It is a common misconception that James Bond plays a lot of blackjack.
In actual fact, James Bond only plays blackjack in a single film, with his favoured game being a baccarat variation called Chemin de Fur.
Of course, die (another day) hard fans will know the truth of the matter and will no doubt be sick of correcting plastic Bond fans, but for the majority of people it isn’t well known.
The ironic thing about this, is that while blackjack does require some skill and tactical prowess in order to win, baccarat does not. So when the films use these games to show Bond’s superior skill and intellect it actually all comes down to luck.
It certainly proves that he is bold and willing to take risks though, and maybe this is more the point.
Anyway, let’s look at Bond’s single blackjack experience and see how he fared.
License to Kill (1989)
It was Timothy Dalton’s second and final incarnation as the famous spy who had a go at blackjack, in the 1989 film, License to Kill.
It’s a great scene, and although it’s set in a fictional casino, the Isthmus, and the cards on the table aren’t particularly realistic, there are some nice touches that blackjack fans will recognise and enjoy.
The scene starts with Bond being ushered towards a busy table, before requesting a private table. He plays 5 hands per game and also requests the maximum bet per hand is raised to $5,000, which is granted.
He asks for $250,000 worth of chips (or plaques actually), and begins very poorly, losing the lot. He asks for more and is granted it, ups the betting to $10,000 per hand, and then begins to turn things around, ending up $250,000 ahead before the people watching in the control room send in a new dealer, who just so happens to be the villain’s girlfriend, Lupe Lamora.
She uses new cards, a single deck instead of a shoe, and tells Bond he is going to lose before getting blackjack on her first game, taking $50,000 back from Bond in one fell swoop.
It’s silly in many ways, because during the 3 rounds we see taking place (a lot is supposed to have happened off camera over time) Bond doesn’t hit once in 15 hands despite basic strategy dictating that he should, and hardly any low cards are seen on the table.
He uses some good hand signals though, and there are instances of correctly doubling on an 11 and splitting a pair of 8’s, both decisions turning out to be good ones.
Other Casino Games Played by James Bond
As mentioned, Bond only plays blackjack in that one film, it doesn’t even crop up in any of the books or short stories.
He does give quite a few other games a go though, proving to be typically adept at all of them, even the ones where players can’t do anything to influence the outcome.
That’s Bond for you.
Like we said, his favourite is Chemen de Fur, so we will start with that one.
Chemin de Fur
So important was the game of chemin de fur to Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, that he even printed the rules in the very first Bond novel.
It is a baccarat game which can be played by up to 8 people at a time. The key difference between this version of baccarat and something like punto banco, is that players go up against each other rather than the bank, which is why it was so apt for Bond.
It features in the following films:
- Dr No – 1962
- Thunderball – 1965
- Casino Royale – 1967
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – 1969
- For Your Eyes Only – 1981
- Golden Eye – 1995
That means that Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, and even David Niven played the game during their tenures as the world famous secret agent.
In the book, Bond plays Chemin de Fur in Casino Royale which is why it was included in the David Niven satire version, but when the 2006 film was made the producers changed it to Texas Hold’em since that game was so popular at the time.
Nevertheless, Bond still managed to beat Le Chiffre, calling his bluff on a $12 million raise and going all in to win $150 million, then tipping the dealer very generously indeed at the end!
This game only appeared in one film, Goldfinger, during which Bond must disrupt Auric Goldfinger’s game.
The baddy is of course cheating, with one of his cronies, Jill Masterson, using binoculars to see his opponent’s cards, and then sending that information across to Goldfinger via a radio transmitter.
When Bond catches her in the act he takes over the transmission and commands Goldfinger to lose to the tune of $15,000.
Since the 1971 film, Diamonds are Forever, is set in Las Vegas, it makes sense that Bond has a go at craps.
He startles the table somewhat by requested $10,000 worth of credit and a $2,000 limit, introducing himself under the pseudonym of Peter Franks, and attracting the attention of gold digger Plenty O’Toole.
Aside from some very shaky acting, O’Toole also brings bad luck, losing Bond a lot of money, before he takes control and wins it back and more. He of course tips the dealers, give O’Toole $5k, and keeps $45k for himself.
A very unlikely game for Bond to be playing, more associated with old aged pensioners in the UK, but there is a very good reason why Bond had a go at this board game in Octopussy in 1983.
Kamal Kahn was the villain in this one, and he was cheating someone out of a lot of money when James Bond observed him using loaded dice.
Kahn wants to raise the bet but his opponent can’t afford it, so Bond takes his place. He then utilises a fictional rule called ‘players privilege’, whereby a player can request the use of their opponents dice.
He now has the loaded dice, uses them against their owner, and wins the money.