Commander Riker teaches Lieutenant Commander Data about the reality of poker
It’s so nice to see popular references in our favorite television shows. But who wouldn’t be surprised to actually see the art of poker being played in the 24th century. No less than in Star Trek: The Next Generation – the sci-fi weekly frequently featured a good deal of five-card stud showdowns. One of the show’s main principals, the starship Enterprise’s first officer, William Riker educates the android Data about the real game of poker. It is episode 35, season two: “The Measure of a Man”, one of the best episodes of the series that fans and poker players will always remember.
“There’s more to this than just the cards, Data,” says Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), the VISOR-clad officer of the USS Enterprise. This is in response to a fellow officer, Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner), commenting that the game of poker is “exceedingly simple”. The game is five-card stud, and the game master, none other than the starship’s first officer, Cmdr. William Riker (Jonathan Frakes).
The humans fold
The game proceeds with La Forge, Chief Miles O’Brien (Colm Meany) and Dr. Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur), and the first rounds of betting commences. By the third card, La Forge and the good doctor has folded, leaving only the Data, O’Brien, and Riker. Bets are in, and the fourth card comes out – an ace of hearts to go with Data’s queen diamond-club pair, and a five of hearts for the dealer with a jack and a ten of hearts. The confident android bets another round, forcing the transporter chief to declare out.
Human in control
Soon Data finds himself head-to-head with the commander. It is a showdown that has become akin to the Kasparov-Deep Blue chess match of the mid-90s. Man against machine. Same as playing the card game at partypoker but with the roles reversed. Man has the edge. Then the final cards come down – a diamond four for Data, and a four of hearts for Riker. The machine bets, and the human calls it. Data looks perplexed. He evaluates the combinations possible with the 52 cards of the deck. He takes a peek at his hole card – a queen of hearts, giving him a three-of-a-kind. Riker looks squarely at him as he checks his opponent’s cards: all hearts, a possible flush, and a hand higher than his. He asks the commander, “Is that what is known as a poker face?” to which the latter answers firmly, “Are you playing or not?”
Winning with nothing
The conviction in the face of Riker has prompted the artificial being to make a decision. “I fold,” Data uttered after he looks at the commander’s serious expression a few more times. And then, the dealer unveils his hole card – an insignificant two of spades. The table lets out a sigh, which transitions to chuckles of laughter. The android is confused. “But you had nothing!” Data exclaims, to which La Forge offers the explanation, “He bluffed you, Data!” The machine cannot seem to find the answer he was looking for. “It makes very little sense to bet when you cannot win,” Data mutters with a hint of bitterness. “But I did win,” the commander explains, with a smug grin on his face. “I was betting that you wouldn’t call.” The android, puzzled, asks, “How can you tell?” The kind Dr. Pulaski simply replies, “Instinct, Data. Instinct.”