Following its rise from the kitchen table to pop culture darling poker, or more specifically Texas Hold’em, has been one of the favorite scene-specific topics in popular movies and TV shows over the past decade.
This doesn’t mean that poker is often the main theme, but writers and directors often love to make an episode or two that revolves around the favorite pastime of many. It’s not hard to guess why. Poker has it all: suspension, drama, the battle of the wits, and, most importantly, winners and losers. The game isn’t over until someone wins.
It is no wonder that Harvey Specter, the main character of mega-popular TV show Suits (available on Amazon Prime), with all his macho bravado was placed in an episode featuring Texas Hold’em, aptly named “All In.” The show’s writers wanted to use the game to once again emphasize Harvey’s stunning ability to read people and act based on those reads – which is what poker is all about. Or poker on TV, at least.
Disputing a Contract
In “All In,” Harvey and Mike find themselves in a tricky situation. One of Harvey’s clients has put his company on the line playing poker. The client signed a contract on a napkin, giving up his $30 million company to cover a $3 million bet. Of course, he lost the hand, and Harvey comes to the rescue.
Mike and Harvey first consider all the possible and impossible legal options to invalidate the contract, but the judge doesn’t see things their way. Faced with the prospect of losing at court, which is on the short list of things Harvey Specter dreads the most, he comes up with a few alternative solutions. One of them is challenging Tommy, the guy his client lost the company to, to a game of heads-up poker. The winner gets the company; a loser walks away with nothing.
Playing Poker Harvey’s Way
Poker as shown on TV usually doesn’t make much sense to people who actually play poker. What we got to see in “All In” did nothing to disprove this notion. First of all, anyone can win a single heads-up match with a bit of luck. No matter how good you are it won’t make that much of a difference in a single game.
Better players will always prevail in the long run, but it can take hundreds of games. So, why would Tommy even agree seeing how he basically has a winning case even if he’d have to wait a little while for the final verdict? But, we can ascribe that one to good old cockiness.
Hollywood’s Version of Poker Mechanics
Then we come to the poker game itself, where Harvey wants to rattle Tommy’s cage by moving all in on the very first hand with absolute trash. He risks $30 million on a move that will win him only a few chips. but that is supposed to put his opponent on tilt, which is an emotionally-charged state of poor play.
As an opponent, I’m not sure what’s so tilting about a player risking all his chips with one of the worst possible hands in Texas Hold’em. I’d probably be delighted to see it.
The only part of Harvey’s game plan that actually makes sense is the taunting. He uses table banter to get under Tommy’s skin, and he seems to be hitting the spot. From a psychological point of view most people can be rattled, and, in the show, Specter is a master of manipulation.
What’s a bit disappointing is that the producers didn’t bother to show how the game finished. After the big bluff, Harvey just tells Jessica Tommy went on tilt and he crushed him within twenty minutes.
Suits may not feature poker as a central theme, but they could have given us a bit more details at least because that bluff wasn’t impressive at all. Perhaps it shows that Harvey is a very brave man, but it certainly doesn’t testify to his poker skills.
“He Could’ve Been Phil Ivey for All You Know”
In the end, Jessica seems to deliver the best point about the whole Harvey Specter poker playing episode. After he tells her all about his big win she responds that Harvey had no idea how good of a player he was up against. Her “He could’ve been Phil Ivey for all you know,” comment, mentioning one of the best poker players alive, shows that writers at least did some research on the topic.
Harvey has some Crossover with Successful Players
Could Harvey Specter, as portrayed in the show, be a good poker player? Certainly. He’s intelligent; he reads people well, and he has a type of personality that would translate to a very tricky, aggressive style of play. But, what’s been shown in the episode really hasn’t been thought through.
Even if they wanted to only show a few minutes of actual play, it wasn’t that hard to come up with a few hands that make sense and make Harvey look like a superior player. Perhaps it’s time to actually consult Phil Ivey rather than just name-dropping him.
As it is, nice try, but maybe try harder next time?