EPT10 Deauville: Reporting from Salle James Bond
"He was a secret agent, and still alive thanks to his exact attention to the detail of his profession."
So writes Ian Fleming in the first of a dozen novels featuring his iconic hero, James Bond. First published in 1953, Casino Royale introduces 007 with many the traits fans of a half-century worth of film adaptations have come to know. There his predilections regarding dress, cars, women, weapons, and a very particularly prepared martini are all presented as evidence of a kind of mental mastery that well suits a British Secret Service agent.
It's been hard not to think of Fleming's Bond this week. The conference rooms in the Casino Barrière are named after famous cinematic characters, a nod to the annual film festival that comes to Deauville each fall, including the one in which the media works:
That's right, we're writing from the salle called Bond... James Bond.
We're also writing from what might be regarded as the "world" of James Bond, or at least the one in which he was first introduced by Fleming.
More than two decades before the publication of Casino Royale, Fleming had visited Deauville as a young man. Among the diversions Fleming pursued during his travels was gambling in casinos, with his experience in Deauville playing baccarat certainly helping inspire details of his first Bond novel's setting and plot.
The novel is set in a fictional seaside resort in the north of France called Royale-les-Eaux, positioned alongside Deauville and nearby Trouville and combining elements of both, including in its transformation from a small fishing village into a gambling destination thanks to the construction of a popular casino.
The first sentence of Casino Royale details the "scent and smoke and sweat of a casino," and indeed the first two-thirds of the book continues to take place in the titular setting. That's where Bond has been assigned to target the France-based opposition agent, Le Chiffre -- not to kill him, but effectively to render him powerless by wiping out his remaining funds at the baccarat tables.
Adapted into film twice, most poker fans well know the later 2006 entry introducing Daniel Craig as Bond. The 1967 film starring David Niven is more a parody of the already popular Bond films then starring Sean Connery, and only sketchily draws upon the novel source. Meanwhile the 2006 version more closely follows the novel's outline, though moves action away from Fleming's faux Deauville and -- most notably to poker fans -- changes the featured game from baccarat to poker.
Having illicitly frittered away significant sums belonging to SMERSH (the Soviet counterintelligence agency), Le Chiffre desperately is in need to rebuild his capital. He sets up the high-stakes baccarat game in which he is allowed to play the role of the bank, thus establishing a scenario by which Bond will be able to gamble directly against him, with MI6 employee Vesper Lynd among those sent to assist agent 007.
Baccarat involves skill though not nearly to the exent poker does. Meanwhile chance plays a role in both games, making some of Fleming's observations in the novel about gambling -- delivered through descriptions of Bond -- apply readily as advice to our combatants in this week's Main Event.
Bond likes how when gambling "there was only oneself to praise or blame" -- if, that is, one has the mental fortitude not to allow oneself to let luck gain the upper hand.
"Luck was a servant not a master," we're told. "Luck had to be accepted with a shrug or taken advantage of up to the hilt... for, at gambling, the deadly sin is to mistake bad play for bad luck. And luck in all its moods had to be loved and not feared."
As happens in the 2006 film, Bond loses all, is restaked, then ultimately cleans out Le Chiffre, the key baccarat hand proving as dramatic -- and improbable -- as the poker hand in the film in which Bond's straight flush tops two full houses and a lesser flush.
Le Chiffre fights back, however, by kidnapping and torturing Bond in an effort to recover his funds. That conflict resolved, the final act then finds Bond playing out a different game with the alluring Vesper which perhaps helps reinforces the idea that "Bond saw luck as a woman."
Putting down the novel, we exit Salle James Bond to check back on the tournament. With about 330 players left roughly half the starting field remain, having survived so far in part due to their having not allowed luck to become their master.
And like the secret agent who began his fictional life in a casino not unlike this one, they're still alive as well thanks to an exact attention to the detail of their profession.
Martin Harris is Freelance Contributor to the PokerStars Blog.