The Cincinnati Kid (1965) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • In 1930s New Orleans, the Cincinnati Kid, a young stud poker player who travels from one big game to the next, stopping along the way up with various girls, is pitted against the legendary champion card-sharp Lancey Howard in a high-stakes poker game.

  • In 1930's New Orleans, Eric Stoner, better known as the Cincinnati Kid in the circles in which he travels, is an up and coming gambler, most specifically in back room games of stud poker. When the older Lancey Howard comes to town, he who is known as the best in the game, the Kid wants to play him and win so that his reputation will rise in gambling circles. The Kid's friend Shooter arranges the game easily as the Kid's reputation precedes him. In the lead up to the game, the Kid faces numerous distractions including: Christian, his girlfriend who wants more of a commitment from him; Melba, Shooter's sluttish wife, who lets it be known she is willing to cheat on Shooter just like she cheats on everything else in life; and the increasing betting odds against him in the big game. The wealthy William Jefferson Slade tries to blackmail Shooter, the dealer, into rigging the game in the Kid's favor solely to get back at Lancey. Problems may ensue for the Kid because of the attempted blackmail, regardless of if Shooter buckles under the pressure.

  • The film follows the story of a young poker player who comes to 30s New Orleans to face the best player of the country, the one known as "the Man". The Man has been the master of the game for many years now, so our "hero" thinks it is time for him to take his place. And he believes he can make it without the "help" a gangster offers.

  • An up-and-coming poker player tries to prove himself in a high-stakes match against a long-time master of the game.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • A casually dressed 30-ish man walks purposefully down a sidewalk. He passes a New Orleans' style funeral. He meets a young boy, they know each other and toss quarters, the man wins and gently teases the boy.

    Title sequence, bluesy jazz funeral march.

    At a card game, the man wins by calling his opponent's bluff. The Loser claims he marked the cards. Confrontation in the washroom, the winner escapes thru a window. Chased by two men he manages to get away by passing through a railyard.

    A nattily dressed 60-ish man arrives by train and is greeted as Mr. Howard at a fine hotel.

    In another room a card game is underway at a bar. Greeted by others as "Kid", the young man from earlier sits down to watch and takes $170 from a happy player, a payment on his markers. He greets a well dressed man, "Shooter", and they chat. Kid says he may move to Miami when the other man says "Lancey Howard" is in town, others ask if the Kid will play him.

    Lancey calls a man named Slade to offer a game of stud poker at noon, they agree. Slade, post coitus with a mistress, asks for Shooter to be the honest dealer. Lancey requests more tabasco for his oysters.

    Shooter and Kid chat on a ferry. Shooter recounts his past when he thought he was the best until he was gutted by Lancey. Lancey is "the Man" and the Kid wants to beat him. On the other side Kid meets his girl. She says she went to a French movie with subtitles. They continue to discuss the movie as Kid has a bath, the story concerns death and honour, Christian doesn't get it and mentions she went because Melba wanted to go.

    Shooter watches his sexy wife Melba work on a jigsaw puzzle, she trims pieces to fit. He chides her for cheating herself, she shrugs it off and munches on an apple. Lancey calls and explains the game with Slade, Shooter agrees.

    Melba and Christian are window shopping, then go to a turkish bath. Christian, a naif, gets her first rubdown massage. The two women talk obliquely about their men.

    The card game starts with Lancey and local players Slade and others. Shooter and Lancey talk about "the Kid" and the potential challenge.

    Kid is getting his shoes shined by the young boy again as the two women arrive. Melba annouces she heard the Cincinnati Kid will be playing Lancey Howard. Once again Kid beats the kid in a coin flip.

    At their home Christian tries to get a better idea of Kid's feelings for her. Since he doesn't respond she says she will be going home the next day. Kid's focus is on the upcoming game and his reputation, Christian doesn't want to be #2 and leaves on a bus to go home.

    At the poker game the players tally up, they have been playing for 30 hours and Slade writes a cheque to Lancey for $6000, acknowledging Lancey has taught him at $200 per hour. Lancey takes the cheque and subtly disses Slade. Slade then wants to meet Shooter later that night. Shooter telephones and asks Kid to take his wife to the "fight". Shooter and Lancey arrange the big game with the Kid for Monday. Shooter mentions he will bring along Ladyfingers, a fellow cardplayer, to be the relief dealer.

