After a recent resurgence of my interest in all things Bond, I’ve started to read all the original Ian Fleming Bond novels and rewatch all the movies. I’m only early into this challenge, having just read the Casino Royale novel and watching the 1954 TV episode, which was the first on screen appearance of Bond, and also the 1967 spoof movie Casino Royale. But already, just from reading the first novel, it’s emphasising what I’ve always known which is that James Bond really was an old school Casino gambler.

I’ve always loved the notion of casinos. I’m not a big gambler or anything but I just enjoy the glitz and the glamour of how casinos look. Tuxedos, chandeliers, fancy cocktails, green velvet. It’s very intoxicating. And Fleming obviously agreed.

“Bond had always been a gambler. He loved the dry riffle of the cards and the constant unemphatic drama of the quiet figures around the green tables. He liked the solid, studied comfort of card-rooms and casinos, the well-padded arms of the chairs, the glass of champagne or whisky at the elbow, the quiet unhurried attention of good servants. He was amused by the impartiality of the roulette ball and of the playing cards – and their eternal bias. He liked being an actor and a spectator and from his chair to take part in other men’s dramas and decisions, until it came to his own turn to say that vital ‘yes’ or ‘no’, generally on a fifty-fifty chance. Above all, he liked it that everything was one’s own fault. There was only oneself to praise or blame. Luck was a servant and not a master.”

Fleming really does some up the thrill of the casino extremely well, whilst also highlighting Bond’s pragmatic approach to the risks. But I wonder how the character of Bond became such a good casino gambler. He seems to know every card game inside and out. He is obviously skilled in many areas, such as surfing, snowboarding, skiing, golf, motorcycling, flying, scuba diving etc. I touched upon some of Bond’s favourite games and sports in a previous article. How does he keep up his skill level at all these activities and still find time for gambling? Maybe casinos and gambling are his main way to unwind. Or perhaps he’s just a natural. The James Bond Fandom wiki says “Bond has been mentioned to be the best player in the Service. Because of his expert reading of people around him, he can easily notice bluffing, and is a skilled bluffer himself. Since he is unafraid of gambling a large amount of money, he can easily play high stakes poker games. He also won a vintage Aston Martin DB5 in a poker game.”

Bond’s assignment in the Casino Royale novel, the first time we ever read Bond in action, is not hunting down some hitman or doing extremely espionage. His mission to beat a guy at a game of cards. The British Secret Service basically give him money to bet with and say that his mission is to beat this villain Le Chiffre at Baccarat. First of all, I love that attitude of the British Secret Service, to win by playing a card game, not by brute force or violence. Seems very British. And secondly, I love not only how they trust all this money in Bond’s gambling skills, but also M says he’s actually 5 million francs short, so Bond will have to win that extra amount himself. So for this first mission he’s not picked because he’s the best spy, he’s picked because he’s the best gambler! The book also notes that Bond must be good because he spent two months in a casino in Monte Carlo busting some Romanian card cheats. Oh, it’s a hard life being a spy sometimes.

I personally don’t think Bond would have had a gambling addiction though. I feel he just likes the environment and doesn’t really care too much whether he wins or loses. I kind of think he’s not the kind of person who would get addicted to anything, although in the Casino Royale novel it mentions that he smokes over 70 cigarettes a day.

I also wonder what the modern day Bond would be like in his spare time. Would he play casino games online. Would he be sitting on a plane playing Solitaire on his phone to pass the time away? Would he be watching late night poker games on TV? Would he be cashing in on a bonus on online casino sites or phoning in to the interactive Roulette live shows? You never know. He has to practice his skills somehow.

Here are some other good instances of Bond showing off his gambling prowess in the movies.

Baccarat Chemin de Fer
It seems to be that this is most likely Bond’s favourite game. It’s certainly the one featured in the Casino Royale novel, and I know it appears in at least four of the movies, Dr. No, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and GoldenEye. I’d never really known how to play it before I read Casino Royale. Fleming manages to explain the rules better than most online tutorials today.

Backgammon – Octopussy
Backgammon is a game that I think just looks so classy, and is another one that I associate with Bond, even though I think its only appearance was with Roger Moore in Octopussy. Apparently Moore was a big Backgammon player himself. I wonder if it was he who pushed to have the game appear in the film, or whether I will find it mentioned in some of the books when I continue reading.

Blackjack – Licence to Kill
Blackjack is the one game I know well and am any good at, so it’s good to see Bond in action at a Blackjack table.

Craps and Roulette – Diamonds are Forever
Craps is a game I’d love to know more about. It looks so much fun and in the movies all the table rallies round the thrower and they all shout out ‘Seven!’ or ‘Snake eyes!’. It just looks like fun. I did witness a craps game live in Vegas but I wasn’t brave enough to try it myself.

Texas Hold’em Poker – Casino Royale
They obviously chose to change Baccarat to Texas Hold’em Poker for the modern Casino Royale movie because of the popularity of poker at the time. I think it works and it’s great to see Craig’s Bond playing at such a cool poker table.

Bond also plays Sic Bo in The Man with the Golden Gun, and Gin Rummy in Goldfinger, although I’m not sure the latter could be classified as a casino game.

Obviously in Never Say Never Again he perhaps prefers to play video games whilst in Casinos. But then again, it could certainly be argued that that’s not the true James Bond in that movie. A discussion for another time.

I look forward to reading more details about Bond’s prowess in the casino in the rest of the Fleming novel series.