Picture James Bond and there’s a very good chance that the image that you have in your mind is of a man in a tuxedo engaged in some sort of gambling in a casino. Though the international spy is known for his womanising, his drinking and his killing of bad guys, he is regularly found looking suave and sophisticated in gambling houses around the world. Indeed, Ian Fleming often chose to play out the machinations of a battle between Bond and an evil megalomaniac over the green baize of a casino table, so it’s not surprise that the films copied suit.
Contrary to popular belief, Bond doesn’t always play the same game in a casino. Though he is most regularly seen playing chemin de fer, a variation of baccarat, it is not unheard of for him to engage in other popular games. In fact, in the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale, the filmmakers decided to change the game that 007 was playing to No Limit Texas Hold’em, which was popular at the time of the film’s release. Of course, being a secret service agent, a commander in the Royal Navy and all-round expert, it is no surprise that he can turn his hand to any form of gambling.
The Games Bond Plays by Film
Though the films obviously took their inspiration from the Ian Fleming novels, there was always going to be a need for the filmmakers to mix things up a little bit in order to make them more cinematic. As a result, we’ll be predominantly looking at the casino games as played in the James Bond cinematic universe, but if there is a correlation to the books then we’ll look to point that out where we can.
In the casino scene that features in Dr. No, we find Bond sat at a table playing chemin de fer with numerous others patrons. The one that garners the most attention, though, is a beautiful woman wearing a red dress. The woman, who asks the bank to allow her to play with ‘another thousand’, is Sylvia Trench, who introduces herself by saying her surname first. This causes Bond to repeat her speaking style, delivering that immortal line ‘Bond, James Bond’ for the first time in cinematic history.
Having agreed with Trench to raise the stakes, Bond wins with his ‘neuf’ compared to her ‘huit’, Bond receives a message that causes him to ‘pass the shoe’ and excuse himself from the table. Trench follows suit, telling Bond that ‘aside from chemin de fer’, she also plays golf ‘amongst other things’. The secret agent arranges to meet up with her the following day to play a round, ‘and perhaps dinner afterwards’. The flirtation might be well done, but it was in defeating her at the casino’s table that 007 caught Trench’s eye.
Having forsaken a trip to the casino in From Russia With Love, Bond is also devoid of any game playing himself in Goldfinger. The classic game of gin rummy is used to highlight the fact that Auric Goldfinger is a cheat. He has been playing someone at a Miami hotel pool and taking them to the cleaners, putting them ‘$10,000 in the hole’ in the process. Goldfinger always likes the same seat, apparently because he’s topping up his suntan, but Bond soon spots that he’s being fed information about his opponent’s cards via an earpiece.
Determined to interrupt his adversary’s success, Bond convinces a maid to let him break into Goldfinger’s suite where he discovers a beautiful lady telling Goldfinger what’s going on. As Bond is able to distract Jill Masterson, the film’s bad guy gets his comeuppance. Goldfinger, it transpires, does it because ‘he likes winning’, so Bond tells him that he has to lose $15,000 in the game. It pleases Masterson to be an accomplice, which makes it easier for Bond to seduce her and promise dinner at ‘the best place in town’. In the end, though, it doesn’t work out well for her.
Bond does finally return to a casino in Thunderball, taking out £500 worth of chips on his way to the table. He stands behind someone in order to play chemin de fer opposite Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s number two, Emilio Largo. When the hand that is being played is lost, Largo says ‘Someone has to lose’. Bond replies, ‘Yes, I thought I saw a spectre at your shoulder; a clear reference to Blofeld’s organisation S.P.E.C.T.R.E., which stands for ‘Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion’.
