Poker on Screen: Seinfeld (1989-1998)


Poker is represented on television in many different guises. It’s the elite game in the European Poker Tour, it is a game where you can lose your life as well as your chips in Casino Royale and sometimes, it’s a cheap injection of colour into a movie that is lacking it, such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  

But what happens when poker, an already funny game, enters a show such as Seinfeld? The smash hit ‘comedy about nothing’ that ran from 1989 to 1998 featured poker and gambling in a number of forms through the series. But did it do it well? Let’s take a look back at those moments first, courtesy of Zachary Elwood’s excellent montage.  

Oddly for a sitcom, gambling and Seinfeld went together like soup and Nazis in the comedy series that would later come to define the 1990s in more ways than one. In a way, this comes directly from the characters, all of whom has critical flaws that are not just left to fester and mutate, but actively encouraged to grow by the petri-dish of the foursome’s collective relationship.  

Gambling and prop betting is at the heart of Seinfeld.  

There are, of course, whole episodes that re devoted to the pursuit of gambling against friends, such as The Contest, an episode famed for pitching each of the four main characters – Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer – against each other in a bid to refrain from performing one of the most popular adult hobbies known to man (or woman).  

Image Courtesy

There was even a whole episode written around a particular wager, entitled ‘The Bet’. It was never to make it to screen, however, as it fell at the read-through stage. The script centred around Elaine buying a gun from a friend of Kramer’s, and while many of the team objected to the material at the time, thinking it too dark even for Seinfeld, Michael Richards would later admit that he could visualise it happening in terms of Kramer’s involvement in the plot of the episode.  

In that episode’s place came The Phone Message which arguably took on a cult status that ‘The Bet’ would struggled to have gained, if only for the divisive nature of the theme as opposed to the farcical yet relatable story of George trying to erase a voicemail that he leaves for a date that he’d rather was erased from existence.  

Seinfeld covered poker only a few times, with home games the inclusion. Home games were popular at the time and showed in a few programmes such as Friends.  

Seinfeld and his three best friends never actually played out a full-episode home game themselves, but we can always imagine that eventually, during their time in jail, they got round to it. Who’d be the winner? Jerry would have the table talk, George the smarts and Elaine the skullduggery to succeed, but we think that Kramer would go to any lengths to come out on top, and we’d give him the win.