How to Write a Poker Scene



A popular card game with multiple variants, Poker requires a lot of skill to win. Depending on the rules of the specific game, players must place an initial amount into the pot (the ante) before they are dealt cards. Then they bet on their hands in a single round, and the player with the best hand wins the pot.

When writing a scene that includes poker, focus most of your attention on the by-play between the players and their reactions to the cards played. Who flinched, who smiled? These are the kinds of details that make scenes interesting.

The other key element to a good poker scene is the tension created when the players are betting and analyzing each others’ hands. This is where pacing can come in handy, as long as you don’t overdo it by creating too much tension with over-dramatic descriptions. For example, it’s fine to describe the possible hand combinations that other players might have when they bet, but it is not so much fun to read a story where someone pulls out 4 aces or a royal flush (both of which are extremely rare in real-life poker games).

Another great way to add tension is to write about tells, which are unconscious habits that reveal information about a player’s cards. Every player has his or her own tells, which may include eye movements, idiosyncrasies, hand gestures and betting behavior. Learning how to identify a player’s tells can give you a huge advantage in the game.