That Moment in Friends When Ross and Rachel Go Heads-Up
Friends was perhaps the most iconic sitcom ever to appear on television. The American program first appeared on NBC in September 1994 and went on to produce 10 successful seasons that ran until May 2004. The popular show, which told the story of the daily lives of six friends in Manhattan, reached a peak when it hit number one in the TV ratings in the eight seasons. The season finale of the last season was the most watched TV episode of the decade and the fifth most watched of all time.
If you haven’t actually seen Friends, you have no doubt heard of it and know at least one person who still considers it the greatest show of all time, even to this day. Remember episode 18 of the first season? The one titled “One with All the Poker”? That episode originally aired in March 1995 and showed a battle of the sexes poker game with a particularly memorable heads-up battle between Ross and Rachel.
An early scene depicts the guys sitting around in the Central Perk coffee shop discussing a poker game that had made Joey cry the night before. Overhearing this, the girls wonder why the guys never invite them to play. Defending their implication of sexism, Ross asks, “Do any of you know how to play?”, to which the girls have to admit that none of them do. But the girls demand to be taught, and the guys oblige.
The six friends play five-card stud together in a heated home game in which the girls end up losing badly. They seek the help of Monica’s aunt Iris, a poker professional who helps them to improve their game a little bit.
Meanwhile, Rachel is sick of serving coffee and is looking for a new job, and Ross has been talking with the guys about his feelings towards Rachel and denying that he loves her. These undercurrents make for more interesting dynamics, as real-life situations spill over onto the poker table.
During their next poker game, Ross is being particularly hard on Rachel, trying to show Chandler and Joey that he doesn’t care for her. Halfway through the game, Rachel receives a call telling her that she didn’t get the job she applied for. Instead of leaving the game and commiserating, she decides to stay and take it out on Ross. What ensues is one of poker’s funniest moments in TV history.
Rachel starts to bet big, and everyone else is forced to fold. Ross is also about to fold and walk away but is taunted by Rachel into staying and putting more money into the pot. He stays, and the betting gets bigger. After reaching for more cash to hike the nets up even more, Rachel wins the hand with a full house. Ross leaves his cards face down but admits defeat as Rachel scoops the pot. His mannerisms and facial expressions give the impression that he has let Rachel win, perhaps to ease the emotional pressure of her not getting the job.
Although we don’t see his full hand, a freeze frame of the scene reveals Ross’s hand before the redraw. He has a 3, 6, Queen of spades and a King of hearts, and only draws one card. This means that he could not have possibly beaten a full house — he had the losing hand all along!
This is a classic episode that explores the dynamics between Ross and Rachel, as well as gender issues between the guys and girls, all set around betting over a poker game. Of course, there isn’t the same gender bias in poker these days, with high-profile professionals like Liv Boeree showing that women are just as talented as men when it comes to card games. Nevertheless, Friends is a TV program that will forever stand out as the sitcom of its time, and this episode is a great example of its ability to tell a tale with humor and good spirit.