EPT11 Barcelona: The familiar sound of a poker room, Altman-style

August 19, 2014

Before there was Rounders there was California Split. Actually it was a long time before, but that’s not important. California Split was a wonderful Robert Altman movie about two gamblers, played by George Segal and Elliott Gould, who as proper degenerates go on an introspective gambling spree that stretches from Tijuana to Reno, and rarely leaves the race track, casino, or poker room.

For poker fans, the cardroom scenes are the most memorable. It’s not just because they stick to a realistic portrayal of the game (this was after all the first poker film after the tragic–in a poker sense– straight flush scene in Cincinatti Kid), Altman somehow manages to conjure up atmosphere as well as pictures, which somehow seep through the screen giving the audience a kind multitude of different voices.


A deck of cards going ‘whoosh…’

It was all thanks to the eight channel recording, which promptly became an Altman trademark in many of his films, allowing for the overlapping dialogue that’s behind this sensation, but which also brings the cardroom, and the characters, to life.

“Who’s the bettor?”

“Miss, I have a seat for you.”

“I had a feeling you didn’t make the hand.”

“Well I’m gonna raise the raise.”

While nothing will really compare to Gould at work with a cast of extras (all professional card players) going full pelt on set, we got a moment like this a little earlier today while the EPT Live feed in the press room was on, but without the commentary.

For a fifteen minute spell (while technical folk did their best to restore James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton to their proper Dolby surround sound), we had only this backing track–no words, just the little ticks and scuffs, the backchat and the trivial stuff of a poker tournament. John Juanda was teasing someone, while another player expressed to the floor person that he needed a drink quite urgently. There was the same background hum as always, the chairs moving, the dealer shuffling, along with that equally familiar clink of chips.

So for a few moments we got his Altman-esque version of an EPT tournament, although perhaps not on a par with a staged mid-stakes game of five card draw in 1970s Reno.
But then if you hang around close to the action you get this eight-channel soundtrack thing going anyway.

This was because of the Estrellas bubble, a low murmur of anticipation, with Toby Stone, officiating on the microphone, taking up one of the eight audio slots if you like, explaining the hand-for-hand situation.


What kind of noise was being made here?

The rest buzzed with other sounds–two floor staff exchanging instructions with each other, someone whistling, chip racks clattering as the table featuring Sam Trickett and Martin Jacobson broke up, Scott Seiver laughing, two players having a quiet and confidential conversation about another player, and someone asking an opponent, in a deep baritone, if they had a low pair.

It’s the stuff that fills that general bustle of noise in a poker room. And if you still can’t imagine what I’m talking about, it’s the noise you love to hear when you walk into a poker room after some time away from the tables, and can’t wait to get back.

Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.


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