Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is not generally considered a poker movie, but it does feature a brilliant poker confrontation in the very first scene. The film opens with a threehanded game of draw poker involving Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and an unnamed tough guy. At this stage in the movie, we know nothing about the eponymous heroes of the film, so scriptwriter William Goldman uses poker as a means of introducing their characters.
Redford is the big winner in a tense high-stakes game, but when he tries to drag in yet another sizeable pot, the tough guy loses his cool, calls Redford a “goddamn cheat,” and looks set to draw his gun in order to recover his losses. Indeed, there was something not quite right about the way Redford held the cards in his fist when he dealt.
Newman — talkative, witty, and likeable — is the intermediary in the argument, persuading Redford to just give the man his money back so that they can get back on the road. Hell, there’s plenty more where that came from. But Redford has been insulted and wants to keep his winnings. As tension mounts, Newman continues to act the diplomat, trying to persuade his friend to back down. Redford still won’t budge, so eventually Newman gives up with a seemingly throwaway line: “Can’t help you, Sundance.”
Cut to the tough guy. He’s gone pale. There is fear and panic all over his face. Just the mention of that name — “Sundance” — tells him that he’s just picked a fight with the wrong guy, a mistake likely to prove fatal. There is a dramatic pause, and then, speaking slowly, the tough guy says: “I didn’t know you were the Sundance Kid when I said you were cheating. If I draw on you, you’ll kill me.”
“There’s that possibility,” says Sundance.
Then, thinking he is dead already and has nothing to lose, the tough guy decides to draw on Sundance anyway. Instantly, Redford shoots the gun out of the tough guy’s hand, shoots the belt off his hip, and sends the holster skidding and snaking across the floor in a hale of bullets.
So, now we have a better idea of what our two heroes are like. Newman is the nice guy who is good with words, and Sundance is so fast with a pistol that the mere mention of his name is enough to make rivals consider their own mortality.
This scene came to mind when the EPT Scandinavian Open got down to the final five players in Copenhagen, Denmark, back in January. During a break in play, I had a chat with a young Norwegian qualifier by the name of Eirik Kolaas, who was the short stack at the table.
The day before, I had watched Kolaas make a beautiful bluff against Sweden’s Mikael Westerlund. The flop came 7-7-7 and Kolaas, cool as ice, made a massive raise. Westerlund, who struggled with the decision so long that they had to put the clock on him, eventually folded 8-8, at which point Kolaas turned over A-K and the Swede hit the roof. I liked the Norwegian’s style, Jimmy Dean dressed all in black — and was hoping he’d do well in the final.
As we were talking, I asked Kolaas what he thought of his final table opponents, fully expecting him to enthuse about the unstoppable Ram Vaswani, who had won the previous EPT event in Dublin and with a massive chip lead looked like a shoo-in to pick up back-to-back titles. Instead, Kolaas said that the “other young guy” at the table looked pretty useful.
“That would be Noah Boeken,” I said. “Exclusive.”
“Exclusive?” he asked, as if he had misheard me.
“Yeah, you know, ‘Exclusive poker online 2021.’ That’s his name on PokerStars.”
I swear, Kolaas’ jaw actually dropped. He had no idea that Boeken and “Exclusive” were one and the same. For Scandinavian online bandits like Kolaas, “Exclusive” has a well-earned reputation as a superaggressive player with more than his fair share of tournament victories to his name. They had slugged it out online, and now they were slugging it out in real “live” action, but Kolaas had no idea until I let slip Boeken’s online identity.
If Sundance let the tough guy escape with a devastating display of fast-draw shooting, Boeken — a 24-year-old professional from Amsterdam — was rather less merciful toward his opponents at that EPT final table. First, he knocked out Kolaas in fifth place, then Julian Thew (fourth), and Bambos Xanthos (third). Then, “Exclusive” turned his attention to Vaswani, a player who just a few minutes earlier had held a 10-1 chip lead over his Dutch rival.
It took 63 hands and most of two hours of intense heads-up play before Boeken got his man, persuading Vaswani to call his A-Q with A-J. The Dutchman made a straight on the turn to pick up his first major title.
It was a stellar performance by Boeken, who until then had been known as much for his friendship with the masterful Marcel Luske (who finished ninth in Denmark) as for his own live poker achievements. We now can assume that the victory in Copenhagen, and the manner in which it was achieved, will put Boeken’s name up in lights. For those in the know, however, “Exclusive” was already a name to be feared around the poker table. ´