Lago asks Bond what he means, earning the reply ‘The spectre of defeat. That your luck was soon to change’. There follows a tete-a-tete between the two men, culminating in Bond defeating Largo with ‘neuf’ over ‘huit’, mirroring his success in Dr. No. As if to rub salt into the wound, Largo tells his companion that he wants to win his money back before buying her a drink, so Bond offers to do the honours instead. When they walk off together, she declares that he will be ‘impossible if his luck doesn’t change’.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
There is a new actor playing Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with George Lazenby taking over from Sean Connery. The casino that he enters is best described as being ‘of its time’, complete with purple wallpaper. He sits down to play some more chemin de fer, with time passing to the point that he’s the one with the shoe. He loses his hand, meaning that the shoe passes on, but the game is interrupted by the arrival of Contessa Teresa ‘Tracy’ di Vicenzo. She plays, loses, but doesn’t have enough to pay.
Bond pays her debt, saying that she had ‘forgotten they’d agreed to be partners’ for the evening. His act of chivalry is not well received, with the Contessa leaving the table. Bond cashes out his chips and follows her, sitting at a table with her and ordering a bottle of ‘Dom Pérignon ’57’. Instead of waiting around for the champagne, ‘Tracy’ heads up to her room; but not before handing Bond her key. He asks for the Champagne to be sent up to the suite along with caviar for two, counting his stack of casino chips as he thinks.
Diamonds Are Forever
George Lazenby’s Bond career was sadly short-lived, so Connery returned to the role in Diamonds Are Forever. With a good portion of the film set in Las Vegas, it isn’t a shock that there’s a degree of gambling involved. The filmmakers decided to mix things up a bit this time around, making craps the featured game. We see Plenty O’Toole leaving ‘Maxy’ when he loses the last of his money and heading for the exit, only to change her mind when she hears Bond ask for ‘$5,000. No, make it $10,000’.
The request causes some issues, requiring the pit boss to confirm that Bond’s credit, playing under the false name of Peter Franks, is good. Soon, Plenty arrives next to Bond, telling him her name and earning the response ‘named after your father, perhaps’. She wants to help, but soon ‘craps out’. Meanwhile, we learn that the entire move from Bond was designed to earn the attention of Willard Whyte, the casino owner. Bond then reels off a list of requirements for his bet, rolling the dice like ‘a monkey handles coconuts’.
The Man With The Golden Gun
Sean Connery was very much past it by the time he ended filming on Diamonds Are Forever, though he was persuaded to return to the role 12 years later in the unofficial movie Never Say Never Again. So, it is that a new actor was asked to don the tuxedo in 1973, with Roger Moore becoming Bond for Live and Let Die. There was no casino action in that film, but he does head to a Macau casino in The Man With The Golden Gun. That resulted in Bond’s first experience of the Chinese game sic bo.
In fact, the scene is less about the game and more about the manner in which the man who makes the bullets for Bond’s foe in the film, Scaramanga, delivers them to him. It is not the man himself that collects them, but rather his accomplice, Andrea Anders. Bond discovers this secret and follows her out of the casino, so it is pretty irrelevant which game is being played. Though Bond doesn’t play the game himself, it is a nice introduction to it that proves he knows about it; something that will come in hand in a later film.
For Your Eyes Only
Bond finds himself in a casino in Corfu in For Your Eyes Only, this time back at the chemin de fer table. He has the shoe at the start of the casino scene, dealing cards to the others at the table. Can you guess what Bond has when it’s revealed that his adversary has ‘huit’? If you said ‘neuf’ then well done, top of the class for you. The result leaves ‘Bunky’ ‘perspiring’, according to Countess Lisl von Schlaf. When he only plays half of his stack, Bunky is asked where his courage is. Bond retorts that ‘courage is no match for an unfriendly shoe’.
This spurs Bunky on to place the other half of his chips down, meaning he’s got one million on the table. The odds ‘favour standing pat’, but Bond replies ‘if you play the odds’. He then turns over a card to hand himself ‘neuf’, once again winning the hand. That causes the Countess to leave Bunky’s side, allowing 007 to follow her after asking the dealer to cash out his chips. It is fair to say that most people would love Bond’s consistency it landing ‘neuf’ when playing chemin de fer, given it’s the best hand you can get.
