It is, perhaps, the greatest mystery of our times: What was Ross holding in his five-card draw showdown with Rachel? Did he have four of a kind? We will never know, but …
Oh. Wait. What? No? Not the greatest mystery of our times? You don’t even recall the season 1 episode of Friends titled “The One With All The Poker?” Oh. No worries. Have no fear. Below is the rundown, brought to you in honor of the big Friends reunion that debuts Thursday on HBO Max and somehow guest stars Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga …
And … action
We join our friends inside Monica and Rachel’s apartment, where the whole gang is busy whistling “Heigh-Ho” while stuffing Rachel’s resume into approximately 43,000 envelopes. She’s tired of working at Central Perk, as it turns out.
Alas, Ross spots a typo on the resume. Seems like Rachel wrote she has “compuper” skills.
Ensue, meet hilarity.
Over to the coffee shop post-cold open, where Phoebe and Monica are opening rejection letters addressed to Rachel — because that’s what businesses do, respond quickly to unsolicited resumes — and Chandler and Ross are discussing Ross’ obvious desire for Rachel, which he denies.
Enter Joey, and we immediately find out he cried at a poker game the evening before. Why? Because there was some “chocolate on the three. It looked like an eight, alright?” which, incidentally, was exactly how Doyle Brunson got knocked out of the final table in the 1983 WSOP main event.
From here, the ladies complain they’re never invited to play poker, the men say they don’t know any women who play, and before you can say, “Annie Duke!” the gang is gathered around the kitchen table at Monica and Rachel’s apartment.
“And now we draw cards,” is the first line of the next scene, uttered by Chandler, and the laughs don’t stop as Monica tells everyone she has a straight, Phoebe asks for the 10 of spades and six of clubs, Rachel hands Phoebe the 10, Ross says this ain’t right, and Rachel says it’s OK because she’s “going for fours.”
Monica then brings some fancy, salmon-based snacks to the table, drawing the ire of Joey, who claims the rules of poker dictate one-syllable snacks only, “like chips. Or dip. Or pretz-” he says, catching himself outside the monosyllabic prison he’s created for himself. It’s as if we’re in a Franz Kafka novel for a moment.
Time passes, and by the end of the game, Rachel is the big loser, to the tune of $15, and while Joey counsels Ross and Chandler to let the women off the hook, Ross puts his foot down.
“Look, Rachel, this is poker. I play to win, alright? In order for me to win, other people have to lose. So if you’re gonna play poker with me, don’t expect me to be a ‘nice guy,’ OK? ‘Cause once those cards are dealt …” and then he claps his hands together, demonstrating cards being dealt.
Ross is a Serious Man.
Meanwhile, we get a Marcel the Monkey interlude before we head back to Monica and Rachel’s apartment, where noted poker hustler Aunt Iris shows up. (Aunt Iris is played by Beverly Garland, most famous for her role on My Three Sons as Steve Douglas’ second wife. Now you know.)
Anyway, Aunt Iris comes in hot, asking if Tony Randall is dead. Monica says she doesn’t think so, Aunt Iris says, “Well, he may be now, because I think I hit him with my car,” the women plotz, then Aunt Iris tells them that’s lesson number one, bluffing, and that everything you hear at the poker table is crap.
And that’s all we see of Aunt Iris, but the next scene is at Ross’ apartment, and clearly Aunt Iris has taught the crew a thing or two, as Rachel is now shuffling the cards like she’s the opening act for Penn and Teller.
Alas, Rachel loses again, but Joey thanks the gals for teaching him the poker variation known as “Cross Eyed Mary,” which despite tens of seconds of Google searching is not a poker variation at all but actually a song by Jethro Tull off their 1971 album Aqualung. It is a flute-forward tune, and it’s one of those “I never heard of that song before” songs that you then say, “Oh yeah, I definitely have heard that song before” once you hear it.
Rachel, however, has her own flute-related item on her mind, aggravated she lost again and Ross is asking for the money owed.
“Mmm-hmmm. Oh, so typical. Ooo, I’m a man. Ooo, I have a penis. Ooo, I have to win money to exert my power over women,” she says. (You have to remember, we were in prime “riot grrrl” times at this moment in history.)
The final showdown
Another night, another poker game, this one back at Rachel and Monica’s place, and prepare yourself for some drama …
Monica is most hyped to play, and she’s dealing, “Cincinnati, no blinds, everybody ante.”
Cincinnati is a game in which each player gets five down cards, and there’s five community cards. Winner makes the best five-card hand out of the 10 possible cards.
However, the game Monica dealt appears to be a variant in which each player gets two cards and there are no community cards. No one is confused.
Later, a big hand is happening. Ross says to Rachel, “You better hop outta the shower, cause … I gotta flush.”
Rachel, however, is staying in the shower, because she has four sixes and rubs it in Ross’ face, upsetting him.
Time passes, and we get a birds-eye view of the goings-on to demonstrate how serious this game has gotten. Rachel bets 50 cents, Ross folds, asks to see Rachel’s cards and Rachel denies, and then Ross gets visibly angry, demonstrating his psychopathic tendencies that are in full display whenever you remove the laugh track.
And then … tragedy. The foot-long portable phone rings, Rachel answers it, and finds out she didn’t get her dream job as a buyer at Saks. She is sad. The gang says they should stop the game. Rachel insists they continue. She deals a round of five-card draw, no wilds.
Ross bets 50 cents. Everyone calls. Rachel bumps it to $5, Ross says the limit is 50 cents, but Rachel says she just lost the job and she’s making the rules and everyone folds and she looks at Ross and says, “Loser?”
Ross thinks about it for a moment and decides to fold.
But then Rachel eggs him on, throwing his big “I’m not a nice guy at the poker table” speech back at him, and Ross sits back down and calls.
Rachel takes two cards, Ross one.
Before you know it, the pot swells to nearly $150. Rachel shows a full house.
Ross takes a dramatic pause and then … says “ya got me” and puts his cards down.
Rachel is happy, and Ross is happy that Rachel is happy, and Chandler and Joey reach for Ross’ cards, and he prevents them from seeing them, and it’s clear Ross probably did have four of a kind but he is a nice guy and he does love Rachel roll credits.
From there — spoiler alert — Ross and Rachel get together, break up, get back together, take a break, get back together, break up, drunk elope in Vegas, get divorced, have a baby together, get married, and as of season one, episode one of Joey, remain married.
And to think: If Ross did actually have four of a kind and took Rachel’s money … well, that’s a rabbit hole we’ll explore next time.
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