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Star Trek The Next Generation – Playing Poker with Superheroes

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Space poker. And the sky is the limit.

I always wondered at the Bridge Crew of The Next Generation of the Enterprise blithely playing poker together. Even while Data says in Cause and Effect, “The cards are sufficiently randomized” (and actually, they aren’t in this case), that doesn’t mean a thing to the senior staff of the NCC-1701-D. Half of them are superheroes, ya’ll!

How is this fair to play?

I suppose being a young person at the time TNG aired made me less discerning, but I see now that fully half these poker-playing-champs have super powers, making going against them entirely unfair. Why did Riker (and Crusher, at least once?) keep raking it in? Unless everyone else uses severely handicapped rules…

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Here’s who’s playing Poker in Star Trek TNG, and who should be winning:

  1. Data. No doubt here: Data should win every time. He’s bluffable (like Spock in 3-D chess against Kirk), but that should’t matter to a being who effortlessly counts cards at every step. He can’t help it. In addition to multi-tasking about spacial coordinates for anomalies, planning new fuel injector mixes for the warp drive, analyzing the entire works of Shakespeare, and mentally blending nutritional food supplements for his cat, he knows where all the cards should be at all times. Simple (to an android) math.
  2. Deanna Troi. Let’s give her second place in the no-beat category. Deanna knows when you’re lying. She sees you when you’re nervous; she knows when you’re  barely containing your glee. In a room of 4-6 people, you bet she’s laser focused on who has a good hand and who’s full of it. And if you notice, she’s got a good poker face. Only Riker, as her Imzadi, could possibly sneak into her thoughts…but as a professional mind-worker, Deanna would know it and shut that shit down.
  3. Geordi La Forge. That visor he wears isn’t an 80s hair piece. He can see through walls. He can see all of your cards. All your base r belong to him. He would win all the time if he probably didn’t politely put up some kind of acuity block and ask everyone else to trust him. This is Geordi, though. He’s a creepy hologram stalker, but he’s not a card cheater.
  4. Captain Jean-Luc Picard. He only joins in at the end, but his superpower is being the freaking captain. Wanna suck up to the boss? Try not to embarrass him at cards. Jean-Luc probably waited so long to play to NOT place anyone in a bad position like this.

And then the rest…

5. Will Riker.  The man knows more about poker than anyone except Data (Will’s been playing since his first Potemkin posting to ingratiate himself with senior staff…and Troi says to not hold the same thing against junior staff in The Lower Decks). Riker’s got a stiff poker face. And he’s good at reading people, or he’d never be the fine first officer Jean-Luc tells everyone Will is. So he uses force of personality alone to win. People just fold around him because they know Riker will blow over their hands whether he’s got the cards for it or not. Also, he admitted in All Good Things that he cheats. 😉

6. Beverley Crusher. She should never win, unless by mere chance. I only buy her win in Cause and Effect because (as a Time Lord’s mom is my guess) she can sense the deja-vu in looping timelines better than anyone else. She also has an excellent grasp of the Scientific Method, which could be helpful if the superheroes are distracted.

7. Worf. Poor Worf. He’s not super smart or super anything useful in cards. Super strength avails the Klingon nothing here. All he brings to the table (ha!) is his serious intimidation factor. Also, as he says in Peak Performance, one of his main skills is “guile.” So I’m sure he can be sneaky, but after a few years of mutual play, he’s probably used his Poker tricks up by now. Worf doesn’t care, though. He’s probably like, “Sure, you win with these paper slips now, but let’s see you fight me in the holodeck, fool!”

8. and on… Others we’ve seen play from time to time: Dr. Kate Pulaski, Chief Miles O’Brien, Commander Shelby (in Best of Both Worlds), Ensign Wesley Crusher, and Bartender Ben (from Lower Decks). Has Lt. Barclay ever joined them? Whatever. Those are bit parts in a decades-ranging poker ensemble. Needless to say, these others have no superpowers. (Which for poor Miles is par for the course, considering his darts issues with superhuman Julian Bashir in Deep Space 9. That’s another story.) Also, let’s keep Wes out of this. He’s not a Traveler yet.

Finally, Data designed a high-stakes poker game on the holodeck against Steven Hawking (playing himself!), Albert Einstein, and Sir Issac Newton. It’s still fun to see.

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What’s unfortunate is none of these super powers are ever discussed in-universe, except in Peak Performance, where Riker is willing to lose against a Stratagema Master just for the experience of it. We have to hand-wave how to make this all fair. Maybe the Star Trek Picard show will tell us how these wildly unevenly skilled people managed to play one game fairly together for so long.

Still, Jean-Luc Picard ends The Next Generation with a big aww: “I should have done this a long time ago… [So], five card stud, nothing wild, and the sky’s the limit.”

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3 responses to “Star Trek The Next Generation – Playing Poker with Superheroes”

  1. Neat point:

    Episode The Outcast… Troi announces the game she is about to deal is called “Federation Day.” When asked to explain, she says that since the Federation was founded in 2161, deuces, sixes, and aces are all wild.

  2. You’re right. I never really considered all of the superhero qualities this crew had. Great observation.

  3. Thanks, Dan. It all made sense at the time, didn’t it? Then Deep Space 9 came around with O’Brien and Bashir and their seven year Darts game in Quark’s. It was later revealed Bashir was holding back, until his genetic gifts came to light… And ever after Bashir had to stand about ten meters behind the normal throw line to play with O’Brien. So that was a nice call, to show how that game could possibly be fair.

    In the endless TNG Poker game, I don’t know how they could work this. Maybe La Forge could turn off some of his VISOR skills at will (it’s tech, not innate), but Deanna and Data would need severe handicaps. Deanna can’t turn it off (we’ve seen this whenever she was mind-raped), and Data has never been shown to limit himself.

    Riker really is funny. He wins through attitude. Like Kirk. But honestly, this should never happen, unless Deanna is all like, “I know he’s bluffing, but I should ignore that because I kind of still love him,” and Data being like… Well…okay, I have no excuse for Data not winning. Unless it’s early enough in the game for Data to not be able to count cards properly.

    I’m not a big Poker player myself, but even I have been known to bluff properly, because no one expects a bluff from me. So I use it very sparingly, to trick people into thinking I can’t bluff at all. But over years of time with mutual players that would only work so long. So I’m kind of like the Worf player, or Data without the math skills.

    Along these lines, how would the *Avengers* play Poker? Iron Man is like Geordie mixed with Riker (I guess he could turn off his suit sensors, but he’s still a super-genius who could count cards and has a stern Poker face). Thor is a God with few human morals and a braggart’s attitude. Wanda and Vision have extra-sensory abilities they have clear trouble holding in check. And you don’t want to make Banner mad.

    Only Cap, Hawkeye, and Natasha would be on an even playing field. And Ant-Man, although he’s kind of their version of the Village Idiot. 😉

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