In Octopussy, Bond is up against the wealthy exiled Afghan prince, Kamal Khan when playing backgammon. Kahn is beating another player by consistently rolling double-sixes, which piques the spy’s interest. Kahn claims his fortune is ‘all in the wrist’, so Bond replaces the major at the table and increases the bet to 500,000 rupees. He also taunts Kahn by waving a Faberge egg that he’s been after, suggesting that it will be ‘ample security’ to cover any losses. Bond also catches Kahn out by using his right within the game of using his dice.
Bond’s use of ‘player’s privilege’ allows him to take the dice out of Khan’s receptacle. He rolls them, not even looking down at the table to see that he’s won. When Khan begins to write Bond a cheque, 007 informs him, “I prefer cash.” It is a scene used to show Bond not only being clever enough to see what his enemy is up to, but then turning that to his advantage whilst intimidating one of the film’s baddies. Interestingly, there is no such rule as ‘player’s privilege’ within the actual game of backgammon, so don’t try that one at home.
Licence To Kill
It is Timothy Dalton in the tuxedo for Licence To Kill, heading into the casino with Pam Bouvier and asking for a private table where he can play blackjack. He immediately asks for a quarter of a million dollars, raising the limit to $5,000 per hand. When he all but loses his initial stake, he asks the croupier to let him have ‘half a million’. This causes the pit boss to call the film’s bad guy, Franz Sanchez, in order to inform him that Bond is losing money and ‘playing like a real jerk’ but wants to extend his credit.
When Sanchez is told that Bond flew in on a private plane and opened an account with $5 million, he lets him play. With the limit raised to $10,000, Bond suddenly starts winning, soon putting him ‘a quarter of a million ahead’. Sanchez sends his girlfriend down to deal, causing Bond to send Bouvier away and ask Lamora why he sent her. When she tells him it’s to find out more about him, he says that it is time for him to quit, but he’s achieved what he wanted to in getting the attention of the drug dealing kingpin.
It is yet another new actor in the role for GoldenEye, this time seeing Pierce Brosnan as 007. He heads into the casino and sits at the chemin de fer table with Xenia Onatopp, who has just won her previous hand. Onatopp deals herself ‘huit’ and Bond seven, meaning that she wins. In the next hand, she has five and decides to stand. Bond has two face cards, valued at nought, so takes another and is dealt a six. This means that he wins by one, but it is also a nice little easter egg for those paying attention.
The cards that Bond is dealt are 0-0-6, the code number of his former fellow spy who ‘dies’ at the beginning of the film. The victory for Bond causes Onatopp to leave the table in anger, but not before she says ‘Enjoy it while it lasts’. 007 declares these to be ‘the very words I live by’, before he leaves the table with her. It is yet another example of the makers of Bond using the table at a casino to allow our hero to spar with his adversary, coming out on top and being able to push their buttons as a result.
The World Is Not Enough
Brosnan’s Bond returns to the casino in The World Is Not Enough, but doesn’t engage in any gambling himself. Instead, he is there to confront Valentin Zukovsky, the casino owner. Whilst talking to him, Elektra King, who Bond has been assigned to protect, enters the casino and is offered the same $1 million credit that her father had there. She accepts and asks to ‘keep things simple’ by playing one hand of highest card wins, worth the full $1 million. She loses, which Bond later releases was deliberate, providing the film with a plot point.
The most recent actor to play Bond at the time of writing is Daniel Craig. His debut film as 007 was Casino Royale, in which one of the major plot points is the fact that the film’s villain, Le Chiffre, regularly plays high-stakes games of No Limit Texas Hold’em. In the book, the plot revolves around him playing chemin de fer, but this was changed for the movie in order to make things more easily understood for an audience that will have grown used to the poker variation being played in games on television.
