Jess asks Luke if he would like to play poker with him. He seems practised in shuffling the deck, and offers to lay bets, although says he can’t go any higher than $15 a hand.
Poker is an extremely popular American card game, first developed in the 19th century, in which players lay bets according to how much they believe their hand is worth. Players must then match the maximum bet, raise the wager further, or fold by throwing in their hand (losing the money they have bet so far and all involvement in the current hand). As players may bluff by staking a higher wager than their hand justifies, winning the game involves a subtle mixture of luck, psychology, probability, and game theory.
A good poker player needs to be intelligent, disciplined, independent, have a good memory, and exceptional emotional control. They need to “keep their cards close to their chest” – that is, give away very little about themselves. That’s telling us quite a bit about Jess already. Another character has already been shown to be clever and strategic through their choice of card game: the bridge-playing Emily Gilmore. It would be interesting to see a showdown between the two of them.
Jess smoking and playing poker is shorthand to show what a stereotypical bad boy he is. If he’s been involved in gambling, that would be a clue as to what sort of “trouble” he might be headed for. At this point, Luke may be worried that Lorelai’s instincts might be right about Jess. Interestingly, Fredo Corleone from The Godfather Part II worked in the casino trade …