For many that have served in the military, the game of poker is a welcome distraction from everyday military life, especially during wartime when soldiers are playing for more than just chips on the battlefield. As such, it seems appropriate that poker was featured prominently during the iconic series M*A*S*H, even going back to the show’s original theme.
For those that have never seen the feature film of the same name that the TV series was based, the opening theme of the movie features a song called “Suicide is Painless.” The tune to the song is the TV show’s theme minus the words. During that song, life is compared to poker in that life is a losing game and we all will lay down losing cards one day.
During the series, the game was featured primarily as recreation with the 4077 gang playing either five card stud or five card draw as their game of choice. Many times the game was used to either help further the plot line or even give viewers a chance to see a different side of a character. This was especially true for Father Mulcahy who was the moral compass for the 4077. However, the Father was an accomplished boxer and enjoyed the game of poker. He even said that the game relaxed him, something you wouldn’t expect for a man of the cloth.
The games were also used as ways to bring comedic relief during some particularly dramatic episodes. Some of the best bits involve blatant poker tells that the gang picked up on one player or another. Major Winchester was a bit of a ringer the first time he sat down and played with the gang, but that changed when everyone discovered that the Major “whistled louder when he was bluffing.” After that discovery, it did not take long to clean out the Major’s wallet.
M*A*S*H was a series that was billed as a comedy, but also tackled the horrors and realities of the Korean War. In addition, the series brought a very human aspect to the war that you just don’t get by reading history. These men and women were everyday people, doing everyday tasks, and enjoying everyday diversions like poker. The ability of the show to bring the war to the level of the average person is one reason why the series was popular 30 years ago and remains popular in syndication today.
Written in cooperation with PokerListings.com.