Poker takes many different forms on screen. It can be the perfect distraction from a serious, even murderous plot. It can be a note of comedy that strikes gold as it rolls toward the river. It can be incidental or integral, but it is very rarely missable. Poker, just as it is when it is centre-stage or on the fringes of the action, is something you can rarely turn away from.
In the Spring of 1995, poker was still in its infancy in terms of its popularity, despite there having been a World Series of Poker for over two decades. It was eight years before Chris Moneymaker would win the WSOP Main event and the poker boom would skyrocket live tournament attendances, prize-pools and global sponsorship deals.
It was March 2nd, 1995, and poker amongst Friends was about to get personal.
Back in the mid-1990’s, Friends was the most popular show on television. A 30-second ad-break sold for six figures and upwards. The sitcom featured poker in an episode entitled ‘The One With All the Poker’ and it was a classic.
The plot, such as it is, centres around a girls vs. boys poker game, and after an initial poker game in which Ross, Joey and Chandler take the girls’ money, Rachel, Monica and Phoebe seek help in the form of Phoebe’s Aunt Iris.
The backdrop of the episode, which turns out to be crucial to the denouement, is that Rachel, whom Ross has been in love with since high school and will forever be in love with, is going for a job as a fashion buyer.
The return poker game sees the girls step up to the plate, surprising the boys and making it a much closer game, in fact, so close that Ross and Rachel end up gambling the lot in one pot that will determine which half of the friend group win.
It’s at this point that Rachel gets a phone call and discovers that she isn’t getting the job.
The bravado of the pre-fame is full of absolute zingers, such as Ross’ blatant brag:
“Look, Rachel. I play to win, and in order for me to win, other people have to lose. So, if you’re going to play with me, don’t expect me to be a nice guy, ’cause when I play poker…I’m not a nice guy.”
At one point, Joey’s character folds, and is unable to resist elaborating, slipping in the following:
“I fold like a cheap hooker who got hit in the stomach by a fat guy with sores on his face.”
Finally, and leaving the best until last, Ross quips, ‘Your money’s mine, Green.’ on his way back from the bathroom aimed at Rachel. She replies: “Rachel: Your fly’s open, Geller.”
When it comes down to it, Ross, who clearly has the winning hand, reveals just how much he loves Rachel – but only to himself, as he mucks his hand after hearing how crushed she is after not getting the job. It’s TV gold.
Poker, when done well, can be a massive boost to any TV show and so it proved when Friends sat around a table.