4 Things Nucky Thompson the Emperor of Atlantic City Can Teach You About Playing Poker

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Nucky Tompson of Boardwalk Empire is not only one of best characters on TV these days; he’s also a brilliant poker player. Here’s a few things you can learn from him.

Boardwalk Empire’s Eunuch “Nucky” Thompson is one of the most compelling characters to appear on television in recent memory. He’s been called everything from hero to gangster to sleazeball to “breadstick in a bow-tie.”

But one thing is for sure. Nucky knows a thing or two about playing poker. He’s cautious and rational, always staying several steps ahead of his hot-blooded opponents. An aspiring player can learn more than a few things about the game simply by watching Nucky defeat the notorious gangster Arnold Rothstein at the poker table:

Be careful with your money

A good poker player treats his bankroll like his baby. That means not throwing it around like its easily replaceable. Be conservative with the way you bet. Put money on the table only when you feel that it’s a worthwhile investment. That is, unless you’re bluffing your opponent.

Like in all facets of life, Nucky Thompson doesn’t waste anything. Especially at the poker table. After making a modest bet an opponent commented, “surely things aren’t that bad Nucky.” He responded: “I keep it that way by rarely playing.”

What he should have said was “I keep it that way by betting prudently.” Every chip, no matter how small, has value. The fewer you waste, the higher your chances of surviving to the final table.

Have a thick skin

A poker aficionado once told me: “if you want to win regularly at poker, playing good cards isn’t enough. You have to get your opponents to play bad cards.” You’re opponents will attempt to lure you into making poor decisions by distracting you or subtly insulting your manhood.

That’s the worst mistake a poker player can make. Betting with your emotions leads to blown hands and wasted chips. Nucky knows better than to let this happen. During a game against Arnold Rothstein the gangster tries to get him riled up by belittling him.

Rothstein: “You were a type I’d recognized. A small town glad-hander, peering over a fence eager to stick his finger into a new piece of pie.”

Nucky: “I don’t like pie.”

Nucky shrugs it off as if Rothstein hadn’t said anything at all. Then he proceeds to win the man’s money and leave the American poker room with his pockets full.

Play to win

There are two kinds of poker games. Those you play with your friends and those you play against everyone else. Chances are in a friendly game you are there more for fun and social engagement. You can drink a few beers, trade insults and get positive feedback on your losing hands.

But if you go to a poker room in a land-based, online or mobile casino
, you are playing against complete strangers. Maybe you aren’t in it to win it, but they are. Its no place to play for the thrill of it. Its about beating the other players and leaving the table with more money than you came with.

Nucky knows this, but Rothstein surely doesn’t:

Rothstein: “An intermediate position is better than none at all” (saying that betting a small amount is better than folding).

Nucky: “Sure. If action is your only goal.”

Rothstein: “Why else would I have asked you to play?”

Rothstein plays poker to get his blood pumping. He gets pleasure out of beating opponents, but his adrenaline-fueled playing style leads to rash decisions. By contrast, Nucky plays with the sole goal of winning. And that he does.

Don’t wager more than what you came with

This is a basic tenet of gambling responsibly. Bring a fixed amount of money to the casino or poker room. That’s how much you are willing to lose in a given night. Once that money runs out, pack up and go home.

• An aspiring poker player can learn a lot about the game from Nucky Thompson, the “Emperor of Atlantic City”

• A skilled poker player is always under control, never allowing his opponents to affect his decision-maKing

• Manage your bankroll as carefully as possible, never wasting chips. If you do run of money, leave the table and live to fight another day

Compulsive gamblers get into trouble because they run to the ATM to take out more money when they should have left the casino altogether. Some poker players do this out of hubris.

When Rothstein asks to borrow $200,000 to continue playing, Nucky preaches caution: “There are other games, Arnold.” To which he responds, “No. There’s only the game you’re in now.” That short-sighted mentality can lead to financial ruin for a card player. When you’ve lost, go home and live to fight another day.


In poker, the name of the game is to always play under control. Protect your bankroll by betting with your mind, not your emotions. Opponents will try to bait you into making bad decisions by getting under your skin. Don’t let them. Lastly, never take out more money than what you brought to the casino. If your bankroll runs out, pack up and go home.

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