The switch in Casino Royale from the baccarat of the novel to poker for the film drove a lot of fans crazy. Including me. It’s Ian Fleming, for fuxake! That’s a total baccarat situation! And when people like co-producer Michael Wilson have talked about the switch, they’ve mostly said that people don’t understand the rules to baccarat, and all that.
Which is true, except the rules to baccarat are insanely simple. Only the rules of betting are complex. In the novel, Leiter was there partially to have baccarat explained to him; an American wouldn’t know the rules, and Fleming liked his exposition to come in the form of dialogue (often involving Leiter).
But the more I think about it, the more I think it’s a good idea. And believe it or not, I was thinking about it over breakfast.
Here’s the thing. Baccarat is pure luck. The movie version of Vesper Lynd would’ve lost her shit had she learned that Bond was betting the treasury on a game that’s pretty much 50/50. In the novel, Bond understands baccarat to be a game of nerve, to face your opponent down and be able to handle the stress of increasing amounts of money on the table, all risked on the turn of a card that may or may not wipe you out.
Contrast that to poker, a game of nerve, yes, but also skill, calculation, judgement, and psychology. It’s not just understanding the game that’s better for the audience, but also what goes on between and among the players, and what’s worth paying attention to.
Actually, if Bond visits casinos in future movies, I wouldn’t be averse to seeing poker again.