Law & Order: A Hold’em Player’s Analysis

For one reason or another, I have always loved the Law Order TV shows–all three of them. It’s really not that much of a surprise to me. Something about me has just always drawn me to cop shows, investigative shows, and everything in between, both scripted fictional, such as the three Law Order series, as well as spontaneous, unscripted, non-fiction, like Cops for example.

But Law  Order stands alone amongst the crowd. What is Law  Order’s particular appeal? Why do I sometimes completely lose track of time and spend my entire evening flipping between TNT and USA, watching Law Order, and Law Order: SVU or Law Order: Criminal Intent? And then, while watching an episode of Criminal Intent last night, I figured it all out. 

If you’ve read much else written by me, you probably know that I’m very passionate about the poker game of Texas Hold’em. I play a lot of Texas Hold’em, and I live a lot of life. And occasionally, in living life, certain things will remind me of a poker hand I once played. Or it might not necessarily remind me of an individual poker hand, but someone might say something, and now all of a sudden I’m thinking about poker. Moreover, I also tried for an amazing poker experience there that really helped me in improving my game and I would really recommend all my readers to check that out once. 

Well, last night, watching Criminal Intent, Detective Robert Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) was suggesting some sort of bluff to help them solve the case and put the right people in jail. Obviously, if someone mentions the word “bluff,” a lot of people are going to, at least for the shortest moment, think about poker. Well, in my case, I was thinking about how similar what Det. Goren was about to do is to a real poker bluff. But then I started to realize, it’s not just this particular moment in the show that’s similar to poker, the whole show follows the structure of a hand of Texas Hold’em.

Now, we’re watching the TV show from the perspective of the detectives. In keeping with the comparison, every Law Order episode is like a heads-up Texas Hold’em hand. The detectives (and viewers) are the good guys, and we’re all playing our one hand. The bad guys are our opponent. Just as you can’t beat up your opponent and take the money in Texas Hold’em, in Law Order, you can’t go arrest someone and beat them up until they confess. In Texas Hold’em this will get you banned from a casino (and probably charges placed against you), and in Law; Order, you will lose the case, and you won’t be able to be a detective anymore.

Nearly every episode of all 3 Law Orders starts the same. The show opens with a seemingly innocent scene, and before we get to the title and opening credits we’ve been shown the victim and the crime scene. This is the equivalent of your first two hole cards in Texas Hold’em. You can make some opinions about the hand, but really, it’s only 2 cards, and it takes 5 cards to make a poker hand. In Texas Hold’em a good hand is a strong hand that’s likely to win you the money in the middle. In-Law Order, a good crime scene is a scene that is likely to make it as easy as possible for the detectives to apprehend, arrest, and build a case against the appropriate bad guy.

In the next part of the show, the detectives begin collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, and tracking down suspects. This is equivalent to the flop in a game of Texas Hold’em. This is the part of the game where you have more information. You can more accurately analyze the strength of your hand (in Law Order, the strength of your case), and begin trying to figure out what two cards your opponent might be holding (in Law Order, who did it).

The next part of any Law Order episode is finding out who the bad guys are. This is equivalent to the turn in Texas Hold’em. The detectives know who the bad guy is, and a lot of times, they’ve arrested him. However, they might not have enough evidence to convict him yet–their case isn’t strong enough for a jury. The bad guy might still win if we don’t play our cards right. This is usually the part of the show where the bluffing comes into play. In poker, a bluff is a bet that you make to try winning the pot. You get the money in the middle because everyone else folded, even though the cards you have are really weak. In-Law Order, you don’t often see the bluff, because the detective’s cards aren’t usually that weak, however, this is the point in the show where the detectives use innovation to come up with the last bits of evidence they need to strengthen the case or get a confession. This is similar to poker. On the turn, you usually pretty much can know exactly how good your hand is compared to your opponent, and the turn is a good place to decide how you want to try winning the hand.

But ultimately, the main reason this part of the show is similar to the turn card in Texas Hold’em is that, well, there’s still one more card to come. Even if you’ve bluffed the suspect into confession, there’s still that river card to come out. In poker, the river card is the inspiration for the “That’s Poker,” phrase–the two-word solace for the guy who was just about to win the hand but his opponent drew the winning card on the river. Occasionally, in Law  amp; Order, that river card comes out and the criminal gets away free, and unfortunately, “That’s Life.” It happens sometimes. No matter how strong the detectives build the case, sometimes the bad guy gets to go away free due to unforeseen circumstances, just plain bad luck.

And just like an excellent poker player, Det. Goren is always analyzing everything. He’s getting inside the heads of the bad guys. If he can figure them out and understand how they play the game, he can more quickly and accurately solve the case.

Ultimately though, the best part about Law Order is, just like poker, you can make educated guesses as to what’s going to come next, but every episode is very unique, and the best strategy is to simply watch and enjoy as it comes because there’s no accurate way to consistently predict your next card.

Author: John