    Kid takes Melba to the cockfight and they bet and watch. Melba is excited by the action. Back at her home she tries to seduce the Kid, they kiss and he slaps her rump and leaves.

    At his home, Slade and shooter agree on a $12000 side bet on the Lancey/Kid game. Slade then tells Shooter to help Kid win the big game with Lancey. He holds $25000 in Shooter's markers as leverage, Shooter is upset at having to compromise his honesty and strongly believes Kid can win without help.

    Kid goes to the countryside to visit Christian and her parents. Stern and humourless, they have dinner together, then Christian asks the Kid to show a card trick. He fans out a deck of cards and tells the father to pick any card, then immediately calls it correctly as 3 of Hearts. The father laughs and Kid repeats the trick for the mother.

    In their bedroom, Melba and Shooter discuss Slade's demands, Melba mocks her husband's honesty.

    The big game is set for Monday at 5:00 pm in room 2A of the Lafayette Hotel. Kid and Lancey pack in their respective rooms and prepare, Kid studies the "New Practical Exercises in Rapid Calculations" math book, Lancey arranges several bundles of cash. Kid arrives by taxi and waits outside. Inside, a large gathering of local players are in the suite. Ladyfingers arrives and greets everyone, taunting Lancey. Kid makes his entrance and is warmly greeted as the local hero. Lancey, standing alone, observes the locals. Shooter introduces "Eric Stoner, the Cincinnati Kid" to Lancey Howard, they size each other up warily.

    Lancey, Kid and three locals set up to play with Shooter as the dealer. The men are all jovial and in good spirits as the stud poker game begins. After a while Pig, thinks he has a strong hand and tries to win the hand by betting heavily. An impassive Lancey sees all the bets and finally raises $1100, the same amount Pig has left. Pig folds and gives up the game, upset at being forced out. Shooter calls for a break. Slade puts down Shooter in front of Melba.

    During the intermission the characters chat. Kid and Lancey discuss women and Miami. Ladyfingers takes over as dealer and continues to tease Lancey. Quite a while later the other two locals, Doc Sokal and Yeller, tired and disheveled, throw in and leave the table leaving only Kid, Lancey and Shooter. Kid wins regularly, later, Kid glances at Shooter, then concedes a hand. He asks for a sleep break and Lancey agrees to restart at 5 o'clock.

    Kid leaves the room and Shooter follows. Kid confronts Shooter in private, he has noticed Shooter has been dealing him good cards for the past several hours. Shooter tries to explain but the Kid angrily wants to win without help. He places a wakeup call for 4:00. A weary Lancey also goes to sleep in his room muttering about the Kid.

    Melba comes to Kid's room and slides under the sheets with the Kid at 3:35. Kid rouses and makes love to her. While both are finishing dressing later, Christian unexpectedly arrives. Melba excuses herself and Kid makes a comment about timing.

    Play continues and the onlookers watch in silence. Finally Ladyfingers dealing calls another break, Lancey sets 1 hour, he appears tired and weary. While on break Kid has a nice steak and talks to Slade, once again refusing any assistance to beat Lancey. As the game begins Kid says Shooter looks unwell and asks for Ladyfingers to be the dealer. She wakes from the sofa and takes over dealing the cards.

    Over time Lancey appears to get more weaker under the hot lights. On one deal Lancey gets an 8 of diamonds, Kid 10 of clubs. Kid bets 500, Lancey matches. Lancey then gets the Queen of diamonds, Kid the 10 of spades. Kid bets 1000, Lancey raises 1000 and Kid calls. Lancey gets the 10 diamonds, Kid the Ace of clubs. Kid now bets 3000. The crowd senses something significant is happening, Lancey calls and gets the 9 diamonds. Kid gets the Ace of spades. Kid checks. Lancey bets 1000, Kid raises 3500, all he has left. Lancey calls the $3500 and raises $5000. Most of the onlookers, now clustered around the table, think Lancey cannot possibly have the Jack diamonds needed for a straight flush. Lancey takes the Kid's verbal IOU so Kid can call. Lancey overturns his hole card, it is the jack of diamonds. Everyone is stunned, a shocked Kid turns over his ace hole card. A smug Lancey rubs it in by calling Kid "2nd best". The game wraps up and Melba and Slade make angry comments, Shooter is sympathetic.

    Outside the hotel Kid meets the shoeshine boy again, they toss quarters this time the boy wins. Depressed, Kid walks around a corner and meets Christian. They embrace, fade to black and Ray Charles' theme song.

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