an additional 3 cards to create a hand.
More than nine out of every 10 hands are unlikely to earn real money at poker, which is not quite 007 territory.
Bad Odds of a Good Hand
Whether you’re playing at a poker live or at a leading online casino, even the medium strength hands are still pretty hard to get. The chances of getting two pairs are around 4.75 in every 100 hands, and the chances of getting three-of-a-kind are only 2.11 in every hundred hands. While these are long odds, they pale in comparison to the chances of getting the top hands that Bond gets. You will only get a flush around 1 in every 500 hands, and four-of-a-kind is only dealt once in every 4,000 hands on average.
As for Pocket Aces (AA), the hand that every Hold'em player wants, the odds of these appearing are 1 in 221. These odds are actually the same for any Pocket Pair. The odds for Ace King (AK) in a game of Hold'em are much more favourable at 1 in 82.
A Royal Rarity
The biggest hand of them all, the royal flush, is of course, the rarest, but how rare is it? A random deal of five cards from a pack of 52 offers 2,598,960 possible combinations, but only four ways in which you can make the top hand. That means the odds of finding one after the deal are one in 649,740 or around three times in every two million hands. On average, you would only get a royal flush once, even if you played 20 hands of poker every day for 90 years. Of course, the laws of probability say that this could happen on the first hand or the 649,740, and it is equally unlikely each time, regardless of how many hands you have already played.
The royal flush is always a potent hand, regardless of the variant played. In some versions of video poker, which are played using Draw or Stud rules, a royal flush will trigger a progressive jackpot. You can also win a jackpot with this hand if you play games of Casino Hold'em, including live variants. But don't get your hopes up, because it's incredibly rare. What's more, many players who do land a royal flush in a PvP hand, are often disappointed to see that everyone else folds before the pot grows.
Most poker players have at least one experience of winning a big pot with a big hand, but they have many more experiences of acquiring a big hand and then watching everyone fold.
The Hand That Breaks the Rules
Almost all poker hands follow the basic rule: The harder it is to get, the higher the hand ranks. However, there is one poker hand that turns that rule on its head. According to card-trick.com, although the seven high is 120 times harder to make than an ace high, due to the lower number of possible card combinations, it ranks much lower. It is an odd anomaly in an otherwise highly logical game. By the same stretch, the unsuited 7 and 2 in a game of Hold'em is quite a rarity, even though it is typically considered to be the worst possible starting hand.
Of course, at the end of the day, it is not so much about the cards you get as what you do with them. The luck of the draw is only a small part of success in poker, and what attracts most players is the skill and the mind games that go on once the dealer deals the cards.
So, the next time you’re watching a card game on the silver screen, bear in mind that the hands your heroes get are as much a work of fiction as the rest of the plot. But then, Bond wouldn’t be Bond if he had to play with the same cards like the rest of us, would he? He truly is larger than life both at the card table and away from it.