EDITORIAL: 5 Lessons from Movie Gamblers

(Image: reelgood.com)

(Image: reelgood.com)

“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em …”

Yeah, you’re welcome for the earworm. Who would have thought that a Kenny Rogers song, later turned into a movie, would really provide life lessons? It is just one of many movies about “gamblers” that offer messages beyond laying bets. Of course, those lessons still apply when visiting online sportsbooks and making decisions on wagers. Here are 5 lessons from the top movie gamblers that you can apply to your life in ways that fit you:


This Oscar-nominated film is based on the real-life of Molly Bloom, who was an Olympic-class skier until an injury ended her career. She ended up managing an exclusive high-stakes poker game eventually drawing the attention of the FBI.

The lesson: Know your value

After her Olympic dreams were dashed, Bloom fell into a high-stakes poker game where Wall Streeters, sports and movies stars, and politicians played. When ousted from that game, Bloom built her own, bigger game which drew the FBI’s attention when it was linked to big-time financial crimes.

Instead of turning on her clients, Bloom owned up to her bad decisions, pleading guilty. Instead of 10 years in prison, she received community service, probation, fines and loss of her assets. Millions of dollars in debt, Bloom realized she was her own best asset. She pitched her story of imperfection, bad decisions and integrity to Hollywood.  Renowned writer/director Aaron Sorkin bit and in four years, Bloom went from federal court to the Academy Awards. Know your value and make it work for you.

Six MIT students trained in card counting by a professor head to Vegas and take home millions

The lesson: Cheaters get caught

Loosely based on a true story, the film portrays the hard work and team work of a group of students that attempt to break the bank at casinos in Las Vegas. In real life, the students’ hard work at the blackjack tables was eventually thwarted by a harder working investigator named Andy Anderson who followed them for five years before eventually exposing their card-counting scheme. The cheaters were caught by a man being good at his job.


An up-and-coming pool player plays a longtime champ in a single high-stakes match.

The lesson: Know when to quit

Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason duke it out with a pool table in this classic movie with a classic message.

“Fast” Eddie Felson (Newman) is a talented player who challenges Minnesota Fats (Gleason), easily the best pool player in the world. Felson’s goal is to take Fats for $10,000 in one night – which he does. But instead of quitting, he decides to keep playing – and keep drinking. Soon he’s up $18,000 and again, he keeps playing. Fats takes a break, comes back to the table fresh where “Fast” Eddie is now “Slow” Eddie due to alcohol and lack of sleep. Fats wins his money back. Don’t be like Eddie, recognize your limits and quit while ahead rather than losing it all.

The Griswolds (Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo) head to Vegas and catch gambling fever.

The lesson: There’s always another choice

The worse movie of the franchise didn’t provide many laughs but does make the viewer aware that there are better choices to be made – like not choosing to see this movie.  Also, in the film Clark was in over his head while gambling so he decided to try another casino. So, if you don’t like something, make a change. Not happy with your job? Check out the ads for a new one. Hate where you live? There is a world out there to plant yourself. Is your love life lacking? Swipe right. Get unstuck and embrace change.

The Gambler (1980)

In an interpretation of the song, a respected gambler (Kenny Rogers) meets a know-it-all card player and shows him he knows very little.

The lessons: Know when to hold ‘em, fold ‘em, walk away and run (yeah, yeah, we know)

In applying the lyrics and the movie to life, you’ll find that many apply.

  • Hold ‘em – Trust your gut. ... Stand firm in your convictions.

  • Fold ‘em – Losing or conceding a battle may bring victory in the end. Give in control of something small to hold onto something big

  • Walk away – As the head of a family or a team, sometimes it is best to walk away and let the family/team have the responsibility. Trust them to make the best decision.

  • Run – If something feels morally wrong or illegal – run. You might find running away will send running toward something right and better.