Towards the end of the film, there is a climactic game of poker that sees Bond wiped out when Le Chiffre realises that he thinks he’s spotted his ‘tell’. 007 is kept alive thanks to Felix Leiter giving him his remaining chips. Bond wins the biggest hand of the night, having surprised Le Chiffre by sitting back at the table when the villain thought Bond had been killed after being poisoned. After delivering the quip ‘that last hand nearly killed me’, everyone’s favourite spy wins the money that wipes Le Chiffre out and puts him in a precarious situation.
Another casino scene features in Skyfall, with Bond’s arrival at there being one of the most visually impressive in the franchise. He sails through the mouth of a dragon on a longboat, surrounded by floating candle lanterns. He meets up with Moneypenny, communicating with her via an earpiece and asking her if she gambles. ‘Who doesn’t like a good flutter?’, she replies. He cashes in a chip that alerts the bad guys to his presence, but before he has to engage them he flirts with Severine whilst playing sic bo.
He does so with some chips given to him after collecting the suitcase of money associated with the chip that he cashed in earlier. That, he thinks, is worth ‘four million Euros’. The sic bo scene is limited and short, but it shows off Bond’s knowledge of the game that we found out about during the scene with Andrea Anders in The Man With The Golden Gun. The manner in which gambling and casino games is used in the Bond films is interesting, constantly interspersed and used time and again for different reasons.
The Most Popular Games He Plays
Now that we’ve had a look at the various films in which James Bond either plays a casino game or else watches someone else do so, let’s collate which games are played most often.
|Game||Number of Films Played In||Which Films?|
|Chemin De Fer||5||Dr. No; Thunderball; On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; For Your Eyes Only; GoldenEye|
|Craps||1||Diamonds Are Forever|
|Sic Bo||2||The Man With The Golden Gun; Skyfall|
|Blackjack||1||Licence To Kill|
|Highest Card Wins||1||The World Is Not Enough|
|No Limits Texas Hold’em||1||Casino Royale|
There is no question, then, that Bond’s favourite game in the movies is the baccarat variation known as chemin de fer.
Gambling in the Books
Ian Fleming was happy to make Bond a bit of a gambler, not least of all because it allowed the author to show the character’s willingness to put everything on the line. As you might imagine, he put his character into casino scenes in a few novels, which is where the filmmakers got the idea from. Here is the explanation offered by Fleming in Casino Royale:
Bond had always been a gambler. He loved the dry riffle of the cards and the constant unemphatic drama of the quiet figures around the green tables. He liked the solid, studied comfort of card-rooms and casinos, the well-padded arms of the chairs, the glass of champagne or whisky at the elbow, the quiet unhurried attention of good servants.
He was amused by the impartiality of the roulette ball and of the playing cards and their eternal bias. He liked being an actor and a spectator and from his chair to take part in other men’s dramas and decisions, until it came to his own turn to say that vital ‘yes’ or ‘no’, generally on a fifty-fifty chance. Above all, he liked it that everything was one’s own fault. There was only oneself to praise or blame. Luck was a servant and not a master.
Here’s a look at the books in which Bond does a little bit of gambling, explaining which games Fleming wrote about:
|Book||Game Bond Plays|
|Casino Royale||Chemin De Fer; Roulette|
|Diamonds Are Forever||Blackjack; Roulette|
|Thunderball||Chemin De Fer|
|On Her Majesty’s Secret Service||Chemin De Fer|
Since Ian Fleming’s death, there have been Bond novels written by numerous other authors. The likes of Kingsley Amis, John Gardner and Sebastian Faulks have all brought the world’s favourite spy to life, with some of the novels featuring gambling scenes of their own. We have chosen to ignore these on account of the fact that it was Ian Fleming that originated the character and the others simply followed his path. Regardless, it is fair to say that any true Bond aficionado will spend time learning the ins and outs of chemin de fer.