Plotting this poker episode was a nightmare for M*A*S*H writers

Change the way you watch M*A*S*H poker episodes.

"Round and round they go. Here come the cards, there goes your dough," Hawkeye says, dealing out cards in a M*A*S*H episode titled "The Merchant of Korea."

Usually, we see the officers and nurses playing poker in the Swamp, but in this episode, they're in the officers' club. Even Margaret is in the game. When Winchester says he's surprised to see her, she laughs and answers, "Oh, a little poker always relaxes me."

Well, here's a little secret from the M*A*S*H writers room to make you smile even more during these poker scenes: A little poker never relaxes anyone trying to write the plot of these funny episodes.

On M*A*S*H writer Ken Levine's blog, he uses choice words to describe "The Merchant of Korea," dubbing it "one of the hardest scripts David Isaacs and I ever wrote."

The problem is keeping the poker game going while plotting the rest of the action in the scene.

"The reason the script was so tough was because it featured an extended poker game," Levine wrote. "We've written poker scenes in other sitcoms and the problems are always the same."

When it comes to writing, issues arise when you want to make sure the audience can follow what's relevant in the poker hands being played, so in some ways, you have to explain the game as you go. This has to happen in a way that sounds natural, so any time you hear a character explaining why their hand has beaten someone else's, understand that it's because Levine and Isaacs took pains to ensure nobody in the audience got lost in the "shuffle."

Poker fans will appreciate that when it came to editing those scenes, Levine also felt strongly about the game playing out naturally for those folks in the audience who actually knew what a game of poker should look like.

"You can't take out too much or the game stops making sense," Levine said. "Or at the very least, people are betting and making decisions way too quickly and unnaturally. They need time to call."

He went on to describe how the writers would get caught in loops trying to remember where the players logically were in the progression of the game, asking questions like: "How many cards have been issued?" or "What was Hawkeye's hand?" or "Does Hot Lips get to call before B.J.?" or "Which players have folded by this point?"

In his post, he describes the production of these poker episodes as "murder" because characters might be looking in odd directions that disorient the viewer. Continuity was a challenge. You can tell he's kind of scarred by this entire process of making poker episodes because when looking back, he writes with hypersensitive hyperbole, "Camera coverage of poker games are always fraught with danger."

Levine said because these poker episodes were so tedious to shoot, the show often took shortcuts filming poker scenes. The M*A*S*H writer said that they "generally tried to make [poker games] very short or cut away to something else, so we could come back just when we needed to without having to show all the logistics that got us there."

In the end, Levine said even though the episode was such a challenge, he was proud of how clever and funny it was. He praised shows like The Odd Couple and Maverick that bravely shot so many poker scenes, admitting he wouldn’t have been up for the task.

As for M*A*S*H and "The Merchant of Korea," he writes, "my main source of pride is that… it seems to make sense."

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Jen80 41 months ago
Deal Me Out is top ten favorites. I will skip forward on the dvd to watch it. I absolutely can't wait patiently in the sequence.
LSUFAN44 41 months ago
Then I got a soldier who claimed to be reincarnated and said he was with Washington at Valley Forge and there for had already done his military service
Hogansucks1 41 months ago
Oh Charles? Would you be kind enough to clean up !!! We did loan you $. 😆
Hogansucks1 41 months ago
“He whistles LOUDER, when he’s GOT nothing”. 😂 🥴
F5Twitster 41 months ago
"...Looking back, he writes with hypersensitive hyperbole, 'Camera coverage of poker games are always fraught with danger.'"

Grammatical danger, too: it should be camera coversge of poker games IS always fraught (fraught modifying "coverage," singular, not "games," plural)...
ncadams27 41 months ago
I could see where they might not like writing scenes in the operating room, where these scenes are essential to the main story line of the show - but if they didn’t like poker scenes why did they write them? Poker wasn’t integral to the plot. Just write a movie night story and show the film for a good part of the episode. Or a “clip” show with flashbacks to previous episodes.
Moody ncadams27 41 months ago
I don't know about these days but 40-50 yrs ago the barracks poker game was common. I think the writers were trying to show that they were integral to life in the military.
Hogansucks1 Moody 41 months ago
Always a good way to relax and help pass the time. Works for me! 😊
DavidBartholomew 41 months ago
The BEST poker game was the opening of the Play/Movie The Odd Couple. It introduced the characters perfectly and had the line, " and a bullet for the policeman!" ( referring to an Ace in 5 card stud)
FrankBuchholz 41 months ago
Major, you're sweating on the cards.
Rik 41 months ago
He whistles louder when he has nothing!
Hogansucks1 Rik 41 months ago
Sorry for the overlapping quote, I didn’t read far enough down on this post!! 😊
Hogansucks1 41 months ago
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