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The year is 1860, a small western town breaks the otherwise monotonous and arid country side. A coyote is heard howling somewhere in the distance. The day is nearing its end as a lone man and his horse slowly descend a hill and ride towards the town. call it Dodgeville, Hope, Doomsvilles, The town is characterized by innate western clichés; adobe houses sitting cheek by jowl with battered clapboard dwellings, their once bright paint faded and cracked by the intensity of the Arizona sun. The town is populated by classical stereotypes of a Carl Mai novel; the sheriff sits on his porch suspiciously eyeing the lone rider as he enters the town and makes his way towards the Hotel, somewhat unimaginatively named Siestas. He enters the saloon and moves straight to the bar, sitting on his stool his eyes sweep the room, and man on a piano in the corner, flashy women with too much rogue serve to entertain the drunks and vagabonds who visit the establishment. His gaze settles on table in the middle of the room where a game of poker is being played amidst cigars, guns and hard liquor. The scene is set for the classic golden age of the Hollywood produced Western, poker playing movies.
Is Poker predefined for taming the West? The fact is that poker epitomises the romantic attraction of the Western genre. It pits good against bad, cheats and against fair players. It ends with a final a showdown; a to the death “high noon” final duel that seems to bring the entire universe to a standstill in breathless expectation of the river card. Poker’s final shown down, a heads up battle to the end takes on a much larger dimension than just the game. The players are relegated to mere pawns in timeless and omnipotent battle which pits lady luck against fate and poetic justice.
Hollywood has embraced poker in its Western genre. Of course, Western movies are no place to learn how to play poker – anyone who has ever actually played poker, whether it be Texas Hold’em, Stud Horse poker or Omaha, soon realises the ridiculous constellations of the games. But this doesn’t detach from the fascination and rugged charm of a poker game in a Western saloon. Take Maverick for example, directed by Richard Donner in 1994 and starring Mel Gibson as the elusive, smartass and witty Maverick, is a lightweight simple movie that brings the west and poker together. It might not be the most brilliant film ever made and some of the poker scenes are remarkable in their simplicity and, frankly said, in their improbability. However, the movie is a lot of fun and provides the basic idea on what it was like to be a rambling gambler in the old west card scene.
But, the game in Western movies is also a question of manliness; men measure themselves on the coolness of Gary Cooper, John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. This ideal of the rough brave and most importantly” unbound man”, free from responsibilities and who can afford to place everything one card has caught the imagination of men across the world. But remains for most, an escape from reality. Yet during a poker game, when it comes down to that final hand, who doesn’t see himself in that saloon , revolver under the table and a faithful steed to ride into the sunset, after just beating a full house and leaving the his defeated opponent in the revelation “this town just wasn’t big enough for the both of us.”