Now, a show of hands. How many of us can truly say we have a foolproof poker face? How many of us can boast that we can throw down with the best of them and not crack under the pressure? How many times have you sat down at the table and truly been able to suppress all tells, all urges, all displays of surprise? Believe it or not, the argument wouldn’t be most of us. Having a poker face is easy with a bit of practice. Having a complete poker routine that is absolutely impenetrable, infallible and unfathomable is nearly impossible. Part of poker’s offensive strategy is knowing to pick up on tells and minute subconscious reactions.
This aspect of gambling is represented in the media in one of two ways. In one case it is ignored and everybody is assumed to be maintaining the ultimate stoic disposition so that no two men could tell the other’s thought process. In the other, the act of picking up on tells, and the act of analysis of another’s poker face is dramatized beyond all sense and reactions and tells are hilariously over the top. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, in its iconic style, never does anything in half measures. Nowhere is the poker face, the tell and offensive poker better dramatized than in Part 3 of this anime, Stardust Crusaders.
Background to JoJo
The world of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is just what it says on the tin, Bizarre as all hell. Part 3 revolves around a tale of ancestral fate as the protagonist, Jotaro, is convinced by his grandfather to travel from Japan to Egypt to slay the vampire Dio, who stole his great great grandfather’s body, along with a team of 4 other powerful combatants. The party all use a power called a Stand, a manifestation of their spirit that all have various crazy and varied powers depending on the person. TL, DR? JoJo is weird and wacky, but that’s not why I’m writing about it here.
Daniel J. D’Arby
The scene I discuss takes place in Episodes 34 and 35 of Part 3. Upon arrival in Egypt, Jotaro and company encounter a powerful minion of Dio, Daniel J. D’Arby. His Stand power involves stealing people’s souls by winning in a bet with them, storing said souls as poker chips that can then be used as wagers. Of course, such a nefarious person has plenty of methods by which he cheats and ensure the win, and the collection of his opponent’s soul. Luring the party into playing in exchange for information, D’ Arby manages to cheat his way into stealing the souls of three of the party’s members in strange abstract rigged betting games, ranging from betting on which smoked fish a cat would eat first to whoever manages to make a glass of water overflow from dropping coins in it. It is only once it comes to Jotaro’s turn that a game of true traditional poker begins, or at least on paper.
The Poker Game
D’Arby has a whole arsenal of cheats on his side. He has bought out and made the whole bar they play in complicit so that no matter who Jotaro chooses as a dealer, they are rigged in D’Arby’s favour. Unfortunately, Jotaro has a crazy powerful Stand on his side with superhuman strength and reflexes. For example, D’Arby attempts to cheat with second dealing against Jotaro, but Jotaro catches sight of it and breaks D’Arby’s finger in the blink of an eye from across the table. However, it is not Jotaro’s absurd power that allows him to defeat D’Arby, it lies solely in his speed.
D’Arby and Jotaro both enter the game knowing that D’Arby has rigged the entire game so that there is no POSSIBLE way D’Arby could lose. But Jotaro wins by managing to make D’Arby pass out before he can ‘Call’ and match Jotaro’s absurd raises, solely by means of sheer acts of pageantry and intimidation.
Jotaro accepts the hand that is dealt to him without even looking at the cards, an expression of pure brazen confidence. We know it is because Jotaro knows the game is rigged, but this confidence plants a seed of doubt in D’Arby’s head as to the reliability of his dealing cheat. D’Arby passes it off as a bluff and continues. Jotaro then raises by betting the soul of a friend who is currently in hospital. This bluff throws D’Arby completely. Then, purely to flex his speed and confidence, Jotaro lights a cigarette in an eyeblink by snapping his Stand’s fingers, catching D’Arby completely off guard. He then acquires a cocktail in an eyeblink, and is sipping it when D’Arby’s eyes return to him. These feats of speed terrify D’Arby, and he is shocked into thinking that Jotaro’s Stand could have swapped his cards out at an astonishing speed, so his dealing cheat would have failed utterly.
The final nail in the coffin that Jotaro uses to completely break D’Arby is that he wagers his own mother’s soul, who is currently dying and the reason he even came to Egypt in the first place. D’Arby has no more souls to bet, and the only way he can meet Jotaro’s raise is to tell him the secret of his boss, Dio, the vampire’s Stand. Telling such a secret would have him executed as a traitor. D’Arby is so terrified to call and make this raise, knowing that he could die, that he passes out and Jotaro wins back his friends souls.Now if you strip back all of the supernatural elements, the Stands, the vampires, JoJo’s trademark over the top reactions and dramatization, you end up with one simple fact. Jotaro managed to win one of the highest stakes poker games imaginable, with what was revealed to be a terrible hand, two pair, PURELY on an unbridled and unmatchable confidence and swagger. Now this is of course a very unreasonable expectation to have for your own games, and having enough confidence as Jotaro to be able to raise to the point of an opponent’s total psychological breakdown is not easy. But it is a simple fact that this representation of gambling in the media paints it as a game of skill, a game of confidence, and a lesson that even if both the dealer, and life, deal you a terrible, hand, you can still pull off the play of a lifetime. So keep that in mind next time you’re at the table. Maybe you can bluff your way to victory in a way even an absolute scion of mental security as Jotaro could applaud.