Legendary director of poker classic dies

Robert Altman, the iconic director of film classics "M-A-S-H," "Nashville" and one of the most respected poker movies of all time, "California Split," died Monday.

A five-time Academy Award nominee, Altman was well-known for a meandering filmmaking style and great, character-driven ensemble pieces; "The Player," "Short Cuts," and "Gosford Park" among the more recently acclaimed, with Best Director nominations coming for each one.

Despite never winning the category outright, he was given an honorary Oscar in 2006 "for a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike."

His detailed, character-driven style transfered perfectly into the world of poker; "California Split" may have been one of Altman's lesser-known films, but it became a favorite of poker fans on its release in 1974 and shows up in almost all of the top poker movie lists generated over the last three decades.

Getting inside the real card rooms of California and Nevada in the 1970s, the film follows the ups and downs of two endearing but desperate gambling buddies: Bill, played by George Segal, and Charlie, played by Altman favorite Elliott Gould.

In the end, they hit an unlikely winning streak and make their way to Reno for a high stakes poker game against some of the heaviest hitters around, including none other than poker legend Amarillo Slim Preston.

Both disarmingly somber and incredibly funny at the same time, it may have slipped under the radar compared to other Altman films, but it certainly holds its own when it comes to the poker classics; an honest and heartfelt portrayal of the gambling life and what it really means to be a card player, done in the inimitable style of a legendary film maker.

Altman was 